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’s use of ‘education’ to destroy Ukrainian identity in occupied Ukraine is cultural genocide, study finds

Halya Coynash
The Institute for Mass Information probed the methods, and the false terminology, Russia uses to try to eradicate Ukrainian identity and convince young Ukrainians that they are ‘Russian’
Mariupol school ’opens’ under Russian occupation Photo Viktoria Roshchyna
Mariupol school ’opens’ under Russian occupation Photo Hromadske Radio

Instead of simply dismissing Russian president Vladimir Putin’s extraordinary claim on 24 February 2022 that Russia’s full-scale invasion was aimed at the so-called ‘denazification of Ukraine’, an important study has probed what exactly is meant by ‘denazification’ and how this is supposed to be achieved.  The Institute for Mass Information [IMI] explains that their research was prompted by numerous statements from pro-Kremlin politicians and officials linking such ‘denazification’ with the inculcation of Russian education in occupied parts of Ukraine.  It is clear from Russia’s determination to instal Russian curriculum, Russian textbooks and ‘Russian world’ ideology in Ukraine that its real aim, whatever dishonest terminology it uses, is to destroy Ukrainian identity and convince young Ukrainians that they are ‘Russians’.  The authors suggest that Russia’s attempts to foist Russian education on occupied Ukrainian territory should be viewed as cultural genocide. 

IMI’s study looks at who is behind the imposition of Russian curriculum, material and methods on occupied territory and how it is done.  The methods, its should be said, have been described here earlier, as Russia began militarizing childhood and trying to convince children in Crimea that they were ‘Russians’ back in 2014, and similar forms of indoctrination have also been applied over the last nine years in occupied parts of Donbas (Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts).

It is perhaps no coincidence that the first clear articulation of what ‘denazification’ actually meant was given within three weeks of Russia’s full-scale invasion by the Russian-installed ‘parliamentary speaker’ in occupied Crimea, Vladimir Konstantinov.  He claimed that ‘denazification’ needed to begin with school textbooks, and that what he calls “Ukrainian nationalism’ has its roots in school education.  Change all of this, he says, and you will have a completely different generation within ten years.

This is precisely what has been attempted in occupied Crimea.  Long before Russia’s full-scale invasion, textbooks used in Crimea made absolutely no mention of Russia’s invasion, claimed that ‘the Crimean people’ had suddenly ‘voted to join Russia’ and taught that Ukraine was some kind of historical accident.  Mass militarization of childhood is underway, with children encouraged (sometimes forced) into joining Russia’s so-called ‘Yunarmia’ [Youth Army], taught to use firearms, and want to ‘defend Russia’, including in its armed forces.   New 11th Grade history textbooks, to be used from September this year, have essentially deleted mention of Kyiv and speak of the supposed ‘inevitability’ of what is claimed to be Russia’s special operation, i.e. its war against Ukraine.  At all levels of education, children and young people must attend ‘conversations about important issues’ where they learn an overtly propagandist view of the war, of Russian history and of geopolitics in general.  The new ‘heroes’ whom children are supposed to admire are those who went to fight Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. 

It was clear from the outset that Russia was seeking to impose this type of ‘education’ on areas under its occupation.  It was also plain, at least in newly occupied areas that the plans were meeting with considerable operation.  Ukrainian teachers and school heads were refusing to cooperate, and parents tried to avoid sending their children to be brainwashed.  Russia has stepped up repressive measures, including threatening to take children away from parents who do not enrol them in such schools, but there is obviously still resistance.

IMI has identified four schemes which Russia is both financing and organizing in order to inculcate Russian education on occupied territory.   These are the ‘recruitment of teachers’ from Russia or occupied Crimea; the ‘retraining’ of those teachers who agreed to collaborate with the occupation regime; so-called ‘humanitarian missions’ using students from Russia or occupied Crimea; and methods of terror against Ukrainian educational workers.


