Let's live to win, or the school of special operations times

The competition in military training at school. Photo from Andrei's personal archive

Andrei is a primary school teacher from Tatarstan. After September 21, he left Russia because he is subject to mobilization on general grounds.  

- In September it was my 11th anniversary as a schoolteacher in a provincial town. I want to share my observations about how the school has changed since February 24.

Waiting for the bluff

Personally, I had been waiting for war since last summer. Biden's fruitless meeting with Putin in Geneva, the concentration and subsequent withdrawal of Russian troops on the borders with Ukraine, Yolkin's grim cartoons on the subject, all signaled that something terrible was coming. The children with whom I shared my concern (all of them were straight A's and B's) reassured me: "What are you talking about? There won't be any war! Listen to the news.

Nikolai (the names of the staff and children are fictitious - ed.), a Ukrainian who joined our school two years ago, also expressed skepticism about the prospects of war. "Why are you so gloomy?" - he asked me. "There's a war coming. Can't you feel it?" - "Oh, please. Who needs this Ukraine. It's just about to fall apart."

After the winter break, even my children began to share my concerns. Yasmina, a ninth-grader who came to our city from Donetsk a year ago, was the most categorical. She had a half-sister left in Donbas, from whose words Yasmina confidently stated: "Well, yes, there will be a war. We already know the exact date - February 17. Her classmate, who used to believe every word on TV, showed me a video her father had made on a business trip to Belgorod. The video shows railroad tracks loaded with trains of military equipment.

On February 22, on the occasion of Defender of the Fatherland Day, I had an extra day off, and my family and I went on a road trip through the neighboring areas. The mood was upbeat. After all, nothing happened on February 17. "Apparently, Putin is just bluffing," I reassured myself. Even Navalny, in an interview with The Washington Post, called the preparations for war a bluff.

Both ours and yours

On the day the so-called "special operation" began, I published an anti-war post on Instagram - a black rectangle with the hashtag "no war. (After the word "war" became banned in Russia, I deleted the post, but I noticed that Ukrainian Nikolai liked it.) In the teachers' lounge, where I usually chat with my colleagues, there was extraordinary excitement. Everyone was talking too zealously about the weather and other trifles, as if they were trying to convince themselves that nothing extraordinary had happened in life.

It so happened that on February 24, I was on shift duty during recess, where I witnessed a conversation between two school technicians - the retired Faina Petrovna and the young, but obviously mentally challenged Sveta. "Do you smell what happened?" - asked the former. "Nothing much," answered the second. - Now the army will do its job, and things will get better." "No, it's serious," objected Faina Petrovna, "But the troops had to be brought in. Both women were convinced that the Nazis were in power in Ukraine and that the war would not last long.

One of my colleagues, a chemistry teacher, was one of the first to talk about the war. Her son is a good officer serving in Belgorod. From the woman's words it appeared that they were telling the absolute truth on TV and that the war was inevitable. "They thought we would continue to put up with it," she said one day in her heart, "but the Russians suddenly show their teeth. 

When grocery prices soared in the stores, the chemist shared messages from her sister, who lived in Germany, in the school chat room. They said that German prices were even higher than those in Russia. However, it was unclear why her sister did not flee to Russia from such hopelessness, and how her son's officer position and close relatives in the "hostile West" fit together at all.

The position of Ukrainian Nikolay was contradictory. On the one hand, he did not deny the fact of fierce fighting for Kharkiv and Mariupol, and when asked about the grandmother with the flag (whether ordinary Ukrainians support the actions of the Russian army) he replied with irony: "Well, someone probably does. There are all kinds of weirdos out there. On the other hand, Nikolai berated Zelensky in front of the leader of the school trade union, whose son serves in the FSB. The impression was that he did it on purpose, to prove his loyalty.

"We should all be ashamed of ourselves."

Children talked about the war much more freely. I remember a dialogue between two fifth-graders on the street. One had parents who supported Putin's decision, to which the other girl objected: "And my mom told me that we should all be ashamed of this war. Yasmina, from Donbass, said her Donetsk relatives were for Russia. "Is it true that they mobilize men right on the street there?" - I asked. "True," replied Yasmina, "But my sister and grandmother are not threatened by it.

Twice in six months I saw Z-symbols at school. I caught eighth-grader Vasya Zaitsev (a real slacker) in the school bathroom writing the name of the Ukrainian president on the door. "And why do you have it with a Z? - I asked, "Is that how you support Zelensky?" "No, no, what are you?!", Vasya was embarrassed and, as if to justify himself, added the insulting "f***" with a marker.

