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Russia Struggles To Set Up ‘Potemkin’ Colleges In Occupied Ukraine


The primary day of September ought to have been a momentous event for the youngsters and lecturers of Primorsk in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya area.

The date — the normal begin of the brand new tutorial yr in former Soviet nations — is normally marked with cheerful fanfare: girls and boys dressed of their nicest clothes and accompanied by dad and mom to greet their lecturers with flowers.

However this yr was totally different for many of them.

With Primorsk underneath Russian management as Moscow pushes forward with its navy invasion of Ukraine, solely half of the dozen native elementary faculties opened their doorways on September 1.

Many lecturers and households in Primorsk have fled the Russian occupation, whereas others have refused to cooperate with the Moscow-imposed authorities regardless of threats, stress, and bribes.

It’s a phenomenon throughout the occupied territories.

Because of this, Moscow is struggling to implement its program for Ukrainian youngsters and lecturers in these areas, an goal that consultants say is critical if it has any hope of consummating their incorporation into Russia.

A school in the Russian-occupied city of Petrovske, Luhansk region, marks the first day of classes on September 1.

A faculty within the Russian-occupied metropolis of Petrovske, Luhansk area, marks the primary day of lessons on September 1.

The obvious failure to hijack the schooling system was evident within the listing of lecturers working at one of many functioning faculties in Primorsk. It included a person who had been operating a moonshine enterprise for the previous few years and a neighborhood priest whom locals bear in mind as having been a poor pupil himself.

Within the Russian-occupied metropolis of Melitopol within the Zaporizhzhya area, Halina Danilchenko, the Moscow-appointed occupation administrator, admitted she hadn’t discovered sufficient lecturers, particularly of historical past, for the 21 faculties she deliberate to relaunch this yr.

Such setbacks had been occurring regardless that Russia has been resorting to powerful measures to fill vacancies. A number of faculty administrators and lecturers within the occupied areas have been detained or threatened in an try to drive them to collaborate.

On Kremlin-controlled tv, which is broadcast within the occupied areas, a Russian “professional” stated Ukrainian lecturers who refused to cooperate with the Moscow-installed authorities must be despatched to labor camps for reeducation.

Viktoria Zibrova, a historical past trainer in Berestove within the Zaporizhzhya area, advised RFE/RL that the pro-Russian authorities often harassed the director of the varsity within the neighboring village, even bursting into her dwelling at one level.

They “wished to frighten her as a result of September [was] approaching, they usually cannot discover lecturers,” Zibrova stated.

Zibrova stated she and a lot of the different lecturers in Berestove fled after Russian authorities warned them to not communicate Ukrainian in school.

Some couldn’t go away for private causes, resembling the necessity to look after aged dad and mom, she stated. Ukraine continues to pay lecturers two-thirds of their salaries so they are not pressured to cooperate out of financial necessity.

Some Ukrainian lecturers who agreed or had been pressured to cooperate with the authorities had been taken to Russia for so-called superior coaching programs.

The coaching included not simply an introduction to Russia’s patriotism-infused faculty curriculum, but additionally political indoctrination.

The Russian authorities are resorting to different measures to fill the rising void of educators. They’ve been stopping lecturers from crossing into Kyiv-controlled territory and hiring retired lecturers or native residents with out instructing {qualifications}.

Moscow has additionally supplied incentives to Russian lecturers to get them to relocate and work within the occupied territories.

Moscow is providing to pay Russian lecturers an extra 7,000 to eight,500 rubles ($115-$140) a day, or greater than 140,000 rubles ($2,300) a month, to work within the occupied territories.

Such a wage is excessive by Russian requirements exterior the primary cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Common salaries for lecturers in Russia in 2021 had been about 43,000 rubles ($710) a month.

Antonina Sidorenko, 9, started her online classes in the tiny village of Pokrovske in the Mykolayiv region of southern Ukraine, near the front line.

Antonina Sidorenko, 9, began her on-line lessons within the tiny village of Pokrovske within the Mykolayiv area of southern Ukraine, close to the entrance line.

Russian authorities officers have claimed about 600 lecturers have agreed to work in pro-Russian faculties within the occupied areas.

Serhiy Horbachev, Ukraine’s ombudsman for schooling, advised Present Time that Russian lecturers shall be seen by native residents as a part of the occupation drive and handled as such, implying they might be focused for violence.

