Ukraine and Ukrainians in Russian Higher Education and Science

Dmitry Dubrovsky


[This article is part of our research initiative “Russia’s Project ‘Anti-Ukraine’”]





Russian President Vladimir Putin’s public “historical” revelations about the “absence” of Ukraine on the map of the 17th century,1 as well as his historical article claiming that Russia and Ukraine are “one nation”,2 showed the importance – for Putin himself and for the war he unleashed – of what the Kremlin regime considers “scientific evidence” of the “deficiency” of the Ukrainian nation and Ukraine as a whole. This belief could not but affect Russian higher education and science, and especially after the annexation of Crimea in 2014, one could see many Russian higher education and science representatives participating in various propagandistic projects built on this belief.3 Moreover, employees of leading Russian higher education institutions (Moscow State University, St. Petersburg State University, National Research University “Higher School of Economics”) play a prominent role in the implementation of the Kremlin’s policies of de-Ukrainisation (one of the objectives of the Russian war)4 on occupied Ukrainian territories by contributing to the “development” of Russian universities there.


Furthermore, long before Putin discovered Ukraine’s alleged “absence” from the 17th-century world map, the very idea of Ukrainian nationalism had become not only a topic of serious discussions but also an object of direct prohibition, which affected both the level of research on Ukrainian politics, history and culture in Russian science and higher education, and the degree of ideologisation of this topic.


At the same time, the Russian government has focused – in rhetoric and especially in practice – its primary efforts on reinterpreting the historical-political rather than ethnic nature of the Ukrainian nation. Much of the Russian regime’s repressive policies in the field of higher education and science, and censorship under anti-extremist legislation, have been aimed at shaping the “correct” view of Ukraine’s history and modernity and at forcibly introducing, by various means, those claims that legitimise and normalise the ongoing military aggression.


Ukraine studies in Russian academia


Putin manifestly uses history to justify the foreign policy moves of the Russian Federation; an aggressive historical policy has long been part of the Kremlin’s ideological project.5 All the events, ranging from the annexation of Crimea to the open phase of the military aggression against Ukraine, have a “historical” explanation. In this regard, Putin has borrowed from Joseph Stalin the practice of writing “scholarly articles” discussing various aspects of the complex history of the 20th century; his public speeches regularly include references to historical events. One of Putin’s “scholarly articles” is the essay “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians”, which explicates his vision of Ukrainian history.6 In this article, referring to the common historical past in pre-Mongol Rus, Putin argues that there is no difference between the Russian and Ukrainian peoples, that the annexation of Ukrainian lands to the Grand Duchy of Moscow was “democratic”, and that the main source of Ukrainian nationalism lay abroad and allegedly reflected political intrigues of Austria and Poland against Russia. The Bolsheviks then made the “great mistake” of “dividing the great Russian nation”.7 In other words, Putin’s article denies the subjectivity of the Ukrainian nation before the Russian Revolution, claiming that Ukraine was created by Soviet power. Finally, Ukraine is now “under external administration”, the aim of which is to turn Ukraine into an “anti-Russia” and thus undermine Russia’s power and greatness.8


The de facto ban on discussing views that provide an alternative to those of Putin’s has affected historical, sociological, and political research as well as the content of university programmes.


Regarding research, the discussion of Ukrainian studies has long had a distinctly ideological character. For example, as early as 2015, authors discussing the relevance of Ukrainian studies in Russia directly called to contrast those to “Western Ukrainian studies”, which allegedly always had “an ideological anti-Russian bias”. Therefore, the task of Russian Ukrainian studies was “to break the unspoken blockade, to be able to come out of isolation and bring its views to an international audience”.9 However, before the full-scale Russian invasion in 2022, leading historians from Russian and Ukrainian research centres tried to maintain academic communication.10 But after the outbreak of the large-scale aggression, this work utterly ceased.


As Russian historian Viktor Mironenko, a participant in the Russian-Ukrainian research project (see below), argues in an article titled “Understanding Ukraine”, “Russian politicians and experts” seem to have started viewing everything that happens in Ukraine exclusively through the lens of “the intrigues of various anti-Russian elements”.11 As a result, this perspective undoubtedly affects the main mechanism of scientific policy formation in Ukrainian studies – grant support and the official logic of the main centres of Ukrainian studies.


Until 2013, the most essential cooperative work had been performed by the Russian-Ukrainian Commission of Historians, which studied complex and controversial issues of Russia-Ukraine relations. This commission was co-chaired by Alexander Chubaryan (Institute of World History of the Russian Academy of Sciences, IWH RAS) and Valeriy Smoliy (Institute of the History of Ukraine of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine). The Commission also included Viktor Mironenko, Alexei Miller and Tatiana Tairova-Yakovleva. After the annexation of Crimea, the work of the Commission almost came to an end. Still, there were two more informal meetings in Austria, where some members of the Commission tried to continue the dialogue.


In 2020, Russian historians who were members of the Commission published the monograph The History of Ukraine, which was the last attempt of serious Russian historians to participate in the scientific dialogue between Russians and Ukrainians. After the start of the Russian full-scale aggression against Ukraine, practically no established Russian historian (Alexey Miller12 and Nikita Lomagin13 are virtually the only exceptions) participated in the production of texts on the history, culture, and politics of Ukraine that parroted the official Russian propaganda.


