war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Russia forces parents in occupied Ukraine to take Russian citizenship or lose their children

Halya Coynash

Child studying by distance learning according to the Ukrainian curriculum Photo RIA Melitopol

Child studying by distance learning according to the Ukrainian curriculum Photo RIA Melitopol

A major part of Russia’s genocidal war against Ukraine lies in brainwashing Ukrainian children and trying to convince them that they are ‘Russians’.  Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, huge effort has been taken to impose Russian-style education on any Ukrainian area that has fallen under occupation, as well as on terrorizing parents who do not want their children to be force-fed propaganda and turned into ‘patriots’ of the aggressor state that invaded their country.

The Centre for Journalist Investigations [CJI] has learned from a resident of Melitopol that the Russian invaders are not content with threatening to take people’s children away from them if they don’t register them in occupation schools.  They are now also foisting Russian citizenship on parents who cannot otherwise register their children in such schools. 

The woman explains that, until January 2023, she had not sent her child to a school teaching according to Russian standards.  The invaders were, however, more and more often threatening to take parents’ rights away if their children did not attend such schools and she had finally gone to the school to find out what kind of documents were needed to enrol her child.  Some of the demands, like a medical examination, were entirely reasonable. Others were not, such as the requirement that the children’s parent or parents have Russian citizenship.  She was told that, without this, the child would not be accepted at the school, with this meaning that the threat of having her child taken from her remains.

CJI notes that Russia’s own normative acts on registering children in school makes no such demands, with parents or other legal guardians required only to present a passport or other document, confirming their identity.

This does, indeed, appear to be yet another ruse to force people on occupied territory to take Russian citizenship. 

Russia made it virtually impossible for Ukrainians in occupied Crimea to refuse to take Russian citizenship, since they could not, otherwise, get work, healthcare for their children, etc.  Kyiv did, therefore, recognize that people had taken on such citizenship under coercion.  If the invaders are now using the threat of losing your children as a gun to the heads of parents, any such ‘Russian citizenship’ must also be viewed as involuntary.  That, however, will not stop Russia from using such forced ‘citizenship’ as excuse for mobilization, as well as claiming that the population of illegally invaded and occupied territory are ‘Russian’.  In occupied Crimea, the fact that most of the political prisoners have had to take Russian passports has made it harder to secure their release. In fact, however, Russia has become more brazen since its full-scale invasion and is openly abducting Ukrainian citizens whom it then illegally ‘tries’ under Russian legislation on preposterous charges. 

Russia encountered stiff resistance from educational workers and parents in occupied Melitopol as soon as it began trying to force kindergartens and schools to function under their control.  The Mayor of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov reported in December 2022 that 90% of the city’s educational workers had refused to collaborate with the invaders.  Russia, typically, reacted with terror.  On 28 March 2022, they abducted Iryna Shcherbak, Head of the Department of Education within the City Council, after she refused to collaborate with the Russians and restart schools under a Russian syllabus.  Several school directors were also abducted, although they, at least, were later released (details here).  In December, the Russians also abducted Volodymyr Vorovka, Professor of the Faculty of Environment and Natural Resources at the Melitopol Pedagogical University from his home in the village of Tambovka, near Melitopol.. 

Russia’s attempt to find students for the pseudo-universities that it tried to instal in Melitopol also encountered opposition.  The two main institutes in Melitopol evacuated, with the majority of both lecturers and students going with them.   The fake institutes created in their place were willing to take anyone, without competition or exams, but had virtually no takers.  

In August 2022, Ivan Fedorov reported that the Russians were intensifying pressure on parents.  He said that parents who did not want their children to attend Russian occupation schools were first issued with ‘warnings’ and then fined 40 thousand roubles and threatened with having the children taken from them. 

In September, RIA Melitopol reported the abduction of two teachers and two senior students from Berdiansk studying according to the Ukrainian curriculum (through distance learning). 

The Russians may not be threatening to kill children if they don’t receive a ransom.  It is difficult, however, to see any significant difference in Russia’s terror methods for foisting its propaganda on schools and for forcing parents to take Russian citizenship or face losing their children.

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