The new wave of people’s evacuation started in Melitopol in the middle of June – many families with school age children leave the city. They do not want their children to be taught “under standards of the Russian Federation” or to be poisoned by propaganda, deceitful history or hatred towards anything Ukrainian. Melitopol became the administrative center of an occupied territory of Zaporizhzhia oblast. Russian occupation authorities significantly accelerated transformation of education system along “Russian standards”. Russian propaganda will treat the opening of schools on the 1st of September as an occasion to demonstrate that “peaceful life is getting better” under occupation. Opened schools will be also used for the preparation of “referendum to join Russia”.
“We hesitated and thought about the time of liberation of Melitopol from Russian occupants –would it happen before the beginning of school year? Now we see that it is unlikely. We have to bring our daughter to the territory controlled by Ukraine before the 1st of September, as we have to find new school and solve all issues of her transfer, then, she should adapt to the new city and people”, Tetyana from Melitopol tells her story. She already left the occupied territory.
Tetyana says that her family did not even think about their child attending school under Russian occupation. As she puts it, “schools under Russian occupation do not give knowledge and know-how; they teach only how to love Russian motherland”.
In July, Russian occupants significantly speeded up the transformation of education in line with “Russian standards” on occupied territories. Russian school manuals are brought in; teachers are sent for “re-training courses”; the curriculum is reorganized in accordance with Russian programs. There are threats to terminate parental rights of those parents who do not want to send their children to school under Russian occupation and plan that their children will be taught online in accordance with Ukrainian programs.
The rush is obviously explained by approaching start of the school year. On the other hand, collaborators would like to demonstrate their ability to launch “peaceful life” to their “Russian masters”.
Then, the opening of schools will play an important role for organizing and conducting so-called “referendum”. As a rule, polling stations are set up on the basis of schools in Ukraine whereas teachers are usual members of local election committees.
Russian occupants can also use children to pressure their parents. Today threats and intimidation are main instruments occupants and collaborators use to force local people as they know that majority of people do not support the Russian occupation.
“Last school bells” in schools whose directors cooperated with occupants became clear indicator of people’s attitude towards occupation. A few school kids attended these events in Melitopol schools.
Anzor Muzaev, the Head of the Russian Federal Service for Supervision in Education and Science, informed at the end of June that 20 thousand Russian forms of school certificates were brought to Melitopol. An equipment to print certificates was also supplied from Russia.
Despite increasing pressure on school directors and teachers, only 12 out of 20 Melitopol schools are planned to be opened by the Russian occupation administration by the 1st of September 2022. Many residents left the city or evacuated their children, including future school graduates. Some of those who stay in Melitopol do not want to send their children to schools with a handful of teachers working only in accordance with “standards of the Russian world”.
Occupants are not going to re-open schools located in places not favored by occupants. For example, school # 25 is situated very close to Russian “people’s militia”. It is unlikely they will open school # 8 as Russian occupants plan to open “hostel” for their troops in its building. Occupants’ “administration” was launched on the basis of gymnasium # 5…
Sergei Kravtsov, the Russian Minister of Education, is called upon to propagate “Russian educational standards” on occupied territories. He visited Kherson and Melitopol several times. But collaborators failed to organize any single crowded meeting with his participation. He distributed certificates of Russian accreditation to local schools, high school certificates to graduates as well as Russian textbooks.
Kravtsov formulated clearly the key obligation of local teachers: they must persuade children that Russian occupants are not enemies, they are best friends.
“The key issue is to tell school kids true story about our brotherly peoples, our common victories and achievements. It is the most important. We will easily solve any problems with textbooks or infrastructure”, Kravtsov declared.
For occupants, the key qualification criterion for Melitopol teachers is their readiness to impose pro-Russian ideological schemes on children and to “integrate Melitopol into Russian system of education”.
However, as of today, occupants failed to bring sufficient quantity of Russian textbooks even for those children who plan to attend “Russian school”. There was news only about the first dispatch brought and distributed by Minister Kravtsov among teachers for “their information”. A few dozen teachers were taken to “re-training courses” in Crimea and Russia. Overall, Russian occupants plan to “re-train” 20 thousand teachers on occupied territories of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts.
“The Crimean experience” is used by occupants as the sample to change the sphere of education on newly occupied territories. Erasing Ukrainian identity, shaping the loyalty towards occupants and militarization of education were main features of this “experience” after illegal annexation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol.
Higher education and technical and vocational education are also transformed by Russian occupants. “Melitopol State University named after Makarenko” was set up on the basis of higher education institutions of the occupied part of Zaporizhzhia oblast.
Occupants combined Melitopol State Pedagogical University, Tavriisky State Agrotechnological University, Classic Private University and Berdyansk State Pedagogical University into one higher education institution. It clearly follows the “Crimean approach”.