The full-scale invasion has affected Russia’s leading Ukrainianists differently. Tatiana Tairova-Yakovleva, the head of the Centre for Ukrainian Studies at St. Petersburg State University, was fired for her anti-war statements as early as June 2022.14 At the same time, in March 2022, St. Petersburg State University launched an online course, “Ukraine: Morphology and Mythology”, that offered a discussion of “the systemic crisis that had affected Ukraine since 2014”, including topics such as “history and myths in the formation of Ukrainian statehood”, “social processes and peculiarities of the foreign policy orientation of Ukrainian society”, and “information warfare in Ukraine”.15 The main author of the course is Nikolai Mezhevich, Professor in the Department of European Studies at St. Petersburg State University, who regularly and publicly makes statements such as: “Zelensky is waging a war that is destroying his country, and he has dragged his country into that war”.16 It is doubtful that the author of such public statements is able, as the course programme claims, “to give an adequate assessment of the events of the past in their close relation to contemporary politics”.17 It is pretty telling that such a course offered by St. Petersburg State University was developed not by the university’s leading expert on Ukrainian history, Tairova-Yakovleva, but by Mezhevich, known for his apparent ideological bias.


The situation with the Centre for Ukrainian Studies at the Institute of European Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences is quite different. Despite the obvious political pressure, the head of the Centre, Viktor Mironenko, continues to publish articles demonstrating a very balanced albeit obviously restrained position, and does not disseminate blatant anti-Ukrainian stereotypes and ideological statements; his publications abide by academic principles, are pronouncedly tactful and stylistically neutral. This starkly contrasts the official statement of the Institute of European Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, which claims that the research centre’s aim is “to pay special attention to the analysis of the hybrid confrontation between the West and Russia in Ukraine”.18 The Centre and Mironenko have managed (perhaps because of their affiliation with the Russian Academy of Sciences) to avoid producing overtly ideological texts, and generally adhere to professional standards.


The period after 2014 has seen the enhancement of the role of formally non-state centres and initiatives in producing various kinds of ideological projects and studies aimed at legitimising the military aggression against Ukraine and advancing the arguments about “neo-Nazism in Ukraine” and the “2014 coup d’état”. For example, in 2023, the Institute for Foreign Policy Studies and Initiatives headed by political scientist Veronika Krasheninnikova published a book – co-authored by Krasheninnikova and Dmitry Surzhik, a research fellow at the IWH RAS – titled Ukrainian Nationalism in the Service of the West, which, following the Soviet frameworks and referring to Soviet literature, reproduces the cliché about “nationalist ideology stimulated from outside and representatives of the emigrant diaspora with links to foreign intelligence services imported into the [Ukrainian] elite”.19


Such ideological practices have also had an impact on funding decisions of the Russian Science Foundation (RSF), the leading grant instrument for the development of Russian humanitarian and social knowledge. The RSF tends to focus on supporting projects in the field of life sciences and rarely awards large grants for humanities and social research in Russia. It is telling that, in the period between 2014 and 2023, the RSF supported only 16 projects related, in one way or another, to the history of Ukraine. By way of contrast, in 2020 alone, the foundation supported about a thousand applications in all fields of the humanities and social sciences.20 Importantly, six of those Ukraine-related 16 projects were written and supported in 2022.


Equally revealing is the rhetoric that accompanied both applications and progress reports.21 For example, one grant application supported by the RSF in 2014 begins with asserting that “the rise of Ukrainian nationalism is a consequence of the deep socio-economic and political crisis into which the elite has plunged the country in recent decades, with the origins of the crisis rooted in the past”. This text also argues that “geopolitical interests” are at the heart of the conflict, that the parties to the confrontation are the US and Russia, and that “the return of Crimea was an exemplary operation”. This grant application also repeats the Kremlin’s thesis of a purportedly clear “cultural demarcation” of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR) and “Luhansk People’s Republic” (LPR): the borders of the Donetsk and Luhansk Republics allegedly “fully replicate the detailed geography of the ethno-linguistic Russian-Ukrainian demarcation”.22


A 2017 grant application text focused on how Ukraine and the United States Agency for International Development (better known as USAID) were supporting “extremist” nationalist organisations to undermine “stability” in Crimea.23 A 2022 application proposes as a working hypothesis the idea that “after Crimea’s reunification with Russia, the West and its allies […] implemented an agenda that could have led to a historical analogy of the Crimean War of 1853-1856”.24 Another 2022 project envisages the development of “an effective method of assessing social tensions and protest potential associated with the situation of transition of statehood in the post-Ukrainian territories” – as the authors call the Russia-occupied Ukrainian territories.25


It should be noted that not all Ukraine-related projects are ideologically saturated: about half of the cases deal with neutral topics in the field of linguistics, the history of the Petrine reforms, late medieval historiography, and source studies, where, at least in the texts of the applications and reports, there are no overt ideological clichés.


One of the 16 projects supported by the RSF was terminated prematurely for obvious ideological reasons. As noted by the co-authors of the project on a comparative study of nationalism in Ukraine, the DPR, the LPR, and Serbia during Slobodan Milošević’s rule, one of the complaints expressed by the RSF’s experts with regard to the interim application concerned the authors’ independence in the use of political terminology. One expert noted, as a negative point, that the authors of the study did not use “the official definitions of the conflict in Ukraine outlined by President Putin”. Another RSF’s expert is openly indignant in his review: “Why does the report contain rhetoric that differs from the political assessments in the official documents of the Russian government? Of course, there are real academic freedoms, but there are also academic rules. Why are the Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republics referred to as ‘people’s republics’ in inverted commas?”.26 It was precisely because of such negative reviews that the project was terminated prematurely.


