How teachers are resisting the Kremlin’s war propaganda in Russian schools

Nationalistic propaganda in Russia has intensified noticeably since the invasion of Ukraine last year, and the country’s 17.7 million schoolchildren have not been spared.

Vera Akhalaya

That said, it’s impossible for the Kremlin to control every teacher – and some are risking prison and their careers to tell their students about the realities of the war. One week after the 2022 invasion, Russia’s Education Ministry held an online lesson, aimed at children and open to anybody, called ‘Defenders of Peace’.

The lesson, hosted by 13-year-old TV presenter and musical prodigy, Sofia Khomenko, was dedicated to the “mission to liberate Ukraine” and “the danger posed by NATO”, according to the ministry’s official Telegram channel.

“At the moment, everyone is ready to discuss news reports from all sources, give value judgments, scream and cry. The space around us is filled with emotions. But the more people, the more opinions,” said Khomenko at the beginning of the video, echoing the Russian authorities’ favourite line that “things are not so simple” with the invasion of Ukraine.

At first, classroom discussions of the war were at the discretion of the teacher, school administration or regional authority – not Russia’s central government. But after some teachers criticised the military operation, weekly lessons promoting the Kremlin’s view on the war in Ukraine became mandatory in Russia….

Patriotism as a diagnosis