Civic education for the front-line regions within reintegration tasks of temporarily occupied territories | Center for Political Analysis «Observatory of Democracy»

Civic education for the front-line regions within reintegration tasks of temporarily occupied territories

Reintegration cannot be limited only to de-occupation and the return of temporarily occupied territories back under Ukrainian authorities’ control. The guarantee of the effectiveness of the process is the unification of citizens on the basis of a single system of civic values.

Therefore, reintegration should also be considered as the formation of civiс identity among all citizens of the state. Civic identity is the foundation the absence of which leads to the impossibility neither to establish a strong state, nor to work out a civilized solution of conflicts in society, nor to enable an effective control of society over power. Therefore, the formation of civil values should be one of the main vectors of state policy. However, until now the value component of reintegration is not on the agenda of the authorities. In public discourse we can observe only the ascertaining of the identification blurriness problem.

The existence of significant regional differences predetermines the need for a multi-level reintegration policy. Its development requires the definition of the specific socio-political characteristics of regions and features of regional political consciousness. In addition, the different extent of significance and role of the regions in the reintegration process should be taken into account. The regions bordering the Russian Federation and regions bordering front-line not only due to geographical closeness, but also regarding other factors should play a determining role.

Why the role of the regions bordering the Russian Federation and regions bordering front-line is particularly important?

The outbreak of the war in Donbas was accompanied by the active promotion of the project “Novorossiya” in the Russian media. A lot of “historical” programs on different channels “reminded” of Russia’s ownership of the southern and eastern regions of Ukraine. The ideologists of the “Russian world” persuaded the need to “restore historical justice”. Mobilization of mass consciousness to support the war, as well as of willing and not very willing citizens to participate directly in it, was held under the slogans of protection from the Kiev “punitive junta” of “brotherly”, “Russian-speaking”, oriented on the “Russian world” and on an alliance with Russia, people. It also should not be forgotten that the brains of the inhabitants of the southeast were stuffed with that project and its slogans. Actually, synchronized actions aimed at destabilizing the situation in Kharkov and Odessa, pointed to a much greater appetite of the Russian Federation in relation to the Ukrainian territories. Experts stated the plan to create a “Putin’s arc”, which should cut Ukraine off the Black Sea. Therefore, not only Donetsk and Lugansk, but also Kharkov, Odessa, Dnipro, Zaporozhye, Kherson and Nikolaev were included in the zone of Russian interests priority within these projects.

Over the past two years, Russian and Ukrainian politicians and experts have made many statements, which claimed that the project “Novorossiya” is closed and “buried.” To find out at which stage of the “funeral procession” it really is, many publications in Russian information sources devoted to the “geopolitical perspectives of the “young republics” have been analyzed. On this basis, we can draw the following conclusions:

  • Viewers and readers are often reminded that the creation of the “DNR” and “LNR” was positioned as the creation of a springboard for the implementation of a large project “Novorossiya”, or in other words the unification within it of all the South and East of Ukraine.
  • “Novorossiya” is interpreted as “the salvation of the native land”, which historically was called “Malorossia”, “Novorossiya”. That is, the key vector of politicization of history and historicalization of politics has not changed.
  • Attention is focused on the fact that “Novorossiya” has already ” intervened in the hearts and souls of people”, and not only among the inhabitants of the self-proclaimed “young republics”. This forces to make efforts for “liberation” and joining the “Novorossiya” of Kharkov, Odessa, Dnepropetrovsk, Zaporozhye, Kherson and Mykolaiv regions.
  • At the moment, the “peaceful way” of the struggle for “Novorossiya” is recognized as a priority. One of the key tools is the strengthening of the influence on the consciousness of the inhabitants of those areas that should subsequently join “Novorossiya”, because “the historical process is not stopped”.
  • There are often met calls to abandon the blitzkrieg, but to act consistently and on a large scale. Using various analogies, the project’s ideologues explain that it is not necessary to immediately inflame a large fire, as this can activate the Ukrainian authorities in the direction of counteraction and frighten the environment of potential “Novorossiya supporters”. Therefore, it is better to warm up the mood slowly, but constantly. So the object of influence “comes to readiness comfortably”.
  • The war in Ukraine is further interpreted as a global confrontation between Russia and the United States, which also play a major role in ending it. At the same time, statements about the inadmissibility of losing Ukraine sound unambiguous. It is indicative that the motivation for victory in the struggle for Ukraine has already transcended geopolitical reasons. The motives for preserving the Russian Federation in the current state are moving to the forefront. Otherwise, it will turn into a country in which the western regions will be influenced by Europe, and everything beyond the Urals – by China. Briefly it looks like the following: if we do not want Russia to lose Europe and its positions in the Eurasian Economic Union, to become like Ukraine and collapse like the USSR, Ukraine needs to be kept.
  • The expansion of “Novorossiya” at the expense of the southeast regions is seen as the first necessary step towards ensuring Russia’s victory in a global confrontation with the Anglo-Saxon world.

