• On 24th February, the Russian government initiated what it termed a “special military operation” and invaded Ukraine, in a sharp escalation of ongoing conflict between the two nations.
  • The backlash from Britain and allied states of the EU and NATO were swift and forceful, with Western powers inflicting crushing measures to economically, politically and diplomatically weaken Russia.
  • This was coupled with, and in turn fostered, a mass popular opposition to Russia in Britain with an outpouring of support and sympathy for Ukraine and Ukrainians.This was accompanied by occasionally bizarre spectacles – such as Foreign Secretary Liz Truss declaring her support for Britons going to fight Russia live on TV, and infamous BBC segments with Ukrainians preparing molotov cocktails.
  • For anyone with passing familiarity of the two situations, the disparity between Ukraine and how Palestine and Palestinians were approached in the context of Israel’s 2021 war on Gaza could not be more stark: despite some concerns voiced from sections of the government and security apparatus, mainstream coverage of Ukrainian ‘resistance’ was almost entirely bereft of the overly cautious and highly securitised approach taken towards Palestinians defending themselves against Israel.
  • The lack of support for Palestine was reflected in government policy, both with the characteristic equivocation seen in British government statements on Palestine-Israel, and more active interventions to police and limit the boundaries of public support for Palestine and Palestinians.
  • This was exemplified by a letter sent by a formal letter sent by then-Education Minister Gavin Williamson to school headteachers, recasting the terms of the discussion of Palestine solidarity into one of antisemitism, “reminding” schools of their duties of political impartiality and directing them to work with either counter-extremism funded and/or outright pro-Israel organisations such as Solutions not Sides and Community Security Trust.
  • This letter effectively validated the widespread suppression and sanctioning of Palestine solidarity in schools across the country, which used the spectre of antisemitism and rules about political impartiality to crack down on any and all signs of support for Palestine among pupils – and in cases, staff.We collated cases on these for our briefing Repression of Palestine Solidarity in Schools, while others such as MEND issued similar summaries of cases that they had received.
  • The disparity in treatment between the two wars was widely picked up on social media too, and anecdotally – with pupils and parents regularly remarking on how open their schools were towards supporting Ukraine in comparison to Palestine, and/or other ‘Muslim causes’.In order to gauge the scale and pattern of support for Ukraine in schools, and to try and map these disparities, CAGE issued a survey to the public to collect testimonies and examples of schools taking measures to support Ukraine and/or Ukrainians.

CAGE’s survey

  • Two weeks after the war broke out, CAGE issued an online survey to document if and how schools were engaging the topic of Ukraine.The survey centred on the following questions:
    Did your school talk about the Ukraine situation?
    What did they say in relation to Ukraine?It also provided the opportunity for respondents to attach documentation, for example newsletters issued by the school, as well as fields to identify the school and contact information.
  • We received 532 responses to the survey in total, with cases spanning England, Wales and Scotland and encompassing primary schools, secondary schools, sixth forms and, on two occasions, universities.The first response to the survey was received on 5th March 2022 and the latest on 30th May 2022, with the majority of responses logged within a fortnight of the survey being circulated.
    70 responses were discarded from the following analysis due to lack of clarity, detail or relevance, or for being duplicates leaving a total of 462 responses, which forms the basis of this briefing.
  • Of the 462 accepted responses, all but 20 reported that the school had formally held activity relating to Ukraine – including holding non-uniform days, activities, donation appeals or acknowledgements in newsletters.
    In other words, 96% of accepted responses confirmed proactive engagement of the issue by schools.
  • The type of action taken by the school was categorised, and is listed below (note that some schools did took two or more actions that were logged separately, up to a value of 2):
Category Instances Description
Fundraising 287 Fundraising appeals and donation drives – either conducted by the school, or directing to local and 3rd party drives
Activity 135 Activities in school, involving children including bake sales, crafts and non-uniform days
Assembly or lesson 95 School holding assemblies or lessons focused on the Russia-Ukraine war, or covering it
Newsletters or comms 45 Acknowledgement of the war in newsletters to parents, often coupled with resources or appeals
Other 24 Other
  • The nature of the survey, and the scale of the responses, means that it is not possible to verify all the responses or to draw major qualitative conclusions.The intention of this briefing therefore is to outline the trends that we saw from the data, assess this in relation to the government’s stated position on Ukraine in schools, and compare it to the experiences of pupils during last year’s war on Gaza, for which we were able to draw upon more detailed casework information.

