The study “Lessons (not) learned: countries’ experiences in reintegrating children and youth” - картинка 1

The study “Lessons (not) learned: countries’ experiences in reintegrating children and youth”

“Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of  men that the defences of peace must be constructed.”

This phrase begins the UNESCO Constitution, which was adopted shortly af ter the end of World War II when a new order of global security and a new system of  human rights protection was created. The experience of the totalitarian states of the  20th century, including Nazi Germany, was mentioned during the adoption of key in ternational human rights agreements (the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the  Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the 1966 Covenant on Economic, Social and  Cultural Rights). This includes the use of education to incite inter-ethnic hatred and  the use of youth movements to militarise children and young people (e.g. the militarist  organisation Hitler Youth, which was supposed to educate German youth in the spirit  of national socialism). International agreements and the newly created human rights  protection system were supposed to prevent such practices from happening again in  the future. 

The current Russian-Ukrainian war and its consequences for children and youth  show that existing instruments are ineffective in preventing these practices. Since  2014, the Russian Federation has deliberately and systematically violated the laws  and customs of war by introducing its own educational standards in the temporarily  occupied territories (hereinafter referred to as TOT), while simultaneously obstructing  access to Ukrainian education. Such practices are also a violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural  Rights, which enshrine the right of the child to an education consistent with his or her  cultural identity. 

Education in the Russian-occupied territories is used as a means of destroying  Ukrainian identity and replacing it with Russian identity. In this way, the Ukrainian  language and Ukrainian studies subjects (literature, history, etc.) are removed from  public circulation, and “traditional Russian values” are systematically imposed, including “service to the Fatherland” and the willingness to sacrifice for Russia. For this purpose, historical narratives are distorted, patriotic youth movements are created (which  are the successors of the traditions of the Soviet pioneering and the Hitler Youth), and  the population is actively prepared for an existential war against external enemies –  including Ukraine and the so-called “unfriendly countries”, namely the EU and NATO. 

Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion in February 2022, the geography of the territories occupied by Russia has expanded, and

as of February 2024, Russia  controls approximately 26% of Ukrainian territory

The conditions of Russian occupation, in which access to alternative resources is limited and schools and educational institutions are the main agents of spreading Russian narratives through curricula, provide an ideal basis for the destruction of Ukrainian identity, especially for children,  whose psyche is particularly vulnerable to external influences. 

The liberation of all Russian-occupied territories and the restoration of interna tionally recognised state borders are a prerequisite for peace. However, the physical  liberation of the territories from Russian occupation is only one component of restor ing peace in Ukraine – and only the first step on this path. 

Nearly 1,6 million Ukrainian children are now under Russian influence, which  is quite effective for children’s underdeveloped psyches. A generation is now growing  up in the occupied territories that has been exposed to systematic Russian propaganda from an early age.

The mental or cognitive de-occupation of Ukrainian territories  has already been identified as one of the main directions of state policy on the de-occupation of Crimea. However, this direction is relevant for all occupied territories.

Cognitive de-occupation is a set of strategic, operational and tactical measures  to be planned and implemented by various actors to prepare, direct and assess  long-term socio-political, socio-economic and socio-psychological processes  of re-shaping the actual consciousness, social values, worldview and civic  behaviour of many Crimean residents after the kinetic and/or diplomatic de-occupation of the peninsula, and, as a result, the full restoration of Ukrainian  legislation and sovereignty over the territory

In this study, we want to contribute to the issue of cognitive de-occupation by  analysing the successful and unsuccessful practices of states that have experience  of wars and overcoming the consequences of separation – physical, linguistic and/ or mental. This experience will help to understand how Ukraine should formulate its own policy of reintegration of children and youth from the occupied territories to make  this process as atraumatic as possible for children and youth, while contributing to  peacebuilding and reducing the level of polarisation in society.

The structure of the Research

The study is divided into country-specific chapters (countries of the former  Yugoslavia, Germany, Northern Ireland, and Belgium) and is summarised in a matrix  of successful and unsuccessful practices in the context of the following challenges:  overcoming trauma, changing worldview, memorialisation, social and economic perspectives, segregation and discrimination. Aspects of changing information and cul tural environments, as well as changing identities, although relevant in the context of  Ukraine, are not addressed in this study due to a lack of applicable information. 

The publication of this study was made possible with the financial support of the  UK Government as part of the project “The Way Forward: Laying the Foundations  for a Shared Future”, implemented by the CCE “Almenda”. The views expressed in  this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official  position of the UK Government.