The Zetka and the hashtag "our own" were on the backpack of the sixth-grader Gena Semenov. The boy lives in a squalid dormitory next to the school, and I thought it was a gift from the city administration as part of some social project (we love to promote ideology through cheap charity), about which I carefully asked Gena. "No, my mother bought it for me at the market," the boy replied.

Sixth-grader Tanya Zotova said in class that her contract brother had been sent to war. "And what does he say?" - "And that's all he had time to report, their phones were taken away." There was no news from her brother after a week or three, and then the girl herself came up to me at recess and said: "You know, my brother called. Said he was doing well, and that the locals were welcoming our soldiers with joy." "Well, that's great," I reacted to Tanya's words, and I thought to myself that the girl must have lied and done it at the behest of her parents.

Ninth-grader Vika Shatunova, as of September 21, had no family members taken to the war. Every weekend the girl goes to her grandmother's village. I was in that village, and it seemed to me to be populated exclusively by old people. And suddenly Dasha reports that four zinc coffins were brought to this very village... And another guy continues to fight in Ukraine. In September I learned from the same girl that the guy was captured, and his parents launched a hashtag on social media calling to bring him home.

Free "striptease"

All the time I worked at the school, I saw a constant increase in the workload of teachers because of the so-called "patriotic education. All sorts of conversations and voluntary and compulsory contests have mostly fallen on the class teachers. The allowance for classroom management has also increased, but in the dry residue is barely over 5 thousand rubles. For this reason, some teachers are reluctant to take a class, while others, on the contrary, pull two classes at once. If the principal complains, they always have an excuse: "What do you want? I'm not two-timers!"

Poster in the national center "Patriot". Photo from Andrei's personal archive

Class hours were often not held or were given over to preparation for exams. So at the August pedagogical council the principal strictly ordered the classmasters to hold "lessons about important things" on Mondays. The teacher said that they would do it for free, because your workload included extracurricular hours, which were included in the salary. Teachers were indignant with each other for a long time afterwards, and made quips about their colleagues without a class (they called me a "blatniy", for example), but it did not go any further than that.

It is fair to say that in our school the administration warns about their coming to the "lesson about important things. In other schools in the city, teachers are required to film every such lesson and send the tape to the vice principal for educational work on the same day. I asked one student, "Did your parents consent to be filmed?" "No, we didn't," he answered. "And what, you don't resent that?" - "Nobody cares! Most of them are wearing headphones in these classes.

With the beginning of the war, students began to be more actively involved in combat training competitions. The most physically strong and disciplined are selected. We have to admit that children enjoy taking part in these competitions - they are released from lessons and given uniforms to wear. However, the uniform had to be bought at their own expense. For this reason, even at the end of September there were curious cases when at the flag raising some of the young men wore ordinary sneakers or high-heeled shoes.

Victory Day ceremonial ruler with the school administration and a representative of the military registration and enlistment office. Photo from Andrei's personal archive

The story with the installation of the flagpoles was comical. There was no support from the city administration for the schools in this matter. The principals had their own channels to find scraps of pipes, and then one of the teachers welded them together and installed them. At our school, the flagpoles were very tall and heavy. And the drill brought by the life safety teacher only allowed us to go twenty meters deeper into the ground.

For three hours Nicholas and I held first one and then another flagpole in the recesses while the fireman corrected our efforts (the structures stubbornly refused to stand up straight), prepared and poured the concrete mixture. The deputy director for AHCH compared our fiddling to pole dancing. "Well, if it's a striptease, then pay money or pass by," Nikolai joked.

When the war is over

The longer the war went on, the more fierce the voices of its supporters became. On May 9, state employees were traditionally called upon to attend a flower laying ceremony at the eternal flame. While waiting in line for the laying of flowers, I overheard an experienced elementary school teacher talking to her colleagues, who urged them not to be ceremonious with the "Nazis" and to treat them as in the DNR and LNR, where the death penalty was specifically legalized for them. At the same time, even in the seventh month of the war, most teachers still pretended that nothing was going on.

I myself lived by the "just in case" principle, fearing reprisals. Before the mobilization was announced, the ratio of "silent" to "patriots" was not in favor of the latter. And afterwards... I could not stand it any longer and left the country, leaving my family at home. My wife supported my decision, saying that as long as I was abroad she would feel calmer.

I left on a weekday, having previously asked my wife to bring an administrative leave application to the school. Once I was abroad, the first thing I did was to call the principal and ask her not to accept a new teacher, distributing my workload among the existing ones. "Okay, we'll save a spot for such a valuable staff member," she replied, "We'll expect you back after we win. "After OUR victory," she added, and there was irony in her voice.

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