Russia has begun abducting Ukrainian civilians from any territory that falls under its control, and its list of victims has included educational workers who refused to collaborate with them.  On 29 March 2022, for example, they abducted Iryna Shcherbak, Head of the Department of Education within the Melitopol City Council after she refused to restart schools under a Russian syllabus.  Several school heads from Melitopol were also abducted around that time. They, however, were imprisoned for a while in appalling conditions and then ‘released’ in Russian manner, being blindfolded and taken outside the city and left on a road.  Most, understandably, left occupied territory.  More recently, Russia has also carried out so-called ‘deportations’ with at least one woman and her child simply taken away and left to walk to government-controlled Ukraine because the child was studying according to the Ukrainian curriculum.


It was probably because of the lack of Ukrainian educational workers willing to collaborate that Russia began recruiting teachers from the Russian Federation.  The first such teachers were brought in from Dagestan, and also used for propaganda videos where these teachers obliged their paymasters by claiming to be appalled by Ukrainian children’s knowledge of Russian and other subjects.  IMI points out that these teachers are enticed by offers of pay (together with extra supplements) substantially higher than what they could earn at home.  The orders authorizing such ‘secondment’ of Russian teachers came initially from Sergei Kravtsov, Russia’s education minister, then regional education departments and individual educational establishments. 

IMI notes that all of the conditions that teachers from Dagestan agreed to work for, and which teachers did, was secret until the Dagestan education ministry inadvertently published the information on their site.  Fortunately this was picked up by the Alliance of Teachers who reported that they had saved the information before it was deleted and passed it to Ukraine’s Security Service [SBU]. 

‘Humanitarian missions’  

Russia’s so-called «МЫВМЕСТЕ» [‘We’reTogether’] program has also been used to recruit, prepare and send supposed ‘volunteer teacher’ (often students from teacher training colleges’] to occupied parts of Ukraine.  The same program for ‘humanitarian missions’ would also include doctors and other medical workers.  IMI points out that the same pseudo peacekeeping outfit «МЫВМЕСТЕ» is also engaged in helped Russians mobilized to fight in Ukraine and members of their families.

This is a highly dubious program and it is, therefore, of concern that the International Committee of the Red Cross has yet to answer legitimate questions as to why the Russian Red Cross has taken part in it.

IMI points out the cynicism of all Russia’s ‘humanitarian’ efforts.  Not only has it caused the humanitarian crisis through its invasion, bombing of civilian residential buildings, infrastructure etc, but it has also systematically blocked humanitarian aid from reaching places under Russian siege or control.  It then uses people’s suffering to make propaganda videos of ‘Russians providing aid’.


According to Yana Lankratova, first deputy head of the State Duma’s committee on education, over 20 thousand teachers from occupied parts of the Donetsk; Luhansk; Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts have undergone so-called ‘re-training’ according to Russia’s educational ‘standards’.  A further 13 thousand are supposed to have received courses in ‘professional development’   The most likely to undergo ‘re-training’ are, of course, teachers of Ukrainian language, literature and history who have agreed to collaborate with the occupation regime.  Since Russia immediately removes Ukrainian textbooks, and gets rid of all classes linked with Ukraine, these teachers are then expected to begin teaching Russian language, literature and the increasingly distorted material taught as the ‘history of Russia’.

All of the above is overseen by Sergei Kiriyenko, the first deputy head of Putin’s presidential administration.  As mentioned, Ukrainian textbooks are withdrawn from schools under occupation, and over 800 thousand Russian ‘textbooks’ have been imported, with the ruling ‘United Russia’ part taking a part in getting these books to occupied territory.  For the moment, the textbooks are probably older,, but will assuredly repeat Russia’s false narrative about Crimea in 2014 and recent material will also seek to push lies about the full-scale invasion, about the fake ‘referendums’ that Russia stage on occupied territory, etc. 

All of this is aimed at eradicating Ukrainian identity and indoctrinating children into believing themselves to be ‘Russian’ and should, IMI, be viewed as cultural genocide, as defined by Raphael Lemkin, the Polish lawyer who initiated the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.  Russia is pursuing the same aim, it should be noted, through its deportation of Ukrainian civilians, in particular, children who are handed over for ‘adoption’ with little or no attempt made to ascertain whether they have parents or close relatives.  It is also using so-called ‘camps’ etc. in Russia or occupied Crimea to try to indoctrinate Ukrainian children from occupied territory, with children often forced to sing the Russian national anthem and fed lies about Russia’s war against Ukraine.

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