Russia sends teachers to Ukraine to monitor what students learn there
“Urgent,” read his June 17 message. “Need teachers to [Zaporizhzhia] and Kherson regions for the summer period. 8600 rubles per day. The job is to get schools ready for the new school year. Round-trip transportation — free. Accommodation and food — under discussion.
An hour later, the director adds: “Dear teachers, is there anyone else who wants to help their colleagues? It is safe in these regions. Please respond promptly.” Both solicitations were shared with The Washington Post by the Alliance of Teachers, an independent group in Russia.
The pay is so lucrative that one of the band members briefly considered responding before his administrator warned him he would be crazy to leave.
“Everyone understands everything. These trips will bring no good,” said the teacher, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Moscow is carrying out an intense effort of Russification in the occupied regions, an effort that seems designed to annihilate Ukrainians’ sense of history, nationality and even language. Targeting what children are learning is a key strategy. Ukrainian education “needs to be fixed,” Russian Education Minister Sergei Kravtsov said at a June 28 meeting of President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party.
Yet the Kremlin’s effort extends far beyond schools. It has already blocked Ukraine’s mobile phone network and media in areas it controls, while spreading Russian state propaganda about its “denazification” of the country. He tore down Ukrainian city signs and replaced them with Russian ones. And under an edict from Putin, Moscow is trying to entice Ukrainians across the country to register for Russian passports.
Referendums are scheduled for September on the occupied areas “joining” Russia. The Kremlin also announced possible votes to make Russian the official language of Ukraine.
Several weeks ago, Russia set up civil registration offices in Kherson and Melitopol, where Ukrainians can register newborn babies “in accordance with Russian law”, obtain Russian documents and apply for social benefits.
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Nearly 250 teachers, including 57 from the Republic of Dagestan, in southern Russia, has registered to travel to Ukraine, according to a listing on the Dagestan Ministry of Education website that is no longer visible. Their destinations include the Moscow-born separatist regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson. The ministry announced a massive increase in salaries – 8,000 rubles a day, or about $137, on top of the teachers’ existing teaching salaries.
In the city of Izhevsk, Georgy Grigoriyev registered because of the salary. He is not concerned about the potential dangers and plans to go there for at least a year. “So I’ll probably stay there,” he said. “I will probably buy an apartment there. I have nothing to lose.” He teaches Russian language and literature as well as chemistry and biology.
“They promise very good salaries and housing,” Grigoriyev said in a phone interview. “And I thought, ‘Why not?’ I’m divorced, my children are grown, so might as well work there, especially for such a good salary.
Another teacher, who lives in the Astrakhan region and spoke on condition of anonymity, said by phone that he had signed up to teach in Ukraine “because I want to be useful there. I believe that life in these regions is very hard and I want to help people there.
Ministry of Education offices in Moscow and Dagestan did not respond to questions from The Post, but in late June the ministry told the government-run Rossiskaya Gazeta that it was introducing “high-quality Russian standards so that schools can function properly”. Independent Russian media Caucasian Knot quoted a Dagestan ministry spokesperson as saying the order to recruit teachers came on the evening of July 6 and gave him only two days to get answers.
Education Minister Kravtsov, one of the most enthusiastic supporters of Putin’s Russification project, flew to Melitopol in mid-June and underlined Moscow’s determination to teach Ukrainian children the Russian version of the history of nations.
“The main task is to tell schoolchildren the whole truth, the truth about our brother peoples, about common achievements and victories,” he told Russian reporters in the occupied city. He said Russia would stay in the region “forever”.
Kravtsov was a math professor in Moscow in the 1990s before moving to academia and then to government education agencies, where he quickly rose through the ranks. He holds several degrees, although a legislator once accused him of plagiarism for obtaining one.
Several days after Putin’s party leader announced this month that a “squad” of student teachers had reached Ukraine, Kravtsov traveled to a northeastern town and said the first batch of Russian textbooks, including language and history books, had arrived. Ukrainian children, he noted, need to be educated in “traditions of friendship” with Russians. The result will be “our happy children”.
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This push comes amid a major Russia overhaul education system, encouraged in large part by senior security officials calling on schools to train a new “patriotic” generation. History textbooks are being revised to reflect Putin’s view that Ukraine was never a real state.
From In September, Russian teachers are to organize new class sessions called “Conversations about important things”. These must follow government guidelines on what children should learn about the war in Ukraine and current affairs — an approach reminiscent of the “political information” courses held in the Soviet era. If the classes follow Putin’s lead, they will reflect his false claims that Ukraine committed “genocide” or that its government is made up of “Nazis” bent on attacking Russia.
The Russification by Moscow of the areas it occupies in Ukraine carries disturbing echoes of the Soviet era under Joseph Stalin when millions of people from annexed or subjugated regions were deported to Siberia and Central Asia. Russian workers were sent to settle and assimilate many areas. The Baltic states and Central Asian countries like Kazakhstan still have significant numbers of ethnic Russians, often a source of tension amid Moscow’s frequent vows to “protect” all Russian speakers.
Kravtsov’s education project gets a boost from another Kremlin program associating Russian cities with occupied Ukrainian cities. Petersburg Governor Alexander Beglov traveled to Mariupol, the Ukrainian port city heavily bombed by Russia, in June to sign a “twin city” agreement with Russia’s proxies. He announced that he would associate his schools with those of Mariupol and pledged to send teams of teachers and government officials.
A St. Petersburg teacher named Larisa, who opposes the war, thinks going to teach in Ukraine would be morally repugnant because of the millions of people who have been killed or displaced there by Russian attacks.
“Unfortunately, there will be teachers who will go to Ukraine to earn this damn money,” said Larisa, whom The Post identifies only by her first name for fear of being arrested or imprisoned. “I don’t know how they will look in the mirror.”
Daniil Ken, head of the Teachers Alliance, said some regional governments had scrapped recruitment offers from school newsgroups as soon as local media reports them. He suspects governments fear teachers will complain about low salaries in Russia, especially in understaffed rural areas.
“People might start asking, ‘Why are our teachers sent there when we don’t have enough teachers here?’ said Ken, who recently left Russia due to safety concerns.
Larisa expects history teachers to have the most difficult task: changing Ukrainian students’ view of their country’s past to meet the demands of the Russian government.
“I don’t think it will succeed,” she said. “Those who depend on you, under the threat of being killed or being punished, can pretend that they believe you. But deep in their hearts they will not believe you and they will wait for any opportunity for revenge.
Natalia Abbakumova from Riga, Latvia contributed to this report.