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 makes repeating lies about its war against Ukraine mandatory in all schools, including on occupied territory

Halya Coynash
Russia is using propaganda textbooks and compulsory exams to impose its lies about its full-scale invasion, annexation of Ukrainian territory and war crimes on schools in occupied Ukraine

Russian soldiers without insignia who get no mention in Russia’s alternative history of 2014, Mariupol after Russian bombing of a children’s and maternity hospital on 9 March 2022 Photo from the Ukrainian military, posted by Reuters

Russian soldiers without insignia who get no mention in Russia’s alternative history of 2014, Mariupol after Russian bombing of a children’s and maternity hospital on 9 March 2022 Photo from the Ukrainian military, posted by Reuters

Russia has removed questions about democracy and civil society from the Unified State Exams that it plans to impose as school-leaving exams in both Russia and occupied parts of Ukraine in 2024.  Instead, children will have to answer questions about Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and about annexed territory.  The answers, at least in the ‘history’ exam, must be strictly according to new textbooks, with teachers, students and, probably, their parents facing serious consequences if they, instead, opt for the truth.

School students in Russia take such Unified State Exams at the end of Grades 9 and 11, with the results important for those after the 11th grade hoping to enter higher education.  Since 2014, such exams have also been imposed in occupied Crimea, and Russia is now seeking to foist them upon all Ukrainian territory temporarily under its control. 

The greatest changes are to the history exam for school-leavers with this now based on new standard ‘textbooks’.  This supposed textbook has rewritten most of the Soviet period, and presents a particularly distorted picture of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, its invasion and annexation of Ukrainian territory.

The new ‘history exams’ will test students’ knowledge of what their textbooks claim are the reasons for and the course of what Russia calls its ‘special military operation’, known to the world as its war of aggression against Ukraine,  Other topics where students will be expected to tow the propaganda line include ‘the reasons and consequences of the collapse of the USSR’; ‘Russia’s rebirth as a state power’ and the purported reasons for what Moscow terms “the reunification of Crimea with Russia”.

Although the new ‘textbook’ certainly hit the headlines when presented in early August, Russia’s distortion of historic events began in the first decade under Vladimir Putin and reached earlier depths after Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea and effective occupation of parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts [occupied Donbas]. 

‘History’ textbooks approved by Russia’s education ministry back in 2021, and publications used earlier avoided any mention of the Russian soldiers without insignia who seized control in Crimea on 27 February 2017.  Russia’s invasion and annexation was, instead, presented as a “peaceful process”, Such books claimed that “on the basis of the results of a referendum (96% ‘for’), the peninsula on 21 March 2014 joined the Russian Federation. Crimea, whose territory had, without any grounds, been handed to Ukraine in 1954 by Nikita Khrushchev, returned to the Russian Federation”.   Russia staged similar ‘referendums’ in occupied parts of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts in September 2022, with students now obliged – if they want to pass their ‘history school leaving exam’ – to repeat the same lies about the results of those stunts at gunpoint.

It seems that ‘Social Studies’ had remained a kind of oasis for some time, with students still covering topics like ‘Democracy’; ‘Civil Society’; and ‘International Law’. This may well have been an oversight since Russia did not begin violating international law only in February 2022. In Russia it set about crushing the vestiges of civil society and institutions of a democratic state from around 2012, and has immediately eliminated free media and imposed terror and repression on all occupied parts of Ukraine.

Verstka Media recently published excerpts containing two sample tasks from the history school leaving exam in 2024.  In one, the school leavers are asked to match individuals with the events they are supposedly associated with, with this requiring them to link the so-called ‘special military operation’ with “O.S. Kachura”.  Olha Serhiivna Kachura was, apparently, a ‘deputy commander’ of an artillery division of the Russian proxy ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ [‘DPR’] military who was killed in occupied Horlivka on 29 July 2022 and later declared ‘DPR hero’ and ‘hero of the Russian Federation’.  

The other task requires the students to put three unrelated ‘events’ into chronological order with one of these described as “the signing of agreements on admitting DPR; LPR [the equally Russian proxy ‘Luhansk people’s republic’], the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson oblasts into the Russian Federation”.  The tasks are not overly demanding, and seem aimed rather at establishing Russia’s war of aggression and attempted annexation of Ukrainian territory as ‘a part of Russian history, like any other’.  The second, in particular, demonstrates the dangerous absurdity of such claims.  On the eve of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Moscow ‘recognized’ the two fake ‘republics’ it created, funds and controls, and claimed their territory to be the entire Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, although only part of this territory was not under government control. The language used makes the same misleading assertion about the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson oblasts, with the city of Zaporizhzhia having never been under Russian occupation and that of Kherson having been liberated on 11 November 2022.  Such terminology makes it quite clear what Russia’s first act of aggression would be if the West were to try to get Kyiv to agree to any kind of ceasefire without Russia being driven out of all occupied Ukrainian land.

The requirements that are being tested now include “understanding of the reunification of Crimea with Russia and the special military operation in Ukraine”, as well as “the ability to uphold historical truth and not allow the achievement of the people in defending the Fatherland to be diminished during discussion and other forms of interpersonal interaction.”

It has been clear for years now that the new ‘Russian history’ under the Putin regime does not recognize any ‘historical truth’ that diminishes Russia’s ‘achievement’.  Where historical facts are too universally recognized to be similarly denied, the current regime justifies them.  This has been seen, for example, in attempts to justify the Molotov – Ribbentrop Pact in 1939 and Stalin’s collaboration with Hitler until the latter’s invasion of Soviet Ukraine in June 1941.

In 2022, the current regime rushed through legislation which has been used to imprison those telling the truth about Russia’s full-scale invasion and war crimes in Ukraine, with sentences up to 25 years.

Daniil Ken, Head of Russia’s independent Alliance of Teachers, spoke with Verstka about the catastrophic consequences of the new moves. “The Russian version of events has now been included in the mandatory curriculum.  This means that teachers will be obliged to teach according to that textbook, and students in the exams will have to give “the right” answers set out in these textbooks, in order to get school-leaving certificates.”

The insertion of questions on Russia’s war against Ukraine and its annexation of Ukrainian territory are a logical extension of the clear measures underway to indoctrinate young people.  The most terrifying aspect of this is that Russia is foisting these ‘textbooks’ and the lies they tell about its war of aggression against Ukraine on Ukrainian children.    

See also: Ukraine ‘began the war against Russia’ in Moscow’s official school history textbook

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