How education is being turned over in Donetsk


War in Donbas

Article by: Illya Trebor
Translated by: Mariya Shcherbinina
Donetsk – A new famous name emerged in the Donetsk oblast education system: Ihor Kostenok. He is not a talented scientist or a successful student. He is the ‘Minister of Education and Science’ of the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ and his main task is to subjugate the universities located on territories that are occupied by the ‘republic.’ The process consists of visiting universities, academies or institutes with a group of armed young men, during which the ‘DNR’ official deposes the deans and talks about the new rules which the educational institutions are to follow henceforth. 

At the first glance, this work is being done quite actively: the ‘special group’ of ‘DNR’ educators, deemed terrorists in Ukraine, have already visited 7 most famous institutions, including the national university, the technical university, the medical university, the university of trade etc. The procedure is the same every time, therefore we shouldn’t linger too much on it. Ihor Kostenok’s numerous statements regarding education are much more interesting: he talks a lot about the students’ safety, that it is impossible to begin the educational process while the region is under fire and many-many other different words that some people consider populist. The dean of the Donetsk Stat University of Management talks much less about the future plans for education development.

There are claims that “the diplomas will be dual: local and Russian,” that “the students, graduates and subsidy groups can count on a 25% stipend increase,” that “the DNR strives to preserve the school of science in a way for the Universities to be able to compete on the market of goods and services, which is opened within the framework of the Customs Union.” However, these are general words, however neither the students nor the professors have heard anything concrete from Mr. Kostenok yet.

For example, what mechanism will be used when increasing the stipends which had come from state funds before? It was emphasized numerous times that the education programs in the entire ‘republic’ will transition to Russian educational standards, however, there was nothing concrete yet again.

What are Russian educational standards? Possibly the opening of a theology department in the IT faculty at the Donetsk State Technical University, as was the case with the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute, or the implementation of a paid-for extended day program, like in Russian schools? Will the fact of competitiveness within the Customs Union contradict the vector of cooperation between the technical university and Germany? Nobody went into detail on such importance nuances, and the ‘DNR’ press center assures the citizens of Donetsk boasts that everything will be all right instead of putting them through to the Ministry of Education and Science. However, it is unclear what will be all right exactly.

Kostenok himself, during his visit to the Donetsk National Technical University, assured that the leadership of the university is the right of the employees, and they do not demand that they “give any sort of oaths or pledge their allegiance.” Meanwhile, the deans of several universities were deposed “due to sabotage of ‘DNR MES’ orders,” the Ukrainian history department was disbanded, and the journalism department was surrounded by bad rumors, claiming it was the stronghold of the ‘fifth estate.’ In addition to this, the Donetsk National University, after the ‘DNR’ came to power, is now led by the former head of the history department Serhiy Baryshnikov, whom the students had earlier accused of bribery (officially he voluntarily resigned in 2013).

“I don’t know, maybe I heard too many rumors, but it seems to me that politics should not interfere with education. We, the students, enrolled in our university hoping we would get a Ukrainian diploma. I am in my fourth year and suddenly it turns out that we may get a ‘DNR’ diploma. So nobody asked our opinion, and simply told us. It is possible that there will be propaganda and a ban on some subjects and some specialties. What to do under such circumstances? Most of my friends transferred to Ukrainian universities, fewer went to Russian ones. Some stayed, but they admit that they are risking a lot. If we are talking about me, I also transferred to distance education, having lost my budget seat. Unfortunately, the students have very few alternatives. They can be easily called ‘at one’s own fear and risk’,” laments Olena, whose surname and major remain secret due to security reasons. It should be noted that the girl’s parents, who are in favor of the government of the so-called ‘DNR’ on Donetsk territory, supported their daughter’s decision to change her form of education, and want to transfer her to another city.

“I am thinking of leaving university”

Professors in Donetsk say that the situation with the replacement of the Donetsk National University dean did not sit well with anyone, however the majority took up an expectant position, despite the fact that ‘DNR’ promises evoked skepticism from many.

“It is difficult for me to imagine what the replacement of the university dean and its occupation by separatists will do. However, it seems to me that the new ‘government’ will not keep its promises. Besides, it can be expected that the investments into education will become closer to zero. The universities’ scientific potential will most likely be hopelessly corrupted. As this is my priority work, I am thinking of leaving university,” said one of the Ph.D.’s at DonNU who works with precise sciences.

The Ministry of Education and Science in Kyiv claimed that it did not acknowledge the ‘change’ of the leadership at Donetsk National University and stated that it was ‘developing the format’ of this university’s future work.

Ihor Kostenok, who is waging war against Kyiv as ‘minister,’ had earlier been a professor at the general and administrative management department at the Donetsk State Management University. He had not played any special part in the sociopolitical life of the oblast, however starting 1996 he has been a member of the board of ‘European Choice,’ a civil organization which was led by Pavel Gubarev, now known as the ‘people’s governor’ of Donetsk oblast, in the mid-2000’s.

Meanwhile ‘republican’ novelties may touch on all forms of eduction in Donetsk oblast, starting with kindergartens and ending with the conservatoire. It is now difficult to say which sector the ‘DNR’ methods will affect the most. It may be public school: Ukrainian here is abolished as a compulsory language for study. According to the Donetsk city head Oleksandr Lukyanenko, over 29% schoolchildren in his city alone had studied in Ukrainian until recently (34 schools and about 750 classes).

As to higher education, it is difficult to expect that under so-called ‘DNR’ government the Donetsk National University will once more be listed in the QS TopUniversities rating, as was the case, for example, las year. However, all these problems seem irrelevant is we think over one simple question: is there a future for education when Donetsk students and professors are scared of expressing their opinion freely and are forced to hide under pseudonyms?

Translated by: Mariya Shcherbinina

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