Thus, the messages sent through the media indicate that the project “Novorossiya” is not closed, and the south-eastern regions of Ukraine will not continue to remain without close attention of the neighboring state. Only the forms, means and force of pressure of destructive influence are changed. Regarding the high level of “infection with the virus of Russian world” of residents of these areas and the lack of the necessary complex effective “anti-epidemic” measures, we can state a threatening and explosive situation. The fact that during the war the patriotic minority has become more active does not mean that among a significant majority nostalgic and separatist sentiments have disappeared.

The complex of external and internal preconditions indicates the strategic importance of the Ukrainian border regions for both Russia and Ukraine. Russia will try to keep them in the orbit of its influence as a springboard for further destabilization and implementation of longer-term projects. Many factors facilitate the fulfillment of this task. The main among them is the large share of pro-Russian and separatist sentiments, the dominant regional identity, and also the extremely weak efforts of the Ukrainian authorities to address these problems. For Ukraine, the southeast regions are important not only from the point of view of preserving the integrity of the state and strengthening security, but also as a platform for the reintegration of the occupied territories and a solid value bastion on the way to the “Russian world”. However, it is obvious that the authorities today greatly underestimate both the role of these regions and the threats emanating from the state of regional consciousness.

Kharkiv region – an outpost on the eastern border

Kharkiv region is industrial, densely populated area, bordering the Russian Federation as well as Donetsk and Lugansk regions. In 2014, “KhNR” was managed to avoid due to several favorable circumstances. However, the high level of patriotism of Kharkiv citizens does not apply to those ones. At that time, it was extremely low and has not yet risen significantly (if we talk about the real extent and not about the demonstrative one). On the one hand, this leaves Kharkiv at the top of the list of potential candidates for joining the “Russian world” projects, and on the other hand, points to the need for a very substantial correction of regional political and civic consciousness. Kharkiv should become an outpost on the eastern border and the epicenter of the formation of civil values ​​that will extend to the frontline and liberated territories.

Kharkiv got the largest number of internally displaced persons. As of the end of January 2017, in Kharkiv region about 200 000 internally displaced persons were registered. Most of them live in Kharkiv and the district, as well as in the districts closest to the regional center. These citizens are potential reintegration agents. However, in order to carry out such a mission, they must become carriers of uniting values, capable of distributing them through the liberated territories after the return. Does the social and educational environment in Kharkiv region contribute to this mission, under the conditions of which the citizens should be formed as carriers of democratic values ​​and activist culture? What conditions should be created for effective civil socialization?

Socio-political portrait of the region

The specifics, directions and scope of work are determined not only by the goals and objectives, but also by the specific features of the social environment in which it is realized. Therefore, we should define its main characteristics.

