On the first day of school outside the east Ukrainian rebel stronghold of Donetsk, 11th-grade teacher Yelena Sepik tells her class to get out of their seats to clap and sing along to the Soviet military music playing over the speakers.
“Louder!” she yells, clapping to the music coming from a CD player in front of about 30 unamused 15- and 16-year-olds in the town of Makiyivka. “We have witnessed the formation of a new state,” she says. “The Donetsk People’s Republic, New Russia.”
Half a year into the republic, proclaimed on territory held by pro-Russian separatists since April, the new rulers are trying to create a sense of normality and the trappings of a functioning state.
Much of the former Soviet Union shares the same school traditions. But children in the rest of Ukraine are focusing on “national unity” for the first period of their year, and those in the secessionist east are learning about the history they share with Russia. In the Makiyivka class, that means the Second World War, or the Great Patriotic War.
History teacher Natalia Kudoyar expects more changes to her curriculum. “World history will be studied in depth, Russian history,” she says. “But our priority is the history of Donbass.”Reuse content