Support for Ukraine in schools

  • The figures lie in stark comparison to the treatment of Palestine last year, where our cases – as well as those of other advocacy organisations and countless anecdotes – indicated that pupils (and staff) were treated punitively for attempting to express solidarity.
  • This includes even mild forms of support such as wearing colours or representations of the Palestine flag.
    Conversely, 80 survey responses mention schools promoting motifs of the Ukraine flag (such as encouraging children to wear blue and yellow for non-uniform days, or hoisting the Ukraine flag on school grounds. This figure does not include the many schools which featured the Ukraine flag prominently on their newsletters).
  • The most frequent single category of activities undertaken by schools according to our survey was fundraisers/donation drives, with 287 occurrences.A number of Palestine-related cases in 2021 centred on hostile or heavy handed approach to fundraising attempts. This included cases where schoolteachers and management demanded that any fundraisers were split between ‘both sides’ – Palestinians and Israelis.
    No such demands appear to have emerged with regard to school fundraisers for Ukraine, nor were misguided notions of ‘impartiality’ invoked to justify inaction from the responses we were provided with.
  • Survey responses picked up on this disparity.

Speaking on the case of a girls’ secondary school in Birmingham, one respondent mentioned how:

‘They deflected questions and didn’t give students the answers they were looking for when asked why funds were being raised for Ukraine and they weren’t even allowed to wear badges for Palestine. The only time where they directly spoke about Palestine was in an email about a year ago and it was discouraging any efforts made to raise funds. The double standards are uncanny.’

The same respondent also included the following anecdote from a student at the school, which suggested that the deputy headteacher had themselves acknowledged the error of the school’s past approach (towards fundraising for Palestine), albeit without being entirely forthcoming about their shortcomings:

‘So when I emailed the teacher who organises charity events, the following morning the deputy head spoke to me and told me that the school has learnt from their past mistakes and that they will be taking action on such events quicker in future. After a long conversation, she admitted the school’s wrongdoing and said that the large amount of awareness and support shown on the current Ukraine-Russia situation had nothing to do with race and religion, rather it was about ‘people.’ But when I asked about why the school discouraged any sort of support for Palestine previously, she just went off topic so I didn’t get an answer.’

Another parent’s response regarding a school fundraising for Ukraine exemplified the stark over-policing of Palestine solidarity, giving the following anecdote from the school’s actions in 2021:

‘My daughter was actually [reported] to Child safeguarding officer [last] year [as] she discussed how her dad was [raising] money for Palestine, her teacher thought she was afraid and scared by being exposed to the conflict in Palestine. I had a long discussion and an apology was given by the headteacher.’

  • In the case of the Israeli war on Gaza schools and teachers used laws around political impartiality of school to censor any discussions around Palestine and Israel.
    In contrast, responses to our survey suggest that teaching professionals felt far less inhibited in expressing distinctly politicised, and at times potentially incendiary statements on the Russia-Ukraine war.One London primary school issued a newsletter to parents and carers

‘[making] it clear that our school stands with the international community in its condemnation of the aggression by Russia against the Ukraine[…]
We who are fortunate enough to live in a country safe from such aggression have a responsibility to show our solidarity”

Comparisons between Vladmir Putin and Adolf Hitler were alleged in some responses – with one claiming that ‘[Teachers] said that the [Russian] Prime Minister Putin is acting like Adolf Hitler because he is land grabbing’ while another alleges being told ‘That the PM of Russia is akin to Adolf Hitler [because] he rules through fear and that the PM of Ukraine is good as he is on the front line’.

A further response alleges that their school ‘Related [the] Ukraine situation to [the] Taliban and [bombing]’.

  • The openness with which schools have expressed forceful solidarity with Ukraine belies the excuses that pupils and parents – largely Muslim – were subject to by schools last year to justify ignoring the war on Gaza. Indeed some respondents spoke to this disparity in explicit terms.One stated that

[The school] organised a collection for Ukraine but we were unable to do the same for Palestine as it was ‘political as it was due to religion’. We asked to do an assembly or put posters up and fundraise for Palestine and they said no but they are doing it all for Ukraine.