There are two obvious trends in research in Russia. First, professional Russian Ukrainianists are decreasingly involved in professional expertise – their place is taken by political technologists, dubious political scientists, or other representatives of the Russian academy who have no particular expertise on Ukraine. At the same time, scientific funding institutions seem to prefer to support and develop projects that legitimise Russian occupation policies and offer neither criticism nor alternative perspectives on political or historical issues.


Ukraine and Ukrainians in the educational programmes and daily practices of Russian universities


The publication of Putin’s article on the “historical unity of brotherly nations”, as well as all previous discussions about the “absence of Ukraine” in the historical process, have had a significant impact on the Russian school and higher education system. This, in particular, translates into disregard of historical events that involved the Ukrainian nation as an object of various developments. For example, experts note the frequent absence of any mention of the Holodomor, a man-made famine that killed millions of Ukrainians in Soviet Ukraine in 1932-1933, in the Russian educational programmes.27 Such approaches aim to deny the Ukrainian nation its historical subjectivity and limit Ukraine’s history to a “natural part” of the Russian historical narrative.28


In addition to ideologised courses, Russian universities are becoming a site of active militarist propaganda, a place for public appearances by “veterans” of the “Special Military Operation” (SMO), the screening of propaganda films, and various “volunteer activities” such as writing letters to “fighters of the SMO”, weaving camouflage nets and even assembling drones. Universities regularly raise money for “SMO needs”.29 At the same time, according to British intelligence reports, “Russia’s Ministry of Education and Science reportedly instructed universities to avoid open discussion of any ‘negative political, economic and social trends’ in Russia during academic activities”.30


In this situation, Russian universities have introduced three courses that are compulsory for all students regardless of their specialisation and are taught in the first year of study: “Foundations of Russian Statehood”, “History of Russia”, and “Traditional Religions of Russia”. This triad, according to its authors, introduces the so-called “spiritual and moral component” in the system of higher education,31 and effectively seeks to de-subjectivise Ukraine and substantiate the “historical justice” of the unleashed war and occupation.


A special textbook has already been prepared for the “Foundations of Russian Statehood” course,32 along with the publication of a syllabus33 and methodological recommendations.34 Predictably, the textbook recounts the main provisions of Putin’s article on the “united nation” and, in general, gives a detailed picture of Russia’s foreign policy aggression.


In the historical part of the textbook, its authors distinguish between “Ukraine” and “Novorossiya”, listing these entities as separate and thus attempting to legitimise modern “Novorossiya”.35 Naturally, this and other ideological constructs are, according to the authors of the textbook, “objective historical facts”, in contrast to what they believe is happening in Ukraine. The authors are sure that in Russia, memory politics is “objective”, while in Ukraine it is used to “form nationalist myths”, which allegedly “serves the interests of certain forces”. Describing the famine in Ukraine in 1932-1933, the authors of the textbook claim that “the regions of the Volga, Kuban, northern Kazakhstan and Ukraine (where these events were called the ‘Holodomor’ and are considered by contemporary politicians as a genocide of the Ukrainian people) were particularly affected”,36 trivialising the famine and downplaying its man-made nature.


The “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine in 2004, which was a series of mass protests against the electoral fraud, is described in the textbook as an “unconstitutional regime change” that was “a challenge to the Russian political system”.37 The authors see the response to this challenge in the legitimacy of the Russian Federation’s direct interference in the affairs of sovereign states. The textbook’s authors explicitly assert the validity of the following logic: “the Russian Federation is the legal successor of the Soviet Union; the Soviet Union is historical Russia; fragments of the former Soviet Union expounding anti-Russian attitudes can be reassembled in the interests of the Russian Federation”.38


It is therefore not surprising that, in the section on the “constitutional foundations of sovereignty”, the demarcation of the border between Russia and the “remnants of Ukraine” is mentioned as an example.39 Thus, the compulsory course on the foundations of Russian statehood not only legitimises the dismemberment of Ukraine, but also discusses various legal and political aspects of this process, following the trend already described above in relation to “scientific projects”.


No less revealing is the text on the “Concept of Teaching the History of Russia” – the second of the compulsory courses introduced into the educational programme of non-history major first- year students after the outbreak of the full-sale invasion of Ukraine.40


Events surrounding the teaching of history in Russian universities, especially since 2022, show that the process of identifying history with weapons – what some researchers call the “weaponisation of history”41 – has become increasingly obvious. In fact, what was previously part of the official discourse justifying the war – first and foremost, the denial of Ukrainian statehood and the justification of the continued aggression – has been formalised as a “scientific approach to the study of Russian history”.


The text of the “Concept” declares the need to teach history with a special emphasis on “moments of crisis”, and the description of the main moments of crisis in the texts simply reproduces the official rhetoric of the Russian government and Putin in the last ten years after the annexation of Crimea, both in terms of general history and its modern part.42 It is also hardly surprising that Ukraine ranks second only to the United States in terms of frequency of mention and, more generally, in terms of the role that the authors of the “Concept” assign to it in Russian history.


