Crimea: Social educators lose project and friends

Political situation in Crimea has disrupted relationships among colleagues.

The current political situation in Crimea has disrupted not only families and friendships but also relationships among colleagues. Until recently Lenka Gulová of the Faculty of Education's Department of Social Education was involved in a project run by the Association for International Affairs in Prague that addressed multicultural education in Crimean schools. Political change in the region has brought the project to a standstill and the Brno teachers now have no news of their Ukrainian colleagues.

The social educators have been working with schools in Crimea since 2011. Last year the Association was awarded a grant for three years, and the Department of Social Education was involved in the planning of workshops and cooperation with primary schools and colleges in Crimea. The Brno teachers were to have worked at a university in Yalta, with which they had prepared shared conferences and publications, and colleagues from Ukraine were regular visitors to Brno.

The only part of the original plan of cooperation that is still active is with the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv; from October 2014 the Department will act as guarantor of a course entitled Active Remedial Teaching in Disadvantaged Families. Otherwise the project has ground to a halt.
“Given the current political situation we have no idea what will happen next," says Gulová. “Crimea has become Russian, and we can't go on with our project in Russia because the funding was tied to Ukraine. Besides, our workshops were very active and opened up human rights and equality issues, which given the current situation in the region would be unthinkable."

Now Gulová and her colleagues can do nothing to address the problem but move activities to other parts of Ukraine. As Gulová says, they would be glad of any place where they could develop their themes and discuss them freely with colleagues from abroad.

Practical matters aside, Gulová often thinks of the teachers she knows and the friends she has made in Ukraine and wonders how they are. At this time of political upheaval all contact with them has been lost.

“We got to know our colleagues well. We are very worried about what is happening in their country," Gulová continues. “We never spoke about whether they were pro-Russia or pro-Ukraine. We have no real news of them, although I've found out indirectly that some of them will try to leave the region because they find the new conditions unacceptable."

Gulová is wary of making direct contact with her Ukrainian colleagues for fear of making their situation more difficult still.

She herself has been targeted by neo-Nazis for her involvement in helping socially disadvantaged families, especially Roma. Extremists have hacked into her e-mail and deleted some of her e-learning materials, replacing them with racist content. This matter is now in the hands of the police.
“Now that I know anyone can get into my e-mail, I don't know what I can permit myself to write there. I'm afraid that by expressing my sympathy with my colleagues I could cause trouble for them. Besides, of the people we met in Crimea, we don't know who is a Russian, who is a Ukrainian and who is a Crimean Tatar."

Looking back on the hours she spent in Ukraine, Gulová says there was no indication that conflict was on the horizon. “Once in a seminar a teacher expressed the fear that Russia would try to take control of Ukraine. Straight away the others told him that this was out of the question."

Gulová had the impression that the lives of people in the region were guided by a strong sense of community. As a case in point she mentions the coat of arms of the city of Yevpatoria, which shows a synagogue, a mosque and an Orthodox church – three buildings that are located in one street, in close proximity to each other. “Everywhere we went it was stressed to us that there were no problems of nationality. People got along. That's why the recent news is so shocking to us."

In recent weeks Gulová's attitude to her day-to-day teaching in Brno and elsewhere has changed a little. What she does and communicates to others is informed by current events. “Sometimes the problems people don't admit to themselves can be very close at hand. So we should speak about them when the moment allows. In Crimea people cannot discuss their problems without fear."