Here’s what Russia is teaching high schoolers about Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin is extending his propaganda campaign about Ukraine into the country’s high schools. 

Russia this week released an updated textbook that supports his narrative about Ukraine, the U.S. and its western allies as he seeks to overhaul the curriculum in the coming year.

Critics say the new textbook lays out a false narrative about the war in Ukraine, which Russia still refers to as a ”special military operation,” and aims to erase Ukrainian history. Putin also appears to be using it as part of a goal of mobilizing youth toward an increasingly militarized culture.

The Russian school curriculum will be disseminated in Crimea, which Putin illegally annexed in 2014, as well as Russian-occupied territories in eastern Ukraine, according to human rights group Amnesty International.

Fedor Krasheninnikov, a Russian political analyst and frequent Kremlin critic, said the textbooks are a “special construction” of Putin’s view of reality.

“He created this textbook by propaganda,” he said. “It’s not a real textbook.”

The new textbook, called the “History of Russia 1945 — The Start of 21st Century,” is designed for older high-school students in Russia and Russian-held territories.

According to images shared by Russian state-run media outlets, the textbooks accuse Ukraine of being an “ultra-nationalist state,” where any dissent is “harshly persecuted, opposition is banned, everything Russian is declared hostile.”

The textbooks accuse the West of stealing assets from Russia, say the U.S. was the instigator of the war in Ukraine and accuse Washington of using Ukrainians to destroy the Russian state.

It also falsely states that the western security alliance NATO was plotting to attack the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine and that Russia had to block Ukraine from joining NATO to prevent a wider, destructive war, according to Amnesty International. 

Taras Kuzio, a professor of political science at the National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy, said the textbook exaggerates Russia’s victimhood, ignores its imperialistic ambitions, and propagates the “exceptionalism” of Russia.

“In this highly distorted and hopelessly partisan reading of history, the largest nation on the planet is also the world’s biggest victim,” Kuzio wrote in an analysis. “This embrace of exceptionalism encourages Russians to romanticize the violence that has defined much of their country’s history.”

Russian Minister of Education Sergei Kravtsov said the new textbooks are designed for 11th grade students and will tell “the most important events related to the reunification of Crimea and Sevastopol, the causes and progress of a special military operation, and the entry into the Russian Federation of new regions.”

“It tells about the feat of our new heroes of the Fatherland,” Kravtsov said at a meeting with Russian government leaders in August, according to state-run media outlet Tass.

The book was written by Russian historians Alexander Chubaryan, Anatoly Torkunov, Vladimir Medinsky. Medinsky is an aide to Putin and the Kremlin.

Anna Wright, a researcher of Eastern Europe and Central Asia for Amnesty International, said the new textbook “conceals the truth and misrepresents the facts about serious human rights violations and crimes under international law committed by Russian forces against Ukrainians.”

“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,” Wright said in a statement earlier this month.

The books are part of a larger aim to instill more patriotism and militarism across Russia’s youth and schoolchildren, a focus Putin has renewed after it dwindled following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Starting this school year, a new course called “Fundamentals of Life Safety,” will teach older Russian students military drill formations, how to reload a rifle and use hand grenades.

In 2024, another block of courses called “The Fundamentals Of Safety And Defense of the Motherland” is expected to teach students more military training basics.

On the first day of the school year this month, Putin attended a classroom and spoke to 30 students, according to the U.K. Defense Ministry.

“The new curriculum serves three objectives: to indoctrinate students with the Kremlin rationale for the ‘Special Military Operation’, instill students with a martial mindset, and reduce training timelines for onwards mobilization and deployment,” the Defense Ministry assessed. 

The new school curriculum also leans into a point of pride for Russia: victory in World War II over Nazi Germany. Putin has frequently called Ukraine “neo-Nazis” and has used the term and claim to justify his war.

Krasheninnikov, the Russian political analyst, said many Russians are unlikely to “believe in this ideology” about an existential fight similar to World War II.

“German armies were inside Russia,” he said. “And the Ukrainian army is in Ukraine. It’s a strange idea to be inside Ukraine and say it’s [another] World War.”

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