Art: Anna Makarova / Mediazona
In the city of Perm, close to the Ural Mountains, the principal and ten teachers of School #12, specialising in advanced German language studies, have resigned after pro-war activists accused them of sabotaging lessons called “Important Conversations” and began to insist on “patriotic” meetings with “veterans of the Special Military Operation,” the official term used to refer to the war in Ukraine.
Following a decision by the regional education body, the school’s exchange program with Germany was closed, and Federal Security Service (FSB) agents began to attend exams. Below, one of the resigned teachers, who requested anonymity, describes the teachers’ and management’s effort to tell the children the truth about the war in Ukraine.
We were working calmly all through the last school year, but then in May, one of the parents wanted to bring a “group of veterans” to the school. These were from the “Prikamye Knights” [, an anonymous pro-war Telegram channel]. Among them were veterans of the Chechen war and the current “special operation.” There were even rumours about some guys from the Wagner PMC, but I can’t say that for sure.
This man, a veteran of the Chechen war and a grown man, offered to come and speak to the younger children during a lesson. He’s got two kids at our school, in 2nd and 5th grades. He came up with several ideas, like meetings with students during “Important Conversations” or even separate class hours. He said they wanted to “talk about the war,” why it’s happening, why “the Motherland needs to be defended,” from whom, and all that. He said they “came back,” and “can show and tell.” But the teacher he talked to said no.
They complained to the local education department, and their second visit to the school was accompanied by a department representative. The principal was absent at the moment, and they were met by his deputy responsible for educational work. Three men and the department representative were present, and she endured significant pressure, with the men shouting, using profanity, and making threats. I was told about this later, and it was terrifying.
I understand how hard it must have been to hear all that, especially since the department representatives didn’t even stand up for her. The next day, they called the deputy back to the department, and this time they talked all polite and calm—no military guys. According to colleagues, they took the side of these... veterans. The school year was already winding down, everyone was getting ready for The Last Bell. But the “veterans” were demanding to be let into the school right away.
The teaching staff met with the school administration, and we discussed how it would be more challenging to work under these conditions next year. The principal told us in May that she had decided to leave. We understood that the school would become a testing ground for similar initiatives. We knew that in other schools deputy principals would walk down the hallway and listen in to the “Important Conversations” to detect improprieties. We knew that we would no longer be allowed to conduct these lessons, let’s put it this way, freely, and would have to follow all recommendations and guidelines. Before, I could take dedicate a part of the lesson to the official program and then just talk or play.
In late May, the governing council met. The father who initiated the military visit spoke, followed by the principal, parents, and teachers. Almost all parents were categorically against the “meetings with veterans” and developed an action plan to protect the children and the school. They met with the officials repeatedly over the summer and were even assured by the department that such lessons would not take place, but [the veterans] said, “We will continue to demand access to the school.”
I thought about this all summer, crying every day. One day I’d decide to resign, and the next I’d resolve to stay and fight. When in August I told the parents that I was leaving, we all cried together. As far as I know, 11 people, including the principal, resigned. Some left in May, and others during the summer.
You see, I wanted to change something. I thought I would continue to work and tell the children the truth. But after reading the laws being passed in our country, listening to various streams, and talking to people, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to change anything, unfortunately. I can’t be a propagandist. I don’t want to be. So, in mid-August, I resigned.
There are teachers in the school who are “for” the war. We have different teachers. I can’t say now whether they are in the minority or not—new ones have come to replace us. There’s no staff shortage.
The new principal will only arrive in September. I don’t know her personally, but I’ve been told that she holds the opposite viewpoint to ours. These “meetings with veterans” will likely be introduced into the school plan. Those who can do this have remained.
Our school specialises in advanced German language studies. In the ninth and 11th grades, students receive the Deutsches Sprachdiplom after testing that allowed them to enter German colleges without further language exams. Every year, about 12 children went to Germany. But now, our school’s cooperation program with the Goethe-Institut will no longer exist. I know from colleagues that our principal was invited to the department but refused to sign a paper stating that international cooperation was terminated “at the school’s initiative.” The department staff signed the paper themselves.
This year, the 11th graders managed to take the Sprachdiplom exam, attended by a representative from the Central Agency for German Schools Abroad. But an FSB representative was also present.
My students told me that he was present during one girl’s exam. Not knowing the language, he demanded that the teacher translate what the German representative was saying. The next day, they all went on an excursion to the Kungur Ice Cave. The FSB agent insisted on being in the same car as the German teacher, saying he must always see him. The trip went ahead, but he was placed in another car. The German left later, but it was very alarming. Everyone was stressed—both teachers and children.
For a year and a half, I honestly answered the children’s questions. Imagine two little ones running to me, one with tears in his eyes, shouting, “He says Putin has started a war!” Or when a student writes, “Military equipment is moving to Ukraine...” And one tells me, “Here, ours must defend...!” I ask him, “Who attacked us?” I show him on the map where Russia is and where Ukraine is—and that it’s not our territory. And so every day, on every lesson, questions arise—and they keenly look into your eyes. They were scared in the first months. One boy asked his parents, “Will we definitely be alive? Will we be occupied?” Imagine the stress these little ones went through.
When it all started, this February... People told me, “Your eyes have dimmed.” Not the children, but one grandmother. Give me a break! I was so very depressed. But I spoke openly and clearly with the children. Someone once told me, “You’ll be denounced.” But thank God, no one did.
I still don’t know if we did the right or wrong thing by leaving. I love my job very much. And I can still do a lot. But I understand that the screws will only be tightened further.
Editor: Dmitry Treschanin
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