Ukrainian Teacher Gives Online Lessons in Defiance of Russia; Refused to Participate in Russification of Education

Kaname Muto / The Yomiuri Shimbun
A Ukrainian teacher shows some of the educational materials she uses in online lessons she teaches from Warsaw.

LVIV, Ukraine — A Ukrainian teacher is fighting her own battle against Russia’s aggression, by giving online lessons to children from her country.

After Russian military forces heading toward Mykolaiv and elsewhere in Ukraine were stationed on the east bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson Province from about April 2022, the education system there was forced to become completely Russified. At the elementary school where Myroslava (a pseudonym) taught in a town on the east bank, the children had to march in time to Russian military songs, lessons glorified Russia’s achievements, and a video insisting the Russian government was welcomed by residents in the occupied regions was replayed over and over.

The school originally had about 40 teachers. Despite feeling intimidated by the threatening new “principal,” they all refused to cooperate with the new system because they “couldn’t bring themselves to participate in the Russification of education” in Ukraine, Myroslava said.

Instead, young Russians with no teaching experience were dispatched to the school to be the new faculty. However, they hardly taught any subjects at all. They mostly chatted and tried to find out details about the children’s home situations. After one child inadvertently revealed that they were receiving online lessons in Ukrainian, Russian soldiers went around to the child’s home.

About 600 children had attended the school, but this number dwindled to about 20 six months after the invasion started due to fierce local opposition to Russia’s occupation. The school tried to encourage more children to attend by saying, among other things, they would be taken on a free trip to the Crimea Peninsula. However, efforts to continue running the school were eventually abandoned, and ultimately all four schools in the town closed. Computers, heaters and other equipment were taken away.

Myroslava continued to secretly teach online lessons even after the Russian military occupied the region. After the Kakhovka Dam collapsed and flooded the area in June 2023, she moved to a suburb of Warsaw. Even now, she holds online lessons for four or five hours each day for children who have evacuated to other parts of Ukraine or other nations, and for children who remain in occupied areas.

“If a child [in an occupied area] is caught receiving a Ukrainian education, they could find themselves in danger,” Myroslava said. “But despite this, they are determined to study and learn, so I want to help them with that.”

A total of 1,800 schools in Ukraine — about one-seventh of all schools in that nation — have reportedly been destroyed or damaged by Russian military attacks.

About 900,000 Ukrainian children are estimated to be studying remotely after fleeing to other parts of that nation or abroad, or for other reasons. These children say they want to return home soon and play outside with their friends. Many look weary during the online lessons.

“Children could become brainwashed if they attend school in the occupied areas. They can’t learn with their friends when they study online,” Myroslava said with a sigh. “Their lives are being taken away from them.”