Not only the army in Russia is eagerly looking for men who can work in Ukraine. In all corners of the country – from the Caucasus to the Far East – teachers are recruited to serve in schools in the newly conquered territories.
On September 1, the new school year will also begin in the war zone. Russian Education Minister Sergei Kravtsov recently announced the introduction of the Russian standard of education on that date. Loads of Russian textbooks have already been delivered to schools in Mariupol and Kherson.
This fits in with the larger plan of ‘russification‘ and incorporation of the occupied territories. The directors appointed by the Kremlin have announced referendums on joining Russia in various regions.
The authorities would search for around 2000 teachers for the four regions of Lugansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhe and Kherson. At least 250 people have already signed, according to a list that appeared mistakenly on the site of the Dagestan Republic, including addresses and telephone numbers. And according to Russian teachers‘ unions, there are many more candidates.
Solidarity with children
Several teachers on the list say they are moving to the areas of eastern Ukraine out of solidarity with Ukrainian children. “The children lived in cellars for months under the threat of bombing,” says a computer science teacher from Krasnodar over the phone. She doesn’t want to be called by name.
There are also teachers with other ideological motivations. Roman Sharov, French teacher from Oryol, not far from the Ukrainian border, says that he deliberately applied to a school in Mariupol, the city where he was born 45 years ago.
As a Russian in Ukraine, after the Maidan Revolution, he noticed how in 2014 an anti-Russian sentiment was valued by Ukraine. “Exactly the atmosphere from the period in Germany after Hitler‘s takeover of power,” he says in a roaring voice. “I saw fascism everywhere.” He decided to leave for Russia with his parents. Now he returns to help with the Russification of the new territories.
Message to its own population
Militarily, the battle is far from being fought in the occupied territories of Ukraine. “Of course, it is unclear whether the Russians will keep cities like Kherson in the coming months,” says Daniil Ken via Skype. He is chairman of the Russian Alliance of Teachers union, which opposes the war. According to Ken, the recruitment of teachers mainly serves as a message to the population in their own country. “See how our teachers, like our soldiers, come to the aid of the population in the liberated parts of Ukraine,” he expresses the message of the authorities.
And last but not least, the wage in Ukraine is attractive, around 4,000 dollars a month, Ken calculated. “That’s seven or eight times what they earn in their own region. And a tenfold for teachers from the poorer regions of the Caucasus and Siberia.”
Because union leader Ken and his Alliance of Teachers himself are a declared opponent of the war, he had to move from his hometown of Saint Petersburg to Yerevan in Armenia, where he continues his work. He fears that the teacher shortage that Russia has been struggling with for a while is being worsened as teachers with higher wages are being lured away to war zones. “And in the poorest regions, shortages are already the most acute.”
Maria Nikitina, an English teacher from Astrakhan, has purely humanitarian reasons, she says by phone. “I‘m not going for the money. No one told me what I’m going to earn. I also have no intention of brainwashing students with Russian propaganda. The children there had to endure a lot. That matters to my heart.”
Meanwhile, the fighting around Kherson and Zaporizje continues as usual. It will not be safe for the time being, Nikitina realizes, no matter how many security guarantees the Ministry of Education issues. Nikitina: “When you realize what kind of circumstances children live in, there is all the more reason to help there.”