In the first part of the “Concept”, which describes the history of Russia since the creation of Kyivan Rus’, any reference to Kyivan Rus’ is practically absent: it is now simply “Rus’” or “Russian Land”: “A state called ‘Rus’’ or ‘Russian Land’ was formed with its centre in Kiev”.43 The Kyiv land appears in the list of the most important territories of Rus’ in the 12-13th centuries. Curiously, in this part of the “Concept”, the authors mention some differences in the interpretation of historical events (in particular, how Alexander Nevsky chose to submit to the Golden Horde rather than form an alliance with Western Christian countries). The authors do not give examples of any other “historical disputes” in the rest of their narrative.


The “Concept” describes Russia’s “struggle for independence” not as the defence of the country against an external aggressor but rather as an implementation of Russia’s imperial foreign policy – an endless series of wars of conquest. According to the authors of the Concept, “the growth of Russia’s international prestige” grew as a result of the “active foreign policy” that included, among other conquests, the “joining” [prisoedinenie] of the northern Black Sea coast, “acquisition” [priobretenie] of Alaska, “development” [osvoenie] of Novorossiya, “inclusion” [vkhozhdenie v sostav] of right-bank Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania into Russia.44 The text of the “Concept” describes the empire’s territorial growth, which was conducted mainly by military means, as a neutral action that takes place in an empty space before the invasion: Russia, in particular, “advances eastwards” (instead of “colonises lands in the east”), “acquires”, “joins” and “claims” (instead of “invades” and “annexes”) territories.


In fact, according to the text of the “Concept”, the western part of Belarus and Ukraine “joined” the USSR in 1939 in the same seemingly uneventful way.45


Discussing what they call the “Soviet era”, the authors of the “Concept” note that the leadership of the USSR “did not always manage to maintain a balance between the course towards the development of national cultures and the principles of internationalism”.46 In result, the authors argue, this allegedly unbalanced policy affected the lands inhabited by a “predominantly Russian population”.47 This, in the process of korenizatsiya (nativisation, the policy of supporting national languages and cultures implemented in the USSR in the 1920s), led to “alien cultures being imposed” on people.48 As an example of the population affected by this policy, the authors refer to “the territories of Donbass, Novorossiya and other areas that were, by a voluntaristic decision, joined to Ukraine”.49


The authors of the “Concept” also draw special attention to the collaboration of representatives of the countries, which are currently considered to be “unfriendly” to Russia,50 with the Third Reich. The section on the “Great Patriotic War”51 proposes to talk about the Russian Liberation Army, unspecified “national formations”, the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), and “SS units from the peoples of Pribaltika”.52 The “Concept” also stresses the “attempts by Ukrainian nationalists to establish cooperation with Hitler’s administration”.53 The special mention of the OUN and UPA in the “Concept” is undoubtedly related to one of the main narratives of today’s Russian propaganda, which is to place the history of the OUN’s collaboration with the Third Reich on an equal footing with the modern Ukrainian government.


However, it is in the section devoted to the events after the collapse of the USSR that Ukraine becomes, in a sense, the “creator” of Russian history.


First, the “Concept” calls attention to so-called “colour revolutions”, with “Russia and the Orange Revolution of 2004” as a separate topic. As noted above, the Russian regime understands interference in the affairs of the former USSR as an assault on the space considered as a zone of Russia’s geopolitical interests. Thus, the “Orange paranoia”54 – the belief that the US and its allies are behind all public discontent – is the major driver of Russia’s foreign policy towards such countries, including, above all, Ukraine and Georgia. It is telling that the “Concept” modestly refers to the main economic instrument of Russia’s political control in its perceived sphere of influence, namely the gas pipeline, as “the gas disputes with Ukraine”.55


Furthermore, the historical course is supposed to cover “the world’s entry into a period of political turbulence”, which includes “the proclamation by the leadership of Georgia and Ukraine of a course to join NATO”, as well as the separately mentioned “advance of NATO military infrastructure to our borders, which is critical for Russia’s national security”.56


In general, the style of the final chapter of the “Concept”, “Russia in the Twenty-First Century”, resembles not so much a teacher’s guide as the headlines of Russian propagandistic media. For example, the subtopics suggested by the authors for teaching include “Ukraine in the wake of the anti-Russian policy of the United States and NATO”, “the 2014 coup in Ukraine and its consequences”, “the reunification of Crimea and Sevastopol with Russia, the creation of the LPR and DPR”, “the growing tension in relations with the United States and its European allies”.57 The rest of the “historical narrative” reads like a summary of the official position of the Russian leadership in justifying the military aggression against Ukraine and, indeed, looks like a list of headlines from the official Russian media:


• The refusal of the USA, NATO and the EU to discuss threats to Russia’s national security;

• Turning Ukraine into an anti-Russia;

• Anti-constitutional coup in Ukraine;

• Armed provocations and preparations by the Ukrainian regime to seize the Donbass republics by force;

• Russia’s official recognition of the LPR and DPR;

• The launch of a special military operation in Ukraine;

• Western countries’ pressure on Russia through sanctions and attempts to isolate it from the rest of the world.58


The authors of the “Concept” summarise this part as follows: “The situation in Ukraine, whose leadership turned it into an ‘anti-Russia’ and prepared with the help of NATO for the ‘return of Crimea and Donbass’, has led to the inevitability of a special military operation by Russia in 2022”.59


Thus, the courses “Foundations of Russian Statehood” and “History of Russia” each in its own way provide ideological support for the aggressive official course of Putin’s regime, not only justifying today’s aggression against Ukraine, but also effectively denying Ukraine’s historical subjectivity. This kind of narrative excludes critical thinking, doubt or debate: this version of history politics, carried out through teaching, is a clear example of indoctrination of students and an integral part of the Kremlin’s ideological project.


