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Report: Russia's New National High School Exam To Include Ukraine War Justification

High school students will now need to know details of the Russian annexation of territories in eastern Ukraine and "reunification" of Crimea with Russia. Regular topics in the past, such as democracy and human rights, will no longer be part of the high school exam.

Photo of a hand holding a copy of the "History of russia 1945 - the start of 21st century" textbook

One of four new controversial history textbooks issued in Russia

Cameron Manley

In a draft of a new Unified State Examination in Social Studies paper seen by independent Russian news site Agenstvo, graduating high school students must now demonstrate an understanding of the causes and consequences of the collapse of the Soviet Union, but also how the Russian Federation has been “revived” as a leading world power, as well as the necessity both for Crimea’s “reunification” with Russia and the invasion of Ukraine.

Earlier this month, Reuters confirmed the publication of four new history textbooks for schoolchildren aged 16-18. Among the co-authors was presidential aide Vladimir Medinsky. These textbooks entirely reinterpreted the fall of the Soviet Union, the rule of President Vladimir Putin and added a chapter especially devoted to the causes of what is referred to as the "special military operation" in Ukraine.

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The newly published exam syllabus states that candidates must “be able to defend historical truth” and must “not allow the feat of the people in defending the Fatherland to be diminished.”

Annexations and conscriptions

Now, certain topics and themes that once formed a key part of the history exam have notably been cut from the syllabus. Maxim Ivantsov, ex-head of the Youth Human Rights Group and coordinator of the Frame educational project, noted that the following topics had been removed: “Democracy, its main values and features”; “Civil society and the rule of law”; “International law. The concept and subject of international law. International protection of human rights in peacetime and wartime”; and “Conscription, alternative civilian service.”

Questions are bound to come up on this topic.

In one of the sample questions provided in the draft history exam, candidates are asked to arrange certain events in chronological order, one of these being the “signing of the agreements on the admission of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions into Russia”.

In another task, they are asked to match historical events to historical figures. One event, being the "special military operation," as the war in Ukraine is called in Russia, is meant to be matched with Olga Kachura, a pro-Russian Ukrainian separatist and colonel of the Donetsk People’s Militia.

Ivan Nokhirin, a Russian history tutor, tells Agenstvo that “yes, school children need to brush up on details and facts related to the special military operation. Questions are bound to come up on this topic given its central importance to Russian society.”

Photo of Russian presidential aide Vladimir Medinsky sitting in front of books

Russian presidential aide Vladimir Medinsky

Алексеев Дмитрий Евгеньевич/Wikimedia CommonsАлексеев Дмитрий Евгеньевич/Wikimedia Commons

Crimea question

But many teachers are less sure, and remain skeptical that the “special military operation” will in fact be tested in the coming years. Kirill Stanishevsky, a history teacher at a Russian online school, believes that while there are likely to be major changes to the exams, the Kremlin is unlikely to push its luck. “Crimea was more than eight years ago,” he tells Agenstvo. “But there has not yet been a single question on it in the exam.”

The topic is too fresh.

Alexandra Yudina, a history and social studies tutor does not believe the special military operation will have a place in this year’s exam. “The topic is too fresh,” she says. “We still only have a draft syllabus, not a final official document. Things might change.”

One independent Russian Telegram channel, “Beware, Moscow,” also commented on the Unified State Examination in literature, saying that instead of studying the works of the great Golden Age writers like Pushkin, Lermontov or Gogol, students are now offered works that boast Russia’s heroic role in World War II.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

How Russia's Future History Teachers Are Battling Kremlin Propaganda

Russia has introduced new history textbooks criticized for replacing facts with propaganda. Students preparing to teach history are torn between "patriotic" and "liberal" narratives, even as they refuse to accept the state's version without debate.

image of students and a teacher taking a class

A lesson on key aspects of life in modern Russia, at a Moscow secondary school.

Veronika Gredinskaya

Since the start of the new academic year in Russia, high-school students have been learning history from new textbooks that include a chapter on the invasion of Ukraine. The revised text has been criticized for its substitution of historical facts with propaganda – a live example of how the authorities are rewriting the country's history.

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Russian independent news site Vazhnye Istorii spoke with a few students of history at Russian universities who intend to become history teachers when they graduate (their names have been changed for security reasons).

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