RIGA, Latvia – Russia has promised hundreds of teachers big money to go to occupied Ukraine and give students there a “corrected” education – with Russia’s take on Ukraine’s history – in the coming school year.
For some teachers in Chuvashia, a republic about 400 miles east of Moscow, the offer seemed tempting. The average monthly salary in the region is around $550, but the prospective salary posted by a school director on a Chuvashia teachers’ chat group was for more than $2,900 a month.
“Urgent,” his June 17 message said. “Teachers needed for [Zaporizhzhia] and Kherson regions for the summer period. 8600 rubles a day. The job is to prepare schools for the new school year. Transportation there and back – free. Accommodation and food – under discussion.”
An hour later, the director added: “Dear teachers, is there anyone else who wishes to help colleagues? It is safe in those regions. Please respond fast.” Both solicitations were shared with the Washington Post by the Alliance of Teachers, an independent group in Russia.
The pay is so lucrative that one of the group’s members briefly considered responding before his administrator warned him that he would be crazy to go.
“Everyone understands everything. These trips will not result in anything good,” said the teacher, who spoke under the condition of anonymity because of fears of retaliation.
Moscow is carrying out an intense Russification effort in occupied regions, one that appears designed to quash Ukrainians’ sense of history, nationhood and even their language. Targeting what children learn is a key strategy. Ukrainian education “must be corrected,” Russian Education Minister Sergei Kravtsov said at a June 28 meeting of President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party.
Yet the Kremlin’s effort extends far beyond the schools. It already has blocked Ukraine’s cellphone network and media in areas it controls, while broadcasting Russian state propaganda about its “denazification” of the country. It has torn down Ukrainian city signs and replaced them with Russian ones. And under a Putin decree, Moscow is trying to get Ukrainians throughout the country to sign up for Russian passports.
Referendums are planned for September on occupied areas “joining” Russia. The Kremlin also has foreshadowed possible votes on making Russian the official language of Ukraine.
Several weeks ago, Russia set up civil registry offices in Kherson and Melitopol, where Ukrainians can register newborn babies “in accordance with Russian law,” get Russian documents and apply for welfare payments.
Nearly 250 teachers, including 57 from the republic of Dagestan in southern Russia, signed up to go to Ukraine, according to a list on the Dagestan Ministry of Education website that no longer is visible. Their destinations include the Moscow-backed separatist regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson. The ministry advertised a massive pay boost – 8,000 rubles a day, about $137, on top of teachers’ existing teaching salaries.
In the city of Izhevsk, Georgy Grigoriyev signed up because of the salary. He is not concerned about the potential dangers and plans to go for at least a year. “Then probably I will stay there,” he said. “I’ll probably buy an apartment there. I have nothing to lose.” He teaches Russian language and literature as well as chemistry and biology.
“They promise very good salaries and accommodation,” Grigoriyev explained in a phone interview. “And I thought, ‘Why not?’ I’m divorced, my children are grown-ups, so I might as well work there, especially for such a good salary.”
The Education Ministry’s offices in Moscow and Dagestan did not respond to questions from the Washington Post, but in late June the ministry told the government newspaper Rossiskaya Gazeta that it was introducing “high-quality Russian standards so that schools can work properly.” Independent Russian media Caucasian Knot quoted a Dagestan ministry spokesman saying the order to recruit teachers came on the evening of July 6 and gave it just two days to get answers.
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