Historical and geographical factors remain among the main ones in terms of the influence on regional consciousness. Mental belongingness with the “Russian world” goes back to the times of the Russian Empire. The status of the “first capital”, industrial and scientific center, large-scale Russification in the Soviet times contributed to the formation of a stable “homo sovieticus” in the minds of most Kharkiv citizens. Strong evidence of the dominance of nostalgic sentiments is the result of all the election campaigns that took place during independence. Until the early 2000’s political technologists called the region “red”, as the majority received communists. Until 2014, the Party of Regions and the Communist Party of Ukraine received the most votes, working on the same electoral field, stimulating nostalgia for the USSR and exploiting the idea of ​​”close ties with the fraternal people”.

After the beginning of the aggression, the socio-political portrait of the region did not change much. The results of the extraordinary parliamentary elections in 2014 showed that the level of support for the “Opposition bloc” in comparison with the support level of the Party of Regions in 2012 declined not so much – from 41% to 32%. The deputies of the new Kharkiv City Council became 57 representatives of the “Vidrodzhennya” and 7 of the “Nash Kray” party. “Samopomich” and “BBP-Solidarity” are represented by 13 and 7 deputies respectively. Therefore, two-thirds of the representative of the “Vidrodzhennya” clearly testify to the “pro-European” sentiments of the majority of Kharkiv citizens. The political parties’ representation in the regional council is does not vary greatly. The “Vidrodzhennya” and the “Opposition bloc” also dominate.

The procedure for recognizing Russia as an aggressor country in both councils took much time to be realized. Recognition occurred at the third attempt and not without pressure from the Presidential Administration and the active civil society representatives. Kharkiv deputies representatives of majority districts in the Verkhovna Rada also distinguished themselves in the voting on October 7, 2017 for a bill that recognizes at the legislative level Russia as an aggressor country. With the approach of new election campaigns, not only the “Vidrodzhennya” and the “Opposition Bloc” are being activated, which support is growing amid a lack of trust to the highest state authorities. Leaders of the party “For Life”, which is trying to reach the national level from the regional one, chose Kharkiv as the basic region.

According to the results of a survey presented by the Institute for World Politics within the framework of the Program for the Promotion of Public Activism “Join!”, which was held by GfK Ukraine from May 17 to May 24, 2017, sociologists ascertained an increase in the level of euroscepticism. Most skeptical attitudes are inherent to the inhabitants of the East. Since the polls are conducted only in the controlled part of Donetsk and Lugansk regions and in Kharkiv region, the position of the East is represented mostly by Kharkiv citizens. 63% of respondents explain skepticism towards European integration by deteriorating living standards and the state of the economy in the country. It is this argument that dominates in the private conversations. 7% of respondents noted that because of the desire for European integration, Ukraine lost territory and continues to fight in war. Such an opinion the inhabitants of Kharkiv also express very often.

It should be noted that there are certain paradoxes concerning the attitude of Kharkiv citizens towards the EU. Many people like “well-fed Europe”, they even want to be there very much. Most students want to go to European countries. At least in Poland. Only in their minds, Europe is associated with goods, not with values, the realization of which provides these benefits. In fact, every third student calls us and himself or herself “the bearer of European values.” However, on the questions of what these “European values” represent and what shows that we are their carriers, in the vast majority of cases, there is not a single well-reasoned answer. The meaning of the statement about the need to “build Europe in Ukraine” for the consciousness of many residents of the eastern region is still unattainable.

The active minority, which tries to draw attention to the problem of democratic values and promote their implementation, has not yet reached a “critical mass” sufficient to perform an effective influence on the institutions of power and citizens. Such a socio-political environment does not contribute to the formation of new values as the basis for reintegration.

Educational environment: civil-patriotic education or simulation?

More than 27 000 of internally displaced people are children, most of whom study in Kharkiv and district centers’ schools. In what educational environment have they found themselves? What values are inculcated to them within the walls of educational institutions? Will they become the agents of reintegration and democratic transformation? What and how are they being taught in schools and universities, what is the atmosphere there?

