It was a school assignment that raised eyebrows and even caused outrage among parents in St. Petersburg.
Fourth-grade students at an elementary school in the northern Russian city were recently tasked by their teacher with writing a "letter to their father on the front line."
According to Olga Fedorchenko, whose daughter was among those given the homework assignment, there was no mention made of any specific conflict.
But it comes amid rising tensions between the West and Russia, in part over Russian military adventures. Russian forces are deployed in Syria to prop up ally Bashar al-Assad, Russia supports separatists fighting government troops in Ukraine, and there are fears that Kyiv and Moscow are edging toward open war after a recent naval incident off Crimea.
Writing in a blog post on November 26, Fedorchenko said that, at least for her child, writing the letter proved distressing, driving her to tears as she imagined him far away in danger.
It may have merely been a creative writing assignment, but Russian children have been wooed for jingoistic purposes before.
In 2016, President Vladimir Putin himself launched a military-patriotic movement known as the Youth Army. The Youth Army -- or Yunarmia in Russian -- has grown to include 190,000 children aged 8-18, and is spread throughout the country.
For Fedorchenko, at least, the homework assignment had a potentially sinister motive.
“Assignment: WRITING A LETTER TO YOUR FATHER ON THE FRONT LINE!!! What kind of federal idiot thought up this theme for homework?! Does this mean we are preparing for war?!” Fedorchenko wrote in a blog post.
Her daughter wasn’t too enthused about the writing exercise either, judging by her letter, also embedded in her mother's blog post.
In it, she writes: “Dad, why do you need this war? Come home to us. Everything is wonderful at home. Why do you need this?”
Elsewhere she writes, “I hate the people who started the war!"
There are indications the homework assignment may not have been limited to St. Petersburg. In her post, Fedorchenko includes an image of the cover of a fourth-grade literature schoolbook issued by the Education and Science Ministry in 2015. A page inside the book that includes the letter-writing exercise is also pictured.
Critics have accused Putin of relying on nationalism and militarism to boost his popularity and unite Russia. His flagging popularity soared after Russia annexed Crimea. His numbers also rose when he first sent in troops to aid Assad in September 2015.
To tap into the country’s youth, Putin formed the Youth Army. Some see in it echoes of the Young Pioneers, the official Soviet-era youth movement of the Communist Party.
Children as young as 10 are recruited and taught weapons skills, political ideology, and Russian history. The movement is active on social media. Supporters claim it revives tradition and instills pride in history and homeland in the next generation of citizens.