As the CJI reported, “Melitopol State University” of non-existing state was created in the building confiscated from Ukrainian higher education institutions. They were evacuated and re-registered on the territory controlled by Ukraine. ‘
“Melitopol University” is headed by Andrei Chuikov, the former employee of the Kharkiv National Law University. It was reported that he openly supported “Anti-Maidan” and refused from his certificate of the Ukrainian policeman during “Russian Spring” in 2014 in Kharkiv.
Free tuition and stipends in rubles are presented by occupants as main advantages of the fake “university”. But there is no boom of applications. “Diplomas” of this “university” will not be recognized anywhere in the world. By the way, “diplomas” of Crimean and Sevastopol higher education institutions are also not recognized after 2014.
Unfortunately, managers of this fake “university” seized not only the property of Ukrainian state agrarian and pedagogical universities but also documents of their students and personnel.
“We decided to take away originals of documents we submitted to the Ukrainian Agrotechnological University as our child does not plan to continue tuition in Ukraine. We visited newly created “university” three times. First, we were told to come later. Then, we were asked to submit application to the rector of university. He would consider it and decide after personal meeting whether to return documents. Other parents were told that the return of documents would be paid service and that parents should submit their personal data. So, finally, we decided to restore the certificate on the territory controlled by Ukraine”, Yulia said.
Occupants advertise institutions of technical and vocational education they seized in June. They will accept students without exams. These institutions were evacuated and re-registered on non-occupied territory of Ukraine. Students will continue their study online along Ukrainian programs. They will receive Ukrainian diplomas and they will not have to submit any additional applications.
Diplomas of Russian fake “universities” and technical and vocational institutions will be recognized only on occupied territories and, perhaps, in the Russian Federation.
Who manages “education” in Melitopol?
Some school graduates received Russian school certificates in Melitopol. Only nine graduates with the best results received “golden medals” during the celebration of the “last school bell”. In July, certificates were given to graduates of school # 15, the only school accredited by the Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation. According to the data of occupation administration, 4 400 Russian school certificates about completion of 9th and 11th grades were delivered to Melitopol, including 400 certificates with distinction.
The “oblast government” is now being staffed on the occupied part of Zaporizhzhia oblast. A number of Russian public officials landed in Melitopol. Anton Koltsov, the Deputy Governor of Russian Vologda oblast, was appointed the “head of Zaporizhzhia government”. Sevastopol inhabitant Anton Titsky, advisor to the Head of the Russian Federal Agency on Youth Affairs, became the “minister of the youth policy”. As of now, it is not known who will “manage” the education in oblast government.
Currently, the education sphere is managed by Olena Shapurova with scandalous reputation. Before the Russian invasion, she was the director of Melitopol industrial and economic college. Upon complaints of college personnel, the National Police of Ukraine initiated criminal investigation into her activity. The space of college was leased without registration of leasing agreements; students were forced to do repair works whereas the money for these works were transferred to dubious companies etc. The investigation was completed and submitted to the court consideration one year ago. However, the court consideration was delayed.
There is an interesting coincidence: the “department of education” in the occupation administration of Kherson oblast is also headed by a person with criminal background. It is Tetyana Kuzmich. She was accused of the state treason. The court consideration was also delayed.
Olena Shapurova was among the first people to start collaboration with the enemy in the city. Her husband, subordinates and friends received managerial positions in educational institutions whose directors refused cooperating with occupants.
Roman Dzuba, the former power lifting trainer and Shapurova’s husband, became the director of school # 15. There is no surprise this school was the first to receive Russian accreditation.
Olena Koshel, teacher of informatics in the college once headed by Shapurova, became the top manager of technical and vocational college created by collaborators.
Andrii Leonov, another Shapurova’s colleague, heads schools #4.
There is an acute shortage of pedagogical personnel for collaborators. That is why they hire pensioners and people without pedagogical training and experience. The problem with pedagogical personnel is the most urgent in secondary schools.
There were cases when armed people visited teachers who quitted their schools and required them to come back or leave the city.
The situation in rural communities is critical.
Some rural schools have to find all teachers. Job advertisements are regularly posted by local Russian propaganda accounts in social networks.
For example, Rozivka secondary school is desperately looking for all teachers – from a mathematician to a trainer. The same situation is observed in other large settlements: Voznesenka (Melitopol suburb), Yakymivka, Pryazovske (former centers of rural raions).
There is also an acute shortage of kids for schools. Occupants threaten parents to terminate parental rights if their children will not attend the school in Yakymivka.
To sum up, parents and their children face real danger caused by occupants’ and collaborators’ plans to demonstrate “successful peaceful life” on occupied territories.
Material is prepared by non-profit “Information press center” within IWPR project under the support of the European Union and the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.