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 tries to eliminate Ukrainian language from schools in occupied Zaporizhzhia oblast

Halya Coynash
The Russian invaders inadvertently proved just how strongly the population of Zaporizhzhia oblast identify with Ukraine and are now using standard methods to try to crush Ukrainian identity in schools

Zaporizhzhia invaders and school Collage by 24Kanal

Zaporizhzhia invaders and school Collage by 24Kanal

The Russian occupiers of parts of Zaporizhzhia are trying to reduce the amount of Ukrainian language in schools while, predictably, claiming that this is because of parents’ complaints.

Russia used similar measures in occupied Crimea where, despite an express order from the UN’s International Court of Justice, there are essentially no schools remaining, in which subjects are taught in Ukrainian or even where Ukrainian is part of the syllabus.  There too parents were put under huge pressure to sign ‘statements’ rejecting Ukrainian.  

The situation now is different from 2014, and Russia is encountering more resistance.  As reported, Russia has had to use drastic measures (threatening even to take the children away) to force parents to enrol their children into Russian-controlled ‘schools’. The reasons that most parents resisted as long as they could are precisely those reasons why Russia tries to force through its ‘education’ and curriculum in any area under its occupation.  Children are taught an entirely distorted narrative about Russia’s invasion and annexation of Ukrainian territory, with words like ‘liberation’ used, and the Ukrainian Armed Forces blamed for Russia’s egregious war crimes.  Children are told that they are ‘Russian’, and all aspects of Ukrainian identity, including, of course, the children’s language, are systematically undermined. There is also a heavy accent on militarization with children encouraged, not only to glorify the invading forces, but to see it as their ‘patriotic’ duty to want to become a soldier.  This is, of course, in the gravest violation of international law.

Attempts in occupied Zaporizhzhia oblast were first reported in March 2023, with the information said to have come from Ukraine’s Centre for National Resistance. According to this report, the Russians had announced that from the beginning of the next school year (i.e. September), Ukrainian would cease to be taught.  This was, of course, claimed to be in accordance with the wishes of parents who had been given until 1 May to write if they did not want their children to study Ukrainian, with this adding three hours a week to their study of Russian.  Parents were said to be facing ‘prophylactic talks’ with these, in fact, threatening them with consequences if they do not write that they don’t want their children to study Ukraine.

Such attempts clearly did not work.  At the end of August 2023, the Russian state-controlled RIA Novosti reported that 46% of children had decided to study Ukrainian as their native language.  The occupation regime claimed that they would be provided with new textbooks published in Russia.  Detector Media commented at the time that the Russian invaders’ survey was essentially a covert way of ascertaining the level of ‘loyalty’ of the local population to the occupation regime. “It gave a result so unexpected for the Russians that they couldn’t even hide it.”

The result is particularly telling since many other parents may well have wanted to choose Ukrainian as native language for their children but been fearful of doing so after the so-called ‘prophylactic talks.”

Having ascertained that Ukrainians in occupied Zaporizhzhia want their children to study their own language as native, not that of the invaders, Russia reverted to form.  On 26 September, the Centre for Journalist Investigations (CJI) reported that the school year in occupied Tokmak had begun with a language scandal.  Although the above-mentioned survey had demonstrated a formidable percentage of students and their parents wishing them to study Ukrainian as their native language, by September the occupation regime was presenting an entirely different story.  It was claimed, on the contrary, that “parents” were complaining about the supposedly excessive number of Ukrainian Language classes.  CJI quotes a ‘letter’ supposedly received from an irate parent in occupied Prymorsk, complaining that if more than half the class had chosen Ukrainian as native, then all children study Ukrainian.

CJI notes that Andriy Chuykov, a collaborator, who was earlier the ‘dean’ of an occupation ‘institute’, claims that it is teachers of Ukrainian who are “to blame” for this situation.  According to his version, these teachers are hoping for liberation [clearly not the term he would have used] by Ukraine’s Armed Forces and have, therefore, not changed their subject.  In order to get work, he claims, “they force parents to write letters saying their children should study in Ukrainian.”

Residents of Polohy raion in Zaporizhzhia oblast dismiss the mere suggestion that teachers could have “forced” parents to do any such thing as evident nonsense. 

In villages, they came even several times to each teacher, and especially teachers of Ukrainian language and history with searches and ‘conversations’. Most of us left, and those who remained, either left teaching, or ‘changed their shoes’ and teach what the occupiers demand. There could be no question of any “forced Ukrainization’ under occupation”.   Detector Media’s source was a retired teacher who had herself been forced to leave the area precisely because she was not willing to collaborate.  They spoke with another woman from Melitopol raion (also under occupation).  She confirmed that in their village the invaders knew the names of all teachers and had come to them with threats back in the summer of 2022, to either collaborate or keep their heads low.  “It’s therefore pretty hard to imagine that anybody could have gone to work for the occupiers while inciting parents [to ask for their children] to study the Ukrainian language.”

The Russian-installed ‘deputy head of the occupation regime’ Alexei Lysov stated that they had decided to follow the practice in occupied Crimea where “children were given the right to study the Ukrainian language”.  He says only that “with each year the number of such students becomes less and less”.  Such words entirely misrepresent the real situation – the dramatic reduction in the number of schools offering study in Ukrainian, or even Ukrainian as a compulsory subject, the methods of pressure and / or coercion against both teachers and parents, etc. in occupied Crimea.  All of this was clearly recognized by the UN’s International Court of Justice which, in April 2017 ordered Russia to “ensure the availability of education in the Ukrainian language.”

This was a preventive measure which Russia has flouted.  The Court’s judgement on Ukraine’s case against Russia, in part over its violation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination over its treatment of Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians in occupied Crimea is now awaited and will, hopefully, be damning.

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