Science and Higher Education in the Occupied Ukrainian Territories


All the trends mentioned above are most vividly manifested in science and education policy in the Russia-occupied Ukrainian territories.


For example, in April 2023, the “Donetsk National University”,60 which was captured in Donetsk in 2014, opened a “Centre for Ethno-Political Rehabilitation” aiming “to develop methods to combat manifestations of Ukrainian neo-Nazism”.61 In the beginning of November 2024, the “Centre” announced a conference entitled “Denazification: History and Modernity”, one of the aims of which was “to discuss ways of combating Ukrainian nationalist ideology”.62


The term “nationalist ideology” implies here the general idea of an independent nation state: any independent national narrative that constructs Ukrainian history independently or in opposition to Russia’s imperial history is declared “nationalist”, and any criticism of Russia’s actions in history becomes a sign of “Ukrainian nationalist discourse”. According to the director of the “Centre”, they are studying “interesting ways of restoring or rehabilitating the Russian identity in our region”, thus directly formulating the main goals of this kind of policy – de-Ukrainisation and Russification of the region, as the alleged restoration of historical justice.63


A similar situation can be observed with regard to the study of the Ukrainian language in the universities of the DPR and LPR. The Ukrainian language department in the DPR experienced difficulties after 2014, when many of its leading teachers left the DPR and went to Vinnytsia together with the Donetsk National University (DonNU). The captured “Donetsk National University” in occupied Donetsk initially retained the Ukrainian language department. However, the bas-relief of Vasyl Stus, a prominent Ukrainian poet and dissident after which the DonNU was named, was removed from the university building, and the dismissive attitude towards the Ukrainian language was evidenced by the fact that “university authorities” evidently hoped that the Ukrainian language department would be closed “due to lack of demand”.64 This did eventually happen: today, no Ukrainian department exists in the “Donetsk National University” in occupied Donetsk.


The same situation is observed in the LPR. There is no Ukrainian department either at the “Lugansk State Pedagogical University” or the “Vladimir Dal Lugansk State University”. In fact, Russian has been declared “the only language” in the LPR because, according to the lecturers of the “Lugansk State University”, the Ukrainian language failed to prove its worth: “the legal status of this language [as the official second state language in the LPR] did not correspond to its actual status”.65


The Department of Ukrainian Philology continues to exist at the “V.I. Vernadsky Crimean Federal University” in occupied Crimea. According to the official information on the organisation’s website, after the annexation of Crimea in 2015, the existing three departments of Ukrainian Philology, Ukrainian Language Culture, and Theory and History of Ukrainian Literature were merged into the Department of Ukrainian Philology within the Faculty of Slavic Philology and Journalism, and later, “in connection with the reorganisation”, the department became “part of the Institute of Philology”.66


Available evidence suggests that Russian higher education and science policies in the occupied Ukrainian territories are directly aimed at forced Russification.67 At the same time, the Ukrainian language is transformed from a formally national language into a national minority language, accompanied by an obvious diminishing of its role and importance, which is a general Russian policy approach towards minorities.68


The “Ukrainian Question” and Anti-Extremist Legislation


In Russia, anti-extremist legislation has long been used by the regime to violate academic rights and freedoms, as scientific publications are often subject to scrutiny by law enforcement agencies and get banned as “extremist”. The list of materials banned in Russia since 2011 includes publications on the history of the Ukrainian people, the Second World War, and the Holodomor.69


For example, in 2011, Vasyl Marochko’s Ukrainian-language book The Holodomor of 1932-1933 was declared extremist. Even an article by Polish lawyer Rafael Lemkin, who coined the term “genocide” and considered the Holodomor as an example of genocide, was banned in Russia in 2015. German Ukraine-related archive materials published in Ukrainian in Lviv were also banned.


More recently, academic publications criticising the Russian armed aggression and the Kremlin’s ideological projects (including the so-called “Russian World”) were also banned. For example, in 2022, a district court in St. Petersburg banned the Ukrainian academic volume Scientific Notes published by the Kuras Institute of Political and Ethnic Studies of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, apparently because it published academic articles on the ideology of the “Russian World” and Russia’s military aggression.


Against this background, the case of the Library of Ukrainian Literature in Moscow particular stands out.70 The first criminal investigation against the library started in 2011, when its director Natalia Sharina was accused of featuring in the library a number of books of “anti-Russian orientation”. According to Sharina, when investigators arrived in the library, they searched for the term “nationalism” in the library catalogue and then seized more than 50 books that appeared in the search results.71 Among them were historical monographs on the Ukrainian National Assembly – Ukrainian National Self-Defence (better known as UNA-UNSO), Greek Catholic Archbishop Andrey Sheptytsky, activities of the Ukrainian civic youth organisation “Pora”, as well as copies of the newspapers Natsiya i derzhava (Nation and State), Ukrayinske slovo (Ukrainian Word) and Shlyakh peremohy (Path of Victory) considered to be of “anti-Russian orientation”. The library director also pointed out that, during the search, attempts were made to plant publications that the library had not had.


