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Rights Group: Ukrainian Language Near Banished In Donbas Schools

The instruction of the Ukrainian language has been virtually wiped out in areas that Moscow-backed separatists control in eastern Ukraine where an armed conflict has simmered since April 2014, the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG) says.

Citing a report published earlier this month by Dmytro Durnev, a journalist from the city of Donetsk, KHPG said that Ukrainian-language teaching was phased out in 2014-2016.

“This is very clearly a ‘Russification’ program,” KHPG said.

The same has happened in Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula where Russia eventually shuttered all seven Ukrainian-language schools since taking it over in early 2014.

Moscow-directed authorities on the peninsula have also reduced the number of Crimean-Tatar language schools there by more than half, leaving only seven municipal educational institutions open.

Currently in the parts of Donbas that Kyiv doesn’t control, schoolchildren learn Ukrainian for one hour a week in comparison to up to five or six hours of Russian, in addition to other courses they take in the same language, KHPG said.

The Kremlin-backed authorities there have justified the curriculum change based on meeting local demand on language preferences.

Concerning the Crimea, an April 2017 ruling by the UN’s International Court of Justice ordered Russia to “refrain from imposing limitations on the ability of the Crimean Tatar community to conserve its representative institutions, including the Mejlis, and ensure the availability of education in the Ukrainian language.”

Donetsk journalist Durnev spoke with former and current teachers in the parts of Donbas that Kyiv doesn’t control, reporting that any teachers who “objected” to the language switch could “be easily arrested and incarcerated on charges of ‘collaborating with the Ukrainian State Security Service.’”

Russian-language manuals, he said, are brought in from Russia and quotas are given at Russian state-run universities to allow applicants from the occupied part of Donbas to enroll.

Much attention is devoted to instilling “patriotism” for the breakaway region in Donetsk, one teacher said, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of persecution.

First graders immediately are given history lessons titled “Five Years of DPR,” in reference to the part of the Donetsk region that Moscow-backed separatists control.

More than 20 percent of news content in the occupied parts of Luhansk and Donetsk “constituted disinformation about Ukraine” local media watchdog Institute of Mass Information said in a study published in May.

In addition, many Ukrainian Internet sites are blocked in the separatist parts of Donbas and Crimea, and all Ukrainian television channels have been taken off the air.

“This means that the population in occupied Donbas are receiving information from channels that are overtly propagandist and anti-Ukrainian, while children are growing up on the aggressor state’s textbooks and dangerous fiction about essentially fake ‘republics,’” KHPG said.

Last year, authorities in Russia closed the only Ukrainian-literature library in Moscow. Ukrainians make up the second-largest ethnic minority in Russia.

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