Our school is the first institution that teaches children to ignore rights and law, obey the bearers of power statuses and their unlawful pressure. A lot of orders received daily by pupils, do not have not only a relation to any norms of law, but also directly violate them. The daily school life consists of a number of “trifles”, each of which is aimed at eradicating the very thought that the main is the law, rather than the bearer of a certain status. Since the school is toughly integrated into the vertical of the administrative resource, the dictatorship of teachers towards the students is clearly combined with their slavish subordination to power and the cult of its bearers. The situation indicates the presence of signs of socio-psychological sadomasochism, described by Erich Fromm in the work “Escape from Freedom”. Such an atmosphere is not acceptable for civic education.

Patriotic education is also realized periodically. As a rule, “attacks of patriotism” are observed after the corresponding order “from above”. Then contests of drawings on patriotic themes are urgently arranged, hand-crafted things for contests are prepared, pupils are criticized for “insufficiency of patriotism”.

As an illustrative example of the perverted coexistence of “festive patriotism” and “routine separatism” one can provide the case of one teacher’s performance in several acts, which for a month have been observed by pupils of one Kharkiv school class. 1. At the lesson of nature-study the teacher told that the deficit of fresh water is growing on the Earth. This is a very important reason for uniting with the Russian Federation, because it has access to the Arctic Ocean. It will melt the ice and share fresh water with Ukraine. 2. During an open lesson the pupils saw a teacher in embroidered shirt. Within two months, preparing for this lesson, pupils were rehearsing a physical culture minute accompanied by a patriotic song. 3. On the eve of Victory Day pupils heard about the “brotherly people” with whom the enemy was defeated, and therefore the explanation that now we should be together. In response to the pupil’s remark that now the war with the Russian Federation continues in Ukraine, he heard: “do not worry”, “the school is beyond the politics”. This example illustrates a typical educational environment for the Kharkiv school, in which the children are nurtured.

Basic human values – the fundament for a civic culture

In the comments on the recent bloody car accident in Kharkiv, experts and analysts raised a number of problems that led to the tragedy, including the problem of family dysfunction. It should be added that this is also a dysfunction of both the state and the education system. At first glance, the event does not directly concern the issue being analyzed by us. However, it does. One of the key social function of education is to inculcate to the next generation the system of values ​​by which society should live and which its desired model is operated with. The core of the whole system of values ​​of modern civilized societies is the value of human life. The right to life was first justified by thinkers as a natural right. Recognizing and respecting this right, the states have charged themselves with the function of guaranteeing and protecting it. The law has acquired the highest power. Western educational systems are making enormous efforts to ensure that from childhood people realize the supreme value of human life and learn to be guided by law in everyday life. In our society, human life is perceived somewhat differently. Until now the educational system has nothing to do with raising awareness of the supreme value of human life and the rule of law as well as other values ​​of civilized society. For residents of the eastern region, who visit European countries more rarely and thus less observe how people actually live with these values, how all elements of the power system protect them, even this fundamental basis looks more virtual than real.

Report on the tragic event in Kharkiv with video information showed the most influential European media. Some European officials made statements, emphasizing the security and legitimacy underlying the value system of civilized society. How does Ukraine look like in the eyes of a European? Obviously, like a barbarous country. But the problem is not even how it looks, but how we feel in a society that is in an anomie state. It is not surprising that the students did not believe the media report that the Swedish King had been fined by the police for overspeeding. Analyzing their questions and comments, it is possible to conclude that they cannot at all imagine the common to the European citizen reality of equality before the law and the equal responsibility for its violation.

Such an environment seems dangerous from the point of view of preserving the integrity of the state and not acceptable for solving reintegration problems. Since the roots of the problem lie mainly in the absence of knowledge and competence, it is logical that the decision should begin with real and specific steps towards civic and political education, learning of the fundamental values ​​of a civilized society. To make European values ​​in the minds of Ukrainians move from the virtual to the real sphere, systemic and comprehensive educational work is needed. Only the transition to another value system of coordinates will transform an ordinary citizen into an ideological defender of statehood and an agent of reintegration.