While another related that

My granddaughter actually emailed and approached the school last year requesting them to hold an assembly one minute silence for the children who had lost their lives during the bombardment by Israel.

She was told that “politics should not be brought into the schools and schools should be neutral”. She also questioned why the Palestinian flags that were put up on the walls of the classrooms including in teachers offices were removed the next day?

She was told that it is a sensitive situation whereby they do not want to hurt the feelings of certain members of staff who were Israelis.’

  • The theme of taking an ‘apolitical stance’ to justify inaction was a recurring theme in 2021. A respondent to the survey mentioned the following experience:

‘When the protest went on for Palestine I tried to do an assembly based on it but got told it’s too political and they do not go into political stuff like that. I also wore the [keffiyeh] and got told to remove it as it was not school uniform however also shows your injustice [sic].

Now that the war in Ukraine has taken place my school has decided to speak up about it, wrote it in newsletters, do assemblies based on it, wear badges representing the country, making food banks to [support] them and holding a cake sale to provide Ukraine with money.

They did all of this for Ukraine even though it was political but one gesture for Palestine like wearing the badge or [keffiyeh] you will be reported to the teachers.’

A further respondent describes how their child’s school

‘[Raised] money for Ukraine. My son said that he carried about £300 from his classroom to the headteacher office […]
Last year, children tried to raise money to help families that were attack[ed] and had their houses destroyed in Palestine, but the School prevented and [even] threaten[ed] the organiser to take disciplinary actions.

Their excuses were that schools should never be involved in charities that help people in conflict/war zone even if the help is humanitarian help for civilian[s]. ‘

‘[There] is something to be said about the unique way in which Palestine solidarity is not just treated differently, but actively securitised…The attack on Palestine solidarity under the guise of bureaucratic maneuvering is deeply cynical and invoking school policy or law to censor students has proven deeply confusing for students, parents and even teachers. More concerningly, it threatens to undermine the principles of civic education that should be at the heart of the education system’

The open embrace of Ukraine and Ukrainians as an issue to support validates our conclusion made then – especially when compared with the fear, securitisation and outright Islamophobia that accompanied expressions of Palestine solidarity.

Schools working with organisations connected to the Ukrainian far-right

  • For the vast majority of cases of schools fundraising or hosting donation drives, the activities undertaken are for entirely legitimate organisations – with donations going towards UNICEF, the Red Cross or the Disasters Emergency Committee Ukraine appeal.
  • However certain schools promoted or encouraged donations towards drives organised by third party sources, such as local Ukrainian groups, friends of school teachers or parents.
  • In a small number of cases, centred on schools in Luton, these third party-organised donation drives included very troubling appeals for parents to donate military equipment, and/or to donate to organisations with direct ties and sympathies for the Ukrainian far-right.
Example 1: Newsletter sent to parents by a primary school in Luton soliciting ‘Monetary donations to help purchase equipment for the resistance’ and linking to a donation drive collecting equipment for ‘Military Protection’, including Helmets and Tactical/bulletproof vests.
Example 2: Same poster provided to parents at another Luton primary school, advertising the donation drive by the Luton branch of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain
  • Some of these 3rd party donation drives had been organised by the Luton branch of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain (AUGB), a long-established Ukrainian organisation founded in 1946.Despite its stature – it is the largest representative group for Ukrainians in the country – the AUGB has direct and explicit links to the Ukrainian far-right stretching back to its inception.These include the ultranationalist fascist organisation the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and its paramilitary organisation the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), as well as regularly celebrating a notorious leader of the OUN, Stepan Bandera.
Example 3: Another Luton primary school working with the Luton AUGB, without the appeal for military equipment donations.
  • Stepan Bandera was a leader of the more radically rightwing faction of the ultranationalist OUN, known as OUN-B, from its formation in 1940 until 1959.During his leadership the work of the OUN-B was characterised by collaboration with Nazis and the establishment of the militia Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). Both the OUN and UPA were involved in mass ethnic cleansings and pogroms during World War 2 murdering upwards of 100,000 Poles and Jews.
  • In the words of historian Alexander Statiev, the OUN at large ‘[Should] be unequivocally identified as a fascist party…This term applies to the OUN not as a propaganda cliché but as an accurate definition of its political affiliation. OUN members continued to think and act like fascists until the very end..’ while describing the OUN’s ethnonationalist program as ’a blueprint for ethnic genocide copied from Nazi practice.’

