Russia/Ukraine: new history textbook for schools is attempt to 'indoctrinate' children

Among other things, the textbook contains Kremlin propaganda on Russia's so-called ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine © REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

The textbook will be compulsory in more than 500 Ukrainian schools under Russian occupation, with punishments for those who refuse to follow it

Textbook contains Kremlin propaganda on ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine

‘Indoctrination of children at a vulnerable stage of their development is a cynical attempt to eradicate Ukrainian culture’ - Anna Wright

A new Russian history textbook which, among other things, justifies Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine as a legitimate act of self-defence, is a dangerous attempt to indoctrinate future generations, Amnesty International said today. 

From today, the textbook - which has multiple examples of Russian official propaganda and attempts to justify a range of illegal actions, from the annexation of Crimea in 2014 to last year’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine - will be a compulsory part of the curriculum for high school children across Russia and the Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine, where more than 500 Ukrainian schools are now under Russian control.

The textbook, aimed at older high school students, depicts Russia as a victim of a Western plot rather than the aggressor. It claims that prior to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, NATO advisers actively prepared Ukraine to “attack Donbas”, a reference to the areas of eastern Ukraine that have been under Russian occupation since 2014. 

It also states that if Ukraine had joined NATO it could have led to a war and “possibly the end of the civilisation”, which Russia had no choice but to prevent. 

The textbook claims that Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine is a “special military operation” and quotes Vladimir Putin from 24 February 2022, the day he ordered the invasion, saying, “This is ultimately a question of life and death, the question of our historic future as a people”.

Parents, teachers and students in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine are at risk of arbitrary detention and ill-treatment if they refuse to follow the Russian curriculum (see case studies below), which was introduced to schools in occupied areas a year ago. The occupation authorities have the names and addresses of school-aged children in their areas, and education department officials can visit homes and request a child’s presence at school, threatening sanctions against those who refuse.

Russian law-enforcement agencies have also been conducting checks of private electronic devices, looking for content or software used for online schooling which follows the Ukrainian curriculum. Those caught with such content risk arrest and ill-treatment.

Some teachers in the occupied territories are refusing to teach the Russian curriculum, at immense risk to their own safety. 

As the occupying power in the parts of Ukraine under its control, Russia is bound by its obligations as a state party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This includes the obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the right to education and not to violate this right by indoctrinating pupils with propaganda.

Anna Wright, Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia’s Researcher, said: 

“The textbook conceals the truth and misrepresents the facts about serious human rights violations and crimes under international law committed by Russian forces against Ukrainians.

“Indoctrination of children at a vulnerable stage of their development is a cynical attempt to eradicate Ukrainian culture, heritage and identity, and is also a violation of the right to education.”

Case studies

Yuriy*, a father of three who is from a village near Nova Kakhovka (he requested that the village not be named), said that after Russia’s full-scale invasion his daughter switched to studying the Ukrainian curriculum online and that she continued to do so even after the Russian curriculum was introduced to schools. In October 2022, a few days after being visited at his house by a Russian official, who asked Yuriy why his daughter was not attending in person classes, Yuriy was arbitrarily detained by the Russian authorities. He was held for six days and ill-treated. “They only beat me one day. They fed us, not very well. They also wanted us to sing the (Russian) national anthem”, he said.

Alina*, a history teacher from Izium, told Amnesty that during the months of Russian occupation she was terrified of teaching Ukrainian history and was hiding her textbooks at home. During apartment checks carried out by Russian soldiers in her area, she covered her textbooks and maps showing Crimea as part of Ukraine with a blanket. After her apartment block was damaged by shelling, Russian soldiers looted the building. 

Mariya*, from Nova Khakovka, who left the Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine in September 2022, told Amnesty that her daughter’s phone was kicked from her daughter’s hands by Russian soldiers when it played a song in Ukrainian as a ringtone. 

*Names have been changed. 

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