Since before the outbreak of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin has directed school teachers to refrain from using the term “invasion” and to instill “patriotism” by teaching children that Ukraine is a fascist regime and that the “special military operation” is akin to Russian efforts to defeat the Nazis during World War II.
Reports revealed how teachers in Russian schools received WhatsApp messages from the school administration asking them to “conduct a special class between 24 and 25th of February” on the topic of Ukraine. The same message was sent across the country, either through official letters to school principals or through informal conversations directly with teachers.
On March 3, the Russian Ministry of Education required schoolchildren of all ages to watch a special broadcast about the “liberation mission” in Ukraine. The Education Ministry also revealed that children must be taught in schools why Russia considers NATO a threat. Teachers were instructed not to use the term “invasion” in class, and to instead use the phrase “special military operation,” while also teaching Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claims that Ukrainian society and government are influenced by neo-Nazi politics.
Manuals from the Russian government reportedly include lesson plans which claim that Ukraine didn’t exist until the 20th century and has been governed by an “American puppet regime” since 2014.
Russia Passes Laws Against Intentionally Spreading “Fake” Military and War News
On March 1, the Russian parliament passed a new law that made the intentional spreading of “fake” information about the war and the Russian military an offense punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
In an amendment to the criminal code, lawmakers imposed fines for public calls for sanctions against Russia and threatened all Russian citizens with prison if they publicly stray from the narrative about the Ukraine invasion established by Vladimir Putin.
“If the fakes lead to serious consequences then imprisonment of up to 15 years threatened,” Russia’s Duma – the lower house of Parliament – said in a statement last month.
“Literally by tomorrow, this law will force punishment – and very tough punishment – on those who lied and made statements which discredited our armed forces,” Duma chairman Vyacheslav Volodin also said in March.
What Happens to Teachers Who Disobey Orders?
Reuters revealed the story of 38-year-old teacher Andrei Shestakov of the Gymnasium No. 2 school in Neryungri, a coal-mining town in Siberia, who decided not to follow instructions from the regional administration.
Instead of teaching the contents of a teaching guide issued to him just days after the invasion began, Shestakov told his pupils about the contents of the guide and how the claims made within it are historically inaccurate. Among the inaccuracies Shestakov taught his students was the claim that Ukraine was an invention of the Bolsheviks.
On March 1, Shestakov told a civics class that he wouldn’t advise they join the Russian army, that he opposes the war in Ukraine, and that Russian leaders were exhibiting the kind of fascism that they claimed they were fighting in Ukraine.
It took only a matter of days before Russia’s Federal Security Service called Shestakov in for questioning. He was fined 35,000 rubles on March 18 for discrediting the Russian armed forces, under the new legislation passed earlier that month, and was forced to quit his job knowing that he would be fired anyway.
Students Are Turning In Teachers
Another report from The Washington Post claims that teachers across Russia are being turned in by students and parents for refusing to comply with new teaching guidance.
“In the past several weeks, a list of ‘traitors and enemies’ has cropped up online, published by the Committee for the Protection of National Interests, a shadowy group claiming a duty to expose public figures who support ‘anti-Russian’ sanctions and political pressure,” The Post reports.
Encouraging children to report their teachers is nothing new for Russia. The Soviet folk hero Pavliv Morozov is said to have betrayed his father by reporting his anti-Soviet activity and was long been used as a story told to children to promote loyalty to the state.
Jack Buckby is a British author, counter-extremism researcher, and journalist based in New York. Reporting on the U.K., Europe, and the U.S., he works to analyze and understand left-wing and right-wing radicalization, and reports on Western governments’ approaches to the pressing issues of today. His books and research papers explore these themes and propose pragmatic solutions to our increasingly polarized society.