    Describing communication between Bandera and future head of the OUN-B, Yaroslav Stetsko, on the eve of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, Stetsko is reported to have written that ‘“I insist on the extermination of the Jews and the need to adapt German methods of exterminating Jews in Ukraine.”’ and that ‘“We will organize a Ukrainian militia that will help us to remove the Jews.”
  • Following the Nazi invasion OUN members participated in pogroms, and by the end of the war ‘Ukrainian nationalist groups massacred tens of thousands of Jews, both in cooperation with Nazi death squads and on their own volition.’
Image 1: Post from the AUGB Facebook page dated January 2014, describing Stepan Bandera as ‘one of the greatest political figures and freedom fighters of Ukraine’s 20th century history’
Image 2: Post from AUGB Facebook page dated December 2012 on event hosted at AUGB headquarters by Vasyl Oleskiw/Oleskiv, described as ‘one of the founders of AUGB, who worked alongside Stepan Bandera, and himself a former leader of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists.’
Image 3: AUGB Facebook post dated February 2013, celebrating Stepan Bandera as among ‘Ukraine’s leading fighters for freedom and independence
Image 4: AUGB Facebook post dated June 2014 commemorating ‘all those who laid down their lives for freedom and democracy in Ukraine’, with a poster featuring Stepan Bandera (right).
  • The AUGB has direct historical links to the OUN and UPA that it continues to promote in the modern day.According to the Ukrainians in the United Kingdom Online encyclopaedia, a project supported by the AUGB itself, in 1949 a majority of the AUGB’s governing body was taken over by members and supporters of the OUN-B, while some of the earliest members of the Association included former Ukrainian soldiers of the Galician division of the Nazis’ Waffen-SS military force.
  • According to a 2021 statement by its Board of Directors marking the AUGB’s 75th anniversary, founding members of the Association included ‘participants of the liberation struggle of the OUN-UPA’ – the aforementioned paramilitary wing involved in ethnic cleansings and massacres during World War 2.
Image 5: Statement by AUGB Board of Directors dated January 2021 to mark its 75th anniversary.
Text reads: ‘‘Today, 75 years on, we remember with respect the AUGB’s founding members, who at the end of the Second World War were dispersed far away from their homeland. These included:[…]Ukrainians who had been deported to Siberia during the Soviet occupation and annexation of Western Ukraine (1939), Northern Bukovina (1940) and Transcarpathian Ukraine (1945), who together with Poles, as Polish citizens, reached the Middle East where the Polish Army’s II Corps was created under the command of Lieutenant General Władysław Anders; participants of the liberation struggle of the OUN-UPA, who in the summer of 1944 were captured during German raids and transported to France, where heavy fighting was already taking place on the Western Front.’
  • Moreover one of the AUGB’s previous Board of Directors and Honorary Presidents, Wasyl Oleskiw/Oleskiv, was by their own admission a ‘prominent member of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists’ working alongside Stepan Bandera, later becoming head of the OUN-B.
Image 6: AUGB Facebook post dated December 2016, commemorating former AUGB Board member and leader of the far-right OUN-B.

