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Parents in Russian town say mobsters delivered homophobic lectures at local school. Officials say don’t worry, they weren’t mobsters.

Meduza
Pyotr Kovalyov / TASS / Scanpix / LETA
Update: On February 5, offical spokesperson Alexander Kurennoy reported that two of the three men who led the lecture in question were ex-convicts. Prosecutors charged the school’s directors with interference in students’ right to education, an administrative violation. One participant who used profanity extensively during the event was charged with small-time hooliganism.

Prosecutors in Russia’s Primorsky Krai, which forms the southeast corner of the country, have begun investigating claims that one of the region’s schools has allowed criminal leaders to give lectures to its students, according to Interfax. The regional branch of Russia’s Investigative Committee has also begun preliminary inquiries into the matter.

A post on the Russian social website Pikabu first brought the lectures to the public eye. It described how one school organized a lecture for its fifth- through seventh-grade boys that was led by four men. The director introduced them as people who “watch over the village” and should be “emulated.” The men used profanity to explain to the boys that they should live “by standards,” a word that sometimes refers to criminal rules, and advised them not to enter into homosexual relationships to avoid being harassed later on “in the zone,” a slang term for prison colonies. “In the end, the kids were told they weren’t allowed to tell [their teachers and parents] where they were and what they were lectured about!” the post exclaimed. It was allegedly written by parents whose children were at the lecture. The post did not name the village or the school.

PrimaMedia reported that the village in question was Pervomaiskoye, which is located in the Mikhailovsky district. The principal of the village’s school, Antonina Grishchenko, confirmed that a lecture for students had taken place. According to Grishchenko, the children were told that “sexual harassment between boys and other boys shouldn’t happen.” She said the lecture was given by residents of Pervomaiskoye as well as the administrative head of the union of towns to which the village belongs, whose name is Alexander Ukhabotin. Ukhabotin had previously led the Pervomaiskoye school, and the Pikabu post asserted that the students’ meeting with the village “guardians” was his idea.

The acting director of the Mikhailovsky district’s administration, Pyotr Zubok, told PrimaMedia that the incident was under investigation. He later told the radio station Govorit Moskva (Moscow Speaks) that the school had held a meeting for parents in light of the ongoing accusations. There, he said, it became clear that a lecture led by a group of the school’s parents had been mistaken for a lecture led by crime bosses. According to Zubok, a fight between two students triggered the entire sequence of events: “The kids, they were calling each other names. One child told another he would rape him, something like that. The parents came in flustered about the fact that the kids were insulting each other. […] These are all residents of Pervomaiskoye Village. […] None of them took any illegal actions,” Zubok said.

Alexander Ukhabotin confirmed to PrimaMedia that he had organized the meeting in Pervomaiskoye’s school and said he had done so at the request of two parents. “They explained that sexual harassment between male students does take place on the territory of this educational institution. A group of middle grade students tried to get ahold of a fifth grader somewhere and tape it all on their telephones. The boy got out of their grip and ran away,” Ukhabotin said.

He said he made an offer to the school’s principal to organize a meeting with the children to prevent that situation from repeating itself. During the meeting, Ukhabotin said, students were told about traditional values. “We started with the fact that God made a man and a woman. Many countries propagandize gay parades and nontraditional relationships, but this is Russia, and we have our own traditions,” Ukhabotin explained by way of summary. He added that one of the parents who attended the meeting did use “uncensored language” but that he was “immediately pulled out.”

When Ukhabotin was asked whether the parents who had spoken with the students had any ties to the criminal world, he said that anyone can be put in jail but that these men had been called criminal “authorities” without evidence. The administrator claimed that no one told students during the meeting that they should live “by standards”: “No one said anything about whether kids should join a gang or live by criminal rules—there was nothing like that,” Ukhabotin said.

Olga Korelina

Translation by Hilah Kohen