A new history textbook which, amongst other things, justifies Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine as a legitimate act of self-defence and violates children’s rights to appropriate and quality education, is a dangerous attempt to indoctrinate future generations, Amnesty International said today.
The textbook, which abounds in Russian official propaganda cliches and tries to vindicate Russia’s illegal actions ranging from the annexation of Crimea in 2014 to the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, will be a compulsory part of the curriculum for high school children across Russia and the Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine, who return to school on 1 September.
“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,” said Anna Wright, Amnesty International researcher for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
“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” Anna Wright said.
Russian propaganda embedded in the curriculum
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 were allowed to join NATO, it could have led to a destructive war and “possibly the end of the civilization”, which Russia had no choice but to prevent.
The new textbook claims that Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine is a “special military operation” and quotes President Vladimir Putin on 24 February 2022, the day he ordered the invasion, as saying: “This is ultimately a question of life and death, the question of our historic future as a people”.
While denying children in Russia and the occupied territories of Ukraine their right to quality education – more than 500 Ukrainian schools are now under Russian control – the misinformation in the textbook also attacks Ukrainian citizens’ rights to cultural heritage and identity.
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.
Threats to Ukrainian parents and teachers
Parents, teachers and students in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine are at risk of violence, arbitrary detention and ill-treatment for refusing to follow the Russian curriculum, which was introduced to schools in September 2022.
Occupation authorities have the names and addresses of school-aged children residing in their areas. Education department officials can show up at their homes and request a child’s presence at school. They often threaten sanctions if their parents refuse to send them to schools teaching the Russian curriculum.
Russian law enforcement agencies conduct routine checks of private electronic devices and if they spot content or software used for online schooling that follows the Ukrainian curriculum, the consequences can be grave, including arrest and ill-treatment.
Yuriy,* (not his real name), a father of three who is from a village near Nova Kakhovka (he requested not to name the village), 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 Russian authorities as he wouldn’t put his child in Russian school. 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.
Mariya,* from Nova Khakovka, who left the Russian occupied territories of Ukraine in September 2022, told Amnesty International 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.
Some teachers in the occupied territories are refusing to teach the Russian curriculum, on the understanding that they are doing so at immense risk to their own safety.
Alina,* a history teacher from Izium, told Amnesty researchers 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, and other teaching materials with a blanket.
After her apartment block was damaged by shelling, Russian soldiers looted the building. Alina told Amnesty International she felt lucky that her books were not uncovered in the raid of her apartment as “it did not look appealing to them, they could see there was nothing valuable there”.
Amnesty International has been working to document war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. All of Amnesty International’s outputs published to date can be found here.