Caption reads: ‘We were very saddened to hear of the death last night of one of the AUGB’s longest standing members, Wasyl Oleskiw.
For many years he served on the Board of Directors of the AUGB, Ukrainian Information Service, Ukrainian Publishers and the Religious Society of Saint Sophia, and was a prominent member of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists, becoming its leader (1987-1991) after the death of Yaroslav Stetsko.’
  • The AUGB’s open and explicit support for these groups, and their historical interconnection with them, makes their work with schools all the more unacceptable.
  • There is little doubt that the schools concerned will have reached out to them with best intentions. Indeed, a number of other schools and universities across the country appear to have engaged with or supported the AUGB or their local branches, and AUGB branches across the country were active at the outbreak of the war in coordinating fundraisers and donation drives.But for schools to be uncritically promoting appeals for military equipment to parents reflects, at best, overzealousness and a lack of due diligence – made all the more dangerous by AUGB’s connections.
  • Ultimately, however, the uncritical embrace of organisations purporting to support Ukraine reflects the belligerent and cavalier approach to the war by the government and media, where caution is cast aside for pure political motivations – or recast as simply ‘disinformation’.This has fostered a climate in which the public at large, being provided little objective information from the government or media, can find their good intentions manipulated by deeply questionable actors.

Government policy on ‘disinformation’ on Ukraine

Disinformation and managing discourse

  • Despite the major glaring disparities in the treatment of support for Ukraine vs Palestine in schools by the government, there was one telling point of convergence: the question of managing discourse around both.
  • In the context of Ukraine this was framed around the increasingly prominent concept of ‘countering disinformation/misinformation’, and encouraging reliance on government or government-approved sources.
  • Notwithstanding the existence of ‘disinformation’ as a social fact, the concept has increasingly emerged as an extension of security policies to allow the government to claim a monopoly on discourse and to assert control over the media and social media.
    Tellingly, a number of organisations prominently involved in ‘counter-terrorism’ have shifted in recent years towards work on ‘tackling disinformation’ often working closely with governments and social media companies, as discussed below.
  • At the onset of the war ‘disinformation’ was used to justify the immediate banning of Russian news outlet RT across the EU and US, with Ofcom later revoking their licence for the UK.
    It also gave rise to pointed and politicised interventions from ministers, such as then-Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi’s pledge to “crack down hard” on “pro-Putin propaganda’ in universities.
    And furthermore the vast and censorious Online Safety Bill includes clauses to force online service providers to block ‘disinformation’ from foreign states as well.

Tackling ‘disinformation’ in schools in the context of Ukraine

  • Early on in the war, the Department for Education issued a post on its website titled ‘Help for teachers and families to talk to pupils about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and how to help them avoid misinformation.’.The post was clearly circulated widely; a number of respondents to our survey mentioned or linked to the piece.It included tips on how to manage emotionally complex discussions with pupils around the war, as well as a section titled ‘How to spot mis- and disinformation and how to help pupils do the same’.
  • This latter section on spotting disinformation linked to the website Educate Against Hate, initially set up in January 2016 by the Education Minister as a resource to support anti-radicalisation and counter-extremism efforts in schools, and to complement the implementation of the Prevent duty.The links included for the website directed users towards two sets of resources aimed at teachers and/or parents and produced by 3rd-party organisations.
  • One set of resources titled ‘Generation Global’ dealt with the matter of facilitating difficult dialogues – as well as a ‘Briefing note on religious extremism’.These were produced by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI), set up and overseen by the former British Prime Minister.
  • The other resource set linked was an educational programme titled ‘Be Internet Citizens’, developed as a collaboration between Youtube and the counter-extremism thinktank, Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD).
  • Both TBI and ISD organisations have been heavily involved in counter-extremism work in Britain and worldwide. Representatives from both were featured on the board of advisers for the Commission for Countering Extremism under Sara Khan’s tenure, for example.

ISD has worked extensively with social media providers on countering extremist/terrorist content online, is well connected with governments internationally, and its staff list includes individuals drawn from many of the major counter-extremist organisations such as the now-defunct Quilliam Foundation.

TBI has issued a report accusing law-abiding Muslim organisations such as CAGE and the Islamic Human Rights Commission of sharing rhetorical frames and cues with the proscribed terror group Al Muhajiroun, in an attempt to whip up consent for the greater policing of Muslim civil society organisations.