This story ended relatively quietly in 2013 and no criminal case was instituted, but in 2016 the case was reopened.72 That time, books about Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera and the activities of the OUN and UPA were seized from the library, even though they were not on the Russian official list of extremist materials. Investigators also seized copies of the children’s magazine Barvinok (Vinca) on suspicion of publishing an image of the flag of the Right Sector organisation that was banned in the Russian Federation.


The examination of the materials seized from the library was carried out by Evgeny Tarasov, the head of the Department of Psycholinguistics of the Institute of Linguistics of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Among the materials he analysed, he identified “special means that could be a motive for inciting inter-ethnic hatred and discord”.73 In particular, he argued that since the Soviet Union was referred to as “an empire”, that term contained “a negative assessment” of the Soviet power.74 In the books of Ukrainian author Dmytro Pavlychko, Tarasov noted phrases such as “Communism was a mask of Russian chauvinism”, “Russian imperialism”, “Peter’s horde”, “Kremlin parasites”, “Kremlin crusaders”, and “Moscow killing squads”.75 As Tarasov concluded, those materials could “form nationalist attitudes against Russian citizens”.76


During the trial, the prosecutor called the director of the Library of Ukrainian Literature, Natalia Sharina, a “part of the complex mechanism” whose work was “aimed at defaming and discrediting Russian culture in Ukraine”. The court gave Sharina a four-year suspended sentence, in particular for “inciting hatred or enmity by using her official position”.77 The sentence was based on the conclusions of the expert examination and the position of the investigation with regard to the “anti-Russian” orientation of the texts examined by the expert.


At the time of writing, the Russian list of Ukraine-related “extremist literature” includes – in addition to genuinely neo-Nazi statements and texts of Ukrainian origin – a number of historical and political studies that are banned just because they present interpretations of historical and political events that do not correspond to the official position of the Russian regime. However, according to the experts of the Russian NGO “Sova Center”, which monitors, in particular, misuse of anti-extremism legislation, the number of bans of Ukraine-related materials had drastically dropped by 2021, but then slowly increased after February 2022, when the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began.78


Bans of academic literature on the history and politics of Ukraine that do not correspond to the official position of the Russian Federation have practical consequences. One of the major consequences is that this literature becomes inaccessible to Russian readers; it is withdrawn from libraries, while references to it for scientific and educational purposes can be understood as references to “extremist literature” and, therefore, punished. As a result, alternative academic views on Ukrainian history and politics have vanished from the scientific and educational environment of the Russian Federation.


Conclusion: the effects of anti-Ukrainian rhetoric and practices in Russian science and higher education


The degree of efficiency of this anti-Ukrainianism in Russian higher education and science is challenging to assess. Many Russian teachers and students are well aware of the actual value and importance of propaganda and indoctrination materials, and there are quite a few examples of so-called “hidden resistance” when either students, teachers, or both successfully use Soviet-era tactics and strategies to undermine the official narratives through irony, Aesopian language, and other means.79


Nevertheless, educational and academic programmes and courses developed by the Russian authorities reveal that their main thrust, against the background of the ultranationalist turn, is to reproduce the main points of Putin’s “historical essay” – the absence of a historical Ukraine, the existence of a “wrong Ukraine”, and the apparent assertion of Russia’s “right to reformat wrong Ukraine” into a “right Ukraine”.


The results of such an aggressive policy, both in the public sphere and in the sphere of science and education, start to be reflected in the actual perceptions of Russian citizens. The authors of the study “Distant Close War”, published by the Public Sociology Laboratory, conclude that the Kremlin’s arguments, especially historical ones, are strongly reflected in the answers of respondents who support the military aggression against Ukraine.80 Official Russia asserts anti-historicism according to the following logic: if Ukraine did not “really” have its statehood before the 20th century, then it should not have it now; if some radical Ukrainian nationalists once collaborated with the Third Reich, then this has a direct bearing on the way the current Ukrainian government (“Kiev regime”, as the Kremlin calls it) acts. This kind of aggressive historical propaganda is clearly part of the Russian war machine and is designed to prepare students for the continuation of the current war.81 In a broader sense, the tendency to replace humanitarian and social education with indoctrination is evident not only in Russian higher education but also in school, civic and non-formal education.


Translated from Russian into English by the Centre for Democratic Integrity.




