Russia. Schools and universities are the latest victims of Putin’s war propaganda machine

Teachers are forced to spread anti-Ukrainian propaganda and glorify “Russian special operation in Ukraine”

Those who denounce the war risk fines, the loss of their jobs and even prison

Some teachers are denounced by their students

“The Russian authorities must immediately end their shameful campaign of indoctrination of children and young people” – Bruce Millar

Russian authorities must immediately end their attack on academic freedom and the right to freedom of expression, Amnesty International said today (12 May), as the campaign to purge schools and universities of dissidents regarding the aggression against Ukraine is intensifying.

Bruce Millar, Amnesty International’s Acting Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said:

“Russian civil society organizations, many of which oppose Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, are not the only victims of a nationwide crackdown on anti-war activity. Academic freedoms are also being snuffed out, with educators forced to spread anti-Ukrainian propaganda and glorify “the Russian special operation in Ukraine” or risk losing their jobs.

“We have received disturbing reports of educators fired for their anti-war rhetoric, and of children and young people forced to participate in war-themed state-run ‘flash mobs’ or attend lectures that push the Kremlin narrative.

“Teachers have the right to freely express their opinions and to teach in an environment free from political interference and without fear of reprisal. The freedom to exchange ideas and information of all kinds between educators and students is intrinsic to the healthy development of future generations and the creation of diverse and vibrant societies.

“The Russian authorities must immediately end their shameful campaign of indoctrination of children and young people and stop prosecuting educators simply for expressing dissenting opinions.

Express yourself: Fines, dismissal or even prison

Dozens of teachers and university professors have suffered harsh reprisals for speaking out against the war in Ukraine. Some have been put behind bars for so-called administrative arrest or had to pay exorbitant fines simply for expressing their opinions in public or in class. Others were fired or otherwise reprimanded.

Roman Melnichenko, associate professor at Volgograd State University, was fired on April 19 for an “immoral disciplinary offence” that “violated ethical and moral standards” when he reposted an anti-war message on VKontakte, a popular Russian social network.

He was fired after the local prosecutor’s office informed the university that he was the subject of administrative proceedings.

Some teachers have been reported to the police by their own students or colleagues. Elena Baybekova, a mathematics teacher in Astrakhan, southern Russia, was fired the 1st of April. One of her students had objected to “political conversations” during her class, after which she was charged with “absence without leave” and fired. She had previously taken part in a demonstration against the war in Ukraine, for which she had been sentenced to five days in detention. She denies discussing politics during her class.

Marina Dubrova, an English teacher in Korsakov on the island of Sakhalin, was fired on April 5. Less than a week earlier, she had declared the war “a mistake” while speaking with students during a break. A student recorded the conversation in a video. One of the student’s mothers saw the clip and reported Dubrova to the police. Three days later, she was summoned to appear in court and fined 30,000 rubles (£360) for “discrediting the armed forces”.

Irina Gen, an English teacher from Penza, central Russia, faces jail time under the new criminal offense of spreading “false information” about the Russian military. On March 30, she was indicted for criticizing the invasion and calling Russia a “totalitarian state” where “any dissent is considered a crime of opinion.” She had been reported to the police by her students in 9th grade.

“Lessons” of war propaganda

School children have also been subjected to war propaganda, akin to indoctrination, contrary to the objectives of their right to education under international law to which Russia is linked. According to Kommersantan independent Russian newspaper, from February 28, students in grades 8 to 12 received lessons on “the special military operation”, a term made compulsory by the government to avoid calling it a “war”.

According to the media report based on leaks provided by teachers, students learn that the war in Ukraine “is not a war, but a special peacekeeping operation” which aims to “protect the population of the people’s republics of Donetsk and Luhansk”. Children also learn that “anti-Russian sanctions” can have a positive impact on the national economy. Such courses would have been strongly recommended at the highest levels but were not made compulsory.

On April 20, however, Education Minister Sergei Kravtsov announced that from September 1, all Russian schools would provide lessons on the goals and objectives of “the special peacekeeping operation ” in Ukraine.

According to Kommersant, the Kremlin has “strongly recommended” educational institutions to install the symbol “Z” (demonstration of support for the Russian war in Ukraine) on the facades of buildings and in classrooms. Many schools and kindergartens have also been enlisted in state-orchestrated war-themed ‘flash mobs’ in support of the ‘special peacekeeping operation’ that forced children to participate to such gatherings in violation of international human rights law.

Bruce Millar added:

“Given the current crackdown on all forms of dissent, it is impossible to know how many teachers or students have been expelled from educational institutions simply for expressing anti-war views. We may never know the total number of children subjected to state-coordinated indoctrination.