  • As we stated in our response to the TBI report, its function was ‘honing in on the importance of dealing with divisive messages in the social media space, calling for greater government funding for community-based counter-extremism efforts, and – never to miss out on a profit-making opportunity – using the report as a sales pitch for the Institute’s toolkit for educators’ (emphasis added).It now appears that the sales pitch was successful.
  • It is worth noting that neither of the resources were created specifically for the Russia-Ukraine war.
    The content of both ISD and TBI’s resources are generic and, by all measures, rather anodyne.
  • The objections, however, lie less with what these individual resources say, than the fact that the government is outsourcing work to two organisations so deeply embedded in the security apparatus, and promoting them to schools.The connections to countering extremism, made explicitly in the TBI resources, also reflect how efforts to counter so-called extremism have proliferated into society-wide mechanisms of managing discourse – something that has been picked up and accelerated by recent attempts to counter ‘disinformation’.
  • The vexed and largely politicised notion of ‘disinformation’ was picked up in a few of our survey responses too.One response from a teacher in a secondary school in High Wycombe stated that

‘We were not allowed to discuss Palestine at all last year. We were specifically told to shut down any conversation about that conflict immediately and to remain neutral.

The deputy head of humanities…said in front of staff that the BBC were being biased against Israel and that students are being misinformed via social media and BBC. But now the BBC is playing the Ukraine narrative it is now the go to for correct information.‘

  • In sum, countering ‘disinformation’ is no more neutral or objective a task than countering ‘extremism’, and attempts to tackle disinformation cannot be separated from forceful attempts to silence and censor outlets that challenge the government’s lines – just as Gavin Williamson’s encouragement to engage organisations like Solutions not Sides were juxtaposed against demands to not engage with more critical organisations.
  • Though attempts to engage matters of the Russia-Ukraine war in schools are certainly preferable to the suppression of discussion around Palestine, the careful management of the terms of the discussion acts against truly critical thinking by pupils.And it affords predominance to the British government’s line in what is a complex world event.


  • The disparities between the treatment of Ukraine and Palestine has appeared to many to be self-evident, and the belief of different treatment  in schools was widespread, if anecdotal.
  • We wanted to analyse this in more detail.
    Our survey proves beyond doubt that there are systematic differences in the ways that schools in Britain have been willing and able to engage the question of Ukraine and the Russia-Ukraine war, in comparison to Israel’s assault on Gaza.
  • This covers the basic issues of schools deciding to organise activities in support of Ukraine, to the way in which schools have chosen to engage the matter as a topic of discussion with pupils and parents, and the support they have received in some cases from local councils in doing so.All of these stand in stark opposition to the attempts to airbrush Palestine out of discussion within schools, and schools’ resort to repressive tactics against pupils to do so.
  • As we described in our 2021 report, this is a reflection on the particular space that Palestine occupies in public and political discourse, which has influenced the treatment of Palestine by teachers and school management.But ultimately, we identify the reason for the disparities as a product of British government policies to manage and constrain the ability and opportunities to engage topics such as these within schools. This is the case whether that be the selective application of laws, under the banner of countering ‘extremism’, tackling ‘disinformation’, or otherwise – all of which operate in differing ways.
  • It is for this reason that we have avoided using the term ‘double standards’ in this report – instead, we see the differential treatment of Palestine and Ukraine as the expression of a single standard on the part of the British government, implemented in contradictory ways.That is to say, the silencing of discussion of Palestine and the selective, managed discussion of Russia and Ukraine are both governed by the demands of British foreign policy, even if they appear at face value to be conflicting approaches.Similarly, the upsurge of mainstream support for Ukraine compared to the more reserved and cautious approach to Palestine reflects, at least in part, a popular understanding of the Ukraine conflict shaped by geopolitical imperatives – presented in simple black and white frames of freedom vs authoritarianism.
  • We continue to call for recovering the idea of civic education in Britain, and enabling pupils to understand and engage with world issues.Some examples we have received point to positive ways to engage serious topics, such as the Russia-Ukraine war, in schools which should rightfully be applied across the board to other topics.Nonetheless the politicisation of the war by the British government has also coloured the conduct taken by schools, and serious concerns must be raised about some of the forms that Ukraine solidarity has taken – including collaboration with organisations like the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain, and the soft penetration of security thinktanks into schooling under the guise of tackling ‘disinformation’.
  • We welcome the active intervention taken by some parents and pupils to challenge the disparities in treatment, and believe that it is through active interventions such as these – as well as the self-activity of pupils which we saw during the war on Gaza last year – that we can rebuild a space within the education system for a critical understanding of the world.

(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)