War in Ukraine: in Kupyansk, teachers on the dock after the Russian occupation

They are seated side by side, wisely, two teachers who discuss their work in an office at the town hall of Kupyansk, in the far east of Ukraine. Your poise, seemingly banal scene between colleagues: here is Tetyana, who teaches geography at school number 9, and Valentina, mathematics teacher at school number 1. Make no mistake about it, however: a tragedy is playing out, in which Ukrainian teachers have been struggling since the start of the school year in September 2022. The two women were summoned here, due to lack of staff at the local education department, to settle administrative questions related to the collaboration .

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Teachers at a vocational high school in Kupyansk (Ukraine), December 26, 2022. Two of them refused to teach during the Russian occupation and the third continued.

The Koupyansk region has, in fact, lived under Russian occupation for more than six months, before being liberated this autumn. However, Moscow has always justified its invasion by defending its culture and language, persecuted in Ukraine, according to her. Conquering the territories was not enough for him, he also had to win people’s minds, set up a system of massive Russification where textbooks are weapons and the blackboard a front line.

In the occupied areas, the teachers were thus summoned to choose: to collaborate and apply the Moscow program, based on teaching in Russian, or to resign, at their own risk. “Nobody knew what to do, there was fear, they had to eat, everyone was trying to get by », begins Valentina (who did not wish to give her name) in the office of the town hall. She is one of those who continued to teach after the Russian ultimatum. Next to her, Tetyana avoids looking at her, her eyes stubbornly fixed on the floor. She made the opposite choice: to leave school number 9, claiming that she feared for the safety of the children because of the bombardments. “We would have risked a lot to appear pro-Ukrainian”she says.

“Anything could happen”

In kyiv, a solemn warning issued by Sergyi Gorbachov, mediator at the Ministry of Education, called on teachers in the occupied zone to avoid “the slippery road” of collaboration with the Russians. The subject is all the more sensitive as the accusation of “treason” applies differently, depending on the professional category. Considered as “essential”, firefighters, doctors or public service employees cannot be prosecuted for having exercised under the occupation. Ukrainian law, on the other hand, places teachers in a special situation: teaching a curriculum that denies national identity constitutes a crime. “It will be judged on a case-by-case basis, we are aware of the complexity of the situations, of the difference between a voluntary rally and another under duress”tempered mediator Sergyi Gorbachov. But the dilemma is there.

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War in Ukraine: in Kupyansk, teachers on the dock after the Russian occupation