  1. Tom Porter, “Putin Claimed a 400-year-old Map Proved Ukraine Isn’t a Real Country, Not Noticing It Has ‘Ukraine’ Written on It”, Business Insider, 24 May (2023),
  2. “Article by Vladimir Putin ‘On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians’”, President of Russia, 12 July (2021), See also Dmitry Shlapentokh, “Putin and Ukraine: Power and the Construction of History, New Zealand International Review, Vol. 47, No. 3 (2022), pp. 6-9.
  3. Henceforth, we will use the terms “propagandistic” or “ideological” to refer not only to the texts that are radically critical of Ukraine, its history, and foreign or domestic policy but to those that also grossly violate the basic principle of academic freedom of learning, i.e., “Freedom from indoctrination”. Propagandistic or ideological scientific or educational texts are those that present no alternative point of view, the content of the text or curriculum that is biased and lacks critical analysis or discussion, and in which the official point of view is presented as the only possible.
  4. Gabriel C. Gherasim, “Reductio ad Hitlerum: Reflections on the Russian Propaganda of de-Nazification in Ukraine”, Romanian Journal of Political Sciences, Vol. 22, No. 1 (2022), pp. 75-86.
  5. Nikolay Koposov, Pamyat’s strogogo rezhima: istoriya i politika v Rossii (Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2011).
  6. “Article by Vladimir Putin”.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Vladislav Gulevich, “Rossiyskaya ukrainistika i ee opponenty na Zapade”, The International Affairs, 22 May (2015),
  10. Tat’yana Tairova, Victor Ishchenko, “The Current State of Ukrainian Studies in Russia and the Prospects of Cooperation with Ukrainian Historians”, Herald of the Russian Academy of Sciences, No. 90 (2020), pp. 122-126.
  11. Viktor Mironenko, “Ponyat’ Ukrainu: sostoyanie rossiyskoy ukrainistiki”, Nauchno-analiticheskiy vestnik Instituta Evropy RAN, No. 6 (2018), pp. 177-181.
  12. See, for example, Aleksey Miller, “Natsional’naya identichnost’ na Ukraine: istoriya i politika”, Rossiya v globalnoy politike, Vol. 20, No. 4 (2022), pp. 46-65.
  13. See, for example, his comments here: Irina Bykanova, “Davnie schety: pochemu blokadu Leningrada priznali genotsidom”, Izvestiya, 20 October (2022),
  14. “Rukovoditelya tsentra po izucheniyu istorii Ukrainy uvolili iz SPbGU iz-za patsifistskikh vyskazyvaniy v sotssetyakh”, Fontanka, 29 June (2022),
  15. “Ukraina: morfologiya i mifologiya”, Otkrytoe obrazovanie, 17 March (2022),
  16. Svetlana Gomzikova, “Rimskoe pravilo ‘razdelyay i vlastvuy’ na Ukraine zaigralo novymi kraskami”, Svobodnaya pressa, 10 July (2023),
  17. “Ukraina: morfologiya i mifologiya”.
  18. “Tsentr ukrainskikh issledovaniy”, Institut Evropy RAN,
  19. Veronika Krasheninnikova, Dmitry Surzhik, Ukrainskiy natsionalizm na sluzhbe Zapadu (Moscow: Kuchkovo pole, 2023).
  20. Andrey Blinov, “Grantovaya podderzhka issledovaniy v oblasti obshchestvenno-gumanitarnykh nauk”, State Academic University for the Humanities, 21 October (2021),
  21. Hereinafter, I refer only to the texts of grant applications supported by the Foundation and reports on them published on the official website of the Russian Science Foundation:
  22. “Kartochka proekta fundamental’nykh i poiskovykh nauchnykh issledovaniy, podderzhannogo Rossiyskim nauchnym fondom [14-18-01442]”, Rossiyskiy nauchny fond (2014),
  23. v“Kartochka proekta fundamental’nykh i poiskovykh nauchnykh issledovaniy, podderzhannogo Rossiyskim nauchnym fondom [17-68-00001]”, Rossiyskiy nauchny fond (2017),
  24. “Kartochka proekta fundamental’nykh i poiskovykh nauchnykh issledovaniy, podderzhannogo Rossiyskim nauchnym fondom [23-28-00917]”, Rossiyskiy nauchny fond (2022),
  25. “Kartochka proekta fundamental’nykh i poiskovykh nauchnykh issledovaniy, podderzhannogo Rossiyskim nauchnym fondom [23-28-01684]”, Rossiyskiy nauchny fond (2022),
  26. I am grateful to the researchers of this project for the opportunity to read the reviews.
  27. “Education in the Service of Ideology and Political Gain”, The European Wergeland Centre (2023),
  28. Ibid.
  29. Dmitry Dubrovsky, Verena Podol’skaya, “Rossiya: narusheniya akademicheskoy svobody v pervoy polovine 2023 g.”, Center for Independent Social Research,
  30. Ministry of Defence [UK], Latest Defence Intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine – 29 October 2023, Twitter, 29 October (2023),
  31. Dmitry Dubrovsky, “Russia Is Changing Its DNA”, Center for Independent Social Research, 3 November (2022),
  32. Osnovy rossiyskoy gosudarstvennosti. Uchebnoe posobie dlya studentov estestvenno-nauchnykh i inzhenerno-tekhnicheskikh spetsial’nostey (Moscow: Izdatel’skiy dom Delo, 2023).
  33. Osnovy rossiyskoy gosudarstvennosti. Uchebno-metodicheskiy kompleks po distsipline dlya obrazovatel’nykh organizatsiy vysshego obrazovaniya (Moscow: Izdatel’skiy dom Delo, 2023).