Funds Or Bribes?

There are between 100,000 and 120,000 Ukrainian youngsters within the occupied areas, in line with the federal government in Kyiv.

Shortly earlier than the tutorial yr started, Russian President Vladimir Putin introduced his authorities would pay a one-time lump sum of 10,000 rubles ($165) to all households within the occupied areas who enroll their youngsters within the Moscow-controlled faculties, the place the brand new curriculum denies the existence of a Ukrainian historical past and tradition separate from that of Russia.

Nonetheless, many Ukrainian households are forgoing the sum fairly than topic their youngsters to Kremlin indoctrination, a number of dad and mom advised RFE/RL on situation of anonymity.

Ukrainian youngsters who attend faculty within the occupied areas are being taught that they’re Russians and their area will quickly develop into a part of Russia.

They may even be subjected to a weekly lecture titled “Necessary Conversations” that may promote the Kremlin’s false narratives in regards to the battle in Ukraine and in regards to the cultures and histories of the 2 nations.

Russia’s purpose “is to destroy Ukrainian tradition and Ukrainian schooling within the area, and utterly rewrite historical past,” Yuriy Sobolevskiy, a prime official on the Kherson Regional Council, advised RFE/RL.

These Ukrainian households who can not flee are selecting to teach their youngsters by on-line programs supplied by Ukrainian faculties. Others are education their youngsters at dwelling.

Halina, a resident of Russia-controlled Kherson who requested her full identify not be used for worry of retaliation in opposition to her household, advised RFE/RL she just lately escaped to Kyiv-controlled territory together with her school-age son partly to keep away from sending him to a Russian-controlled faculty.

Her sister, who remained behind in Kherson, will care for his or her aged dad and mom whereas education her personal two youngsters at dwelling, Halina stated. On-line schooling in Kherson is troublesome due to disrupted Web connections, she stated.

Some establishments of upper schooling within the occupied areas, such because the so-called Kherson Medical Faculty, are providing free tuition and scholarships to draw Ukrainian college students.

Nonetheless, diplomas from establishments within the Kremlin-controlled areas will not be acknowledged exterior these areas and Russia.

If such incentives will not be enough, the occupation authorities are additionally wielding bribes and threats.

In Melitopol, the place 4 vocational faculties had been mixed into one because of an absence of scholars and lecturers, the Russian authorities have allegedly warned that younger males who refuse to attend lessons shall be drafted, stated Kyiv-recognized Mayor Ivan Fedorov.

A schoolbook lies in front of a destroyed school building following a missile strike in Druzhkivka, Donetsk region, on August 30.

A schoolbook lies in entrance of a destroyed faculty constructing following a missile strike in Druzhkivka, Donetsk area, on August 30.

Rumors have circulated in some occupied areas that folks might lose custody of their youngsters if they don’t ship them to high school or face fines, prompting some dad and mom to acquiesce.

The Kremlin has been making an attempt to place a optimistic spin on the state of affairs for audiences again in Russia. Kremlin-friendly media have reported extensively on the rebuilding and reopening of faculties that had been destroyed because of Moscow’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February.

Ukrainian dad and mom and educators say the photographs of blissful Ukrainian youngsters coming into functioning faculties belies the fact. In some places, youngsters haven’t got books, they stated. The Russia-installed authorities have destroyed Ukrainian-language textbooks, however Russian-language replacements have but to reach.

And even the place there are books, not all lecturers are aware of the brand new Russia-enforced curriculum.

One resident of Melitopol advised RFE/RL the varsity her youngster had beforehand attended had solely 4 lecturers and one in all them teaches almost each topic.

Making issues worse, Russian Nationwide Guard troops patrol faculty buildings, and fogeys will not be all the time allowed inside.

Oleksandr Spivakovskiy, the rector of Kherson State College, described the colleges as a “Potemkin village,” an empty facade meant to deceive Russian residents.

He advised RFE/RL the Kremlin must reveal its success within the battle and is feeding its residents pictures of faculties being repaired and of lecturers instructing college students within the new Russian curriculum when the fact is that Ukrainian locals have largely turned their backs on the occupation authorities’ faculties.

“However to a citizen of Russia, it seems to be good,” he stated.

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