Higher education without a civic component

Kharkiv is one the largest student city. About 200 000 students study at 40 universities. Traditionally, the majority of students are from the eastern and southern regions. For certain reasons from Lugansk and Donetsk regions now less students come. However, many students- from front-line regions and those who came from the occupied territories also study now in Kharkiv. In Odessa there are 20 universities, in the Dnipr – 19, in Zaporozhye – 8. The largest regional centers are at the same time and student centers. The value system that higher educational institutions raise in the minds of young people will determine not only their formation as citizens, but also the quality of those social institutions that today’s students will reproduce in adulthood.

Someone can be surprised or even have objections to the statement about the actual lack of civic education. After all, school teachers sincerely believe that they are realizing this educational mission. At universities since the early 1990s “Political Science”, “Sociology”, “Law” and other theoretical disciplines that were aimed at forming civil qualities were taught. Why then they did not bring up citizens?

As the main reasons we can name two: weak orientation of humanitarian disciplines on teaching of practical civil knowledge and on formation of democratic values system; lack of environment for the practical application of even those fragmented knowledge that students received through different disciplines. In course books and tutorials, the fundamentals of the theory of politics are well presented – what are power, political systems and political regimes, parties, and so on. But for a citizen it is important to know not only what power is and what theories explain its origin and essence, what political parties are and what types of them have been formed. It must be understandable how to put this power under the control of society and make it responsible, with a help of party mechanisms as well. It was the analytical and practical component that was lacking in the structure of political education. If the teacher is a supporter of the reproductive method, and this is not an uncommon thing, the result of learning is determined by the principle of “memorized, passed, forgotten”. Since during the last ten years the number of humanitarian disciplines and the time allocated for their study have been decreasing substantially and systematically, hence, the possibilities for civic education have decreased, even in the case of a subjective orientation of the teacher towards the realization of these tasks. In the academic year 2017/18, the humanitarian component of higher education is virtually eliminated. Instead of the substantial reorientation necessary to overcome value conflicts and the formation of civil identity, even the prospects of civic education and upbringing have been destroyed.

Consequently, today there is not only a system of political and civic education, but also all its elements are absent. Only certain steps are being taken to ensure greater support for the intentions declared by the authorities. So at the end of August 2017 the universities received a letter from the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine with recommendations for implementing special courses, holding round tables and other events aimed at informing students about NATO. For the Kharkov region this issue is very relevant, given the low level of awareness of the essence and principles of the functioning of this organization. The majority of citizens of the region are inclined to decide whether to support or not NATO membership on the basis of devotion to one of the two political mythologies: “NATO is an absolute evil”; “NATO is the solution to all security problems.” However, the letter was of an advisory nature. Recommendations can be ignored, which has happened. Can the problem be solved in this way? Obviously, it cannot.

If the authorities intend to provide support for the Euro-integration and Euro-Atlantic policy vectors, then the move should be made from general to specific: first basic civil and political knowledge, then knowledge of the essence and principles of the functioning of international political organizations and supranational unions, and only after that – arguments for moving in the direction of these unions. And if this is a strategy and a policy of the state, then it should not be about recommendations, but about mandatory duties. Citizens must make choices based on knowledge. Even if it is not in favor of the current strategy of power, the main thing is that knowledge makes the choice conscious.

The Revolution of Dignity started to form citizens. Many of us indeed realized the need for freedom and made a choice in its favor. However, to become citizens, we need to learn the system of basic civil values, learn to live with them and make the authorities constantly feel that the majority in society has and support these value principles. This will become a real sign of progress towards the formation of a political nation that realizes the value of independence and is able to defend it.

In the south-eastern region, the process of citizens’ and the nation formation is going very slow. Therefore, civic education and upbringing are of paramount importance for these specific regions. After all, the priority attention of the aggressor country is turned to that territories, and in the minds of the inhabitants the greatest mental and socio-political grounds for its successful destabilizing actions are traced. In addition, it is these areas that should play a key role in the reintegration process.