  34. Osnovy rossiyskoy gosudarstvennosti: prakticheskie rekomendatsii po kursu dlya obrazovatel’nykh organizatsiy vysshego obrazovaniya (Yaroslavl: OMTs YarGU im. P.G. Demidova, 2023).
  35. “Novorossiya”, or “New Russia”, is a Russian imperial term for the part of Ukraine that “historically” should, according to the logic of the Russian invaders, be part of Russia.
  36. Osnovy rossiyskoy gosudarstvennosti. Uchebnoe posobie, p. 101.
  37. Ibid., p. 101.
  38. Ibid., p. 184.
  39. Ibid., p. 185.
  40. “Kontseptsiya prepodavaniya istorii Rossii dlya neitoricheskikh spetsial’nostey i napravleniy podgotovki, realizuemykh v obrazovatel’nykh organizatsiyakh vysshego obrazovaniya”, Minobrnauki Rossii, 15 February (2023),Концепция_преподавания_истории_России_для_неисторических_специальностей.pdf.
  41. Grigori Khislavski, “Weaponizing History: Russia’s War in Ukraine and the Role of Historical Narratives”, Journal of Applied History, Vol. 4, No. 1-2 (2022), pp. 102-125.
  42. Dmitry Dubrovsky, “Ideologiya pod vyveskoy istoricheskogo obrazovaniya”, Center for Independent Social Research, 14 May (2023),
  43. “Kontseptsiya prepodavaniya istorii Rossii”, p. 43. For stylistic purposes, in quotes from official Russian sources, we hereafter use the Romanised Russian, rather than Ukrainian, versions of the names of Ukraine’s cities and regions.
  44. “Kontseptsiya prepodavaniya istorii Rossii”, pp. 38-39.
  45. Ibid., p. 82.
  46. Ibid., p. 73.
  47. Ibid., p. 74.v
  48. Ibid.v
  49. Ibid.
  50. “The Government Approves the List of Unfriendly Countries and Territories”, The Russian Government, 7 March (2022),
  51. The “Great Patriotic War” is a Soviet term that was created to distinguish between the Second World War, in which the USSR took a direct part by invading Poland in September 1939 together with the Third Reich, from Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.
  52. “Pribaltika” is a Russian imperial term for the Baltic States. “Kontseptsiya prepodavaniya istorii Rossii”, p. 85.
  53. Ibid., p. 83.
  54. Graeme P. Herd, “Russia and the ‘Orange Revolution’: Response, Rhetoric, Reality?”, Connections, Vol. 4, No. 2 (2005), pp. 15-28.
  55. “Kontseptsiya prepodavaniya istorii Rossii”, p. 105.
  56. Ibid.
  57. Ibid.
  58. Ibid., p. 106.
  59. Ibid., pp. 101-102.
  60. The legitimate Donetsk National University is now in exile in the Ukrainian city of Vinnytsia, see below.
  61. “V Donetske sozdadut Tsent etnopoliticheskoy reabilitatsii”, RIA Novosti, 14 April (2023),
  62. “Tsentr etnopoliticheskoy reabilitatsii DonGU priglashaet k uchastiyu vo Vserossiyskoy konferentsii ‘Denatsifikatsiya: istoriya i sovremennost’”, Donetskiy gosudarstvenny universitet, 1 November (2023),
  63. “Donetskie uchenye predstavyat v Moskve proekt preodoleniya posledstviy ukrainizatsii”, Donetskoe agentstvo novostey, 21 October (2023),
  64. Olena Zashko, “Est’ li ukrainskiy yazyk na okkupirovannom Donbasse?”, Radio Svoboda, 7 July (2016),
  65. “Russkiy yazyk v LNR: ‘Ukrainskiy stal yazykom vrazheskogo gosudarstva’”, EurAsia Daily, 6 June (2020),
  66. “Kafedra ukrainskoy filologii, Institut filologii FGAOU VO ‘KFU im. V.I. Vernadskogo’”,
  67. On 31 January 2024, the International Court of Justice “decided that Russia violated the Convention to Eliminate Racial Discrimination in the way it implemented its educational system related to curricula in the Ukrainian language”, see “World Court Rejects Bulk of Ukraine’s Terrorism Charges against Russia”, United Nations, 31 January (2024),
  68. Vlada Baranova, Yazykovaya politika bez politikov. Yazykovoy aktivizm i minoritarnye yazyki v Rossii (Moscow: Izdate’lskiy dom VShE, 2023).
  69. See “Spisok ekstremistskikh materialov”, Normativnye pravovye akty v Rossiyskoy Federatsii,
  70. “Delo Biblioteki ukrainskoy literatury”, OVD-Info,
  71. Aleksandr Artem’yev, “Biblioteku zakryli ‘chuzhi lyude’”, Gazeta, 27 December (2010),
  72. “Nachalsya sud nad direktorom Biblioteki ukrainskoy literatury”, OVD-Info, 2 November (2016),
  73. “Ekspert ‘nashel ekstremizm’ v iz’yatykh iz Biblioteki ukrainskoy literatury knigakh”, Prava cheloveka v Rossii, 26 May (2016),
  74. Ibid.
  75. Ibid.
  76. Ibid.
  77. Viktoriya Ivleva, “Pravosudie po-meshchanski”, Takie dela, 6 June (2017),
  78. The author’s email communication with representatives of the Sova-Center, 2 February 2024.
  79. Aleksandr Korchagin, “Studenty protiv voyny: antivoennoe dvizhenie v rossiyskikh universitetakh”, September, 10 September (2022),
  80. Svetlana Erpyleva, Natalya Savel’yeva (eds), “Dalekaya blizkaya voyna: kak rossiyane vosprinimayut voennye deystviya v Ukraine (fevral’ 2022 – iyun’ 2022)”, Laboratoriya publichnoy sotsiologii,
  81. Dmitry Dubrovsky, “Mobilizovanny universitet”, Center for Independent Social Research, 17 October (2022),

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