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Ukraine: children under Russian occupation forced into Russian schooling or face removal to orphanages - new briefing

A school in the Mykolaiv region destroyed during Russia's invasion of Ukraine © Anna Wright/Amnesty International

Children forced to sing Russian national anthem in schools adorned with Russian state symbols, and teachers pressured into teaching the Russian curriculum

Some parents hiding their children to avoid indoctrination and secretly teaching them at home

‘Intimidation and coercion are a daily reality for families, children and teaching staff’ - Anna Wright 

Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, families and teachers living under Russian occupation have risked brutal reprisals for continuing with Ukrainian education, with some parents choosing to hide their children to avoid them being taken to “re-education” institutions or for adoption in Russia, or having them forcefully enrolled into schools operating under the Russian curriculum, Amnesty International said in a new briefing today.  


Amnesty obtained evidence from 23 education workers and 16 families with school-age children who were - or still are - living under Russian occupation, and documented how Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has led to significant and widespread interruption of education in Ukraine.  


At the peak of their offensive Russian forces occupied around a quarter of Ukrainian territory and continue to control around one-fifth today. Despite the risk of reprisal, a few months into the occupation some teachers and parents tried to organise schooling under the Ukrainian curriculum. In the words of one regional education official, teachers, students and parents turned into “partisans digging holes in their gardens to hide laptops and mobile phones, or hiding in the attics and old sheds to catch the mobile signal”.   


A school librarian, Uliyana*, told Amnesty that she had to secretly arrange meetings with students to give them books, with Russian military patrols in the streets of their village who often conducted arbitrary searches. Some parents chose to discontinue education for the sake of their child’s safety. Polina, a mother of two, said that her children were outside their house only a few times during nine months of Russian occupation due to a fear of them being taken to Russia.  

Anna Wright, Amnesty International researcher for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said:

“In the Russian-occupied territories, intimidation and coercion are a daily reality for families, children and teaching staff. 


“The only way to help Ukraine heal and to make Ukrainian children’s present and future less painful, is for Russia to end the war in Ukraine, which is an act of aggression under international law. 


“The occupying authorities must immediately stop intimidating local people, coercing teaching staff into undertaking inappropriate educational activities, and other abusive practices. 

“During war or occupation, all parties remain bound by international humanitarian and human rights law. Ensuring children’s right to access to quality education is one such duty, and it must be fully respected.”  

Forced to attend schools adorned with Russian state symbols   

Kseniya*, the mother of a 15-year-old boy Kyrylo*, from an occupied village in Kherson region, told Amnesty about a home visit from a teacher in spring 2022. The teacher asked Kyrylo whether he would attend the school when it reopens in September. Kseniya said that Kyrylo would not go to the school. 

At the beginning of September, men dressed in Russian military uniforms came and told them: “In case you do not show up at the school tomorrow, the bus will come the following week and take you to an orphanage in Russia”. Kyrylo returned to school, only to find it had been decorated with Russian state symbols, while armed personnel were stationed at the door and inside the building.

A teacher from the occupied Berdiansk community in Zaporizhzhia region, who left the occupied territories in July 2022 but continues to give online classes to children still living in the occupied community, told Amnesty how the children are now forced to learn and sing the Russian national anthem. Those refusing are threatened with being taken away from their parents for “re-education in Russian orphanages”. At the same school, a notice, which was seen by Amnesty researchers, was distributed to all students and said, “Look around you. You can see that Ukraine has destroyed Kharkov, Mariupol and other cities. If you do not want Ukraine to kill you, tell us everything you see and know about it.”

Indoctrination and coercion of teachers 

Hanna* and Olena*, both teachers from a community in the Kharkiv region, which was occupied from March to September 2022, received texts from their respective schools’ headteachers trying to convince them to return for work to teach the Russian curriculum when they re-opened in September 2022. Both refused and went into hiding. Olena had to abandon her apartment and lived with neighbours, while Hanna secretly stayed in her house at the expense of not registering for humanitarian assistance (food packages) provided by the Russian occupation authorities. During her interview with Amnesty she said it was very difficult to survive eight months of occupation without an income or support. Family testimonies from the Russian-occupied territories also tell a story of schools that have reopened without sufficient or qualified teaching staff, with reports of children being left in classrooms on their own and told to read textbooks, meaning the quality of learning and discipline have both suffered significantly.   

*Names and other details have been changed for safety reasons. 

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Ukraine: children's education is one more casualty of Russian aggression