Reintegration is impossible without the formation of a new value system for all citizens of the state. This is the basic vector of state humanitarian policy. Its development requires taking into account the specifics of political consciousness in different regions of Ukraine.

The state has distanced from performing the function of educating citizens. Dysfunction of the state generates dysfunction of educational and family institutions. Educational institutions that function in a specific regional cultural environment continue to educate young people in a spirit of formal respect and a real disregard for rights and law. Patriotic education also acquires the character of simulation. Under such conditions the new value system as the basis for unification can remain a “virtual reality”.

The regions bordering front-line require the greatest attention and the most ambitious program of civic education and upbringing. This is due to the following factors: the greatest mental closeness and active contacts with the “Russian world”; the largest number of internally displaced persons; staying in the zone of priority attention of Russian authorities, special forces and propagandists; a significant number of people and the concentration of educational institutions; the most active activity of pro-Russian political forces.

The educational and university community, the humanities are still far from fulfilling their social mission to educate citizens. The domination of the subordinate culture, the psychology of survival and adaptation, hampers the emergence of intellectuals as elites. The activity-oriented minority is so far focused only on informing the authorities about the problem.


The modern phase of the formation of statehood and the process of reintegration requires priority efforts aimed at the formation of a political nation. Its foundation are basic democratic values; a means of formation – a systematic civic education and upbringing. The main subject should become a state that develops a reintegration strategy at the national and regional levels, attracts influential social institutions to its implementation.

The important components of the strategy for the transformation of the southeastern regional consciousness should be the civic humanitarization of education and the stimulation of the development of effective self-government bodies in educational institutions.

At the level of secondary education it is necessary:

  • To introduce urgently the course “Civics” in schools.
  • To change the history teaching programs for all classes. Attention should be paid to the main stages, tasks and content of the struggle for the embodiment of the ideas of law, the principles of democracy, the peculiarities of the establishment of the institution of citizenship, etc.
  • To move away from a purely theoretical teaching of law. The study of each topic should be accompanied by a workshop – the consideration of specific situations in which the acquired knowledge may be applied.
  • To implement widely civics and law workshops for all groups of population.
  • To begin the implementation of the program of total civic education for teachers.

At the level of higher education it is necessary not only to restore the humanitarian component, but to substantially reorient each of the disciplines to fulfill the tasks of educating the elites as carriers of the most manifested civil qualities. This involves the inclusion of civic education in the main disciplines:

  • Through philosophy studies attention should be paid to the philosophical substantiation of the ideas of law, the principles of democracy, the culture of citizenship, etc.
  • Through the studying of basics of sociology it is necessary focus on the mutual conditioning of social processes and the activities of social institutions, on the factors that determine the current state of society (Why is our society in an anomie? Why deviations have become the norm of life?).
  • Teaching political science requires the most drastic changes in the direction of forming knowledge about the interaction of power and society in a civilized democratic state, inculcating a new system of values, assimilating the practical skills of civic engagement.
  • Regarding the considerable mental remoteness of the front-line regions from the values of European civilization, it is expedient for young people to study cultural studies, in which attention should be focused on the development and role of democratic values in European culture.

It is necessary to introduce civil workshops and practices, especially for students of humanitarian specialties.

Educational institutions of all levels should be as much as possible depoliticized and withdrawn from the vertical of the administrative resource. At the same time, they should be more open to the local community and public organizations working in the field of education.

NGOs and humanitarians need to move away from ascertaining problems and informing the authorities to the pressure on institutions of power at various levels. This means their transformation from groups of interests into pressure groups, becoming as lobbying institutions aimed at harmonizing political relations on European civilizational patterns.

Svetlana Topalova

Center for Political Analysis “Observatory of Democracy”

Published on the informational and analytical portal “Hvylya”

The material was prepared within the framework of a project implemented with the financial support of the European Endowment for Democracy (EED) and the Government of Canada