Often, foreign audiences don’t understand why Ukrainians call for a boycott of Russian culture and cultural figures. They argue that “Tolstoevsky” is an integral part of world heritage rather than sole property of the Russian Federation, and besides, the long-dead artists and writers have nothing to do with the modern war crimes. However, those who put forward such arguments overlook the fact that the Russian authorities use culture as a tool to influence the worldview and win sympathy for Russian culture-bearers. Boycott is a good way to nullify this powerful tool.

Activity of the Russian Presidential Fund for Cultural Initiatives (PFCI) in the temporarily occupied territories (TOT) of Ukraine is a telling example of instrumentalisation of culture. PFCI was established by presidential decree in May 2021. Since then, PFCI has allocated funds for more than 7,000 projects worth approximately RUB 25.4 billion (almost UAH 11.3 billion). The Fund supports creative industries by financing the projects of non-profit organisations. The fund-operator of presidential grants for the development of civil society is specified as the sole founder of PFCI.

Vladimir Putin emphasised that the “support” of culture in the occupied territories is a key task of the PFCI because “everything that surrounds people is important: the conditions in which they live, study, work and raise their children”. The rationale and goals of the projects implemented in the TOT serve as confirmation of Putin’s words: culture plays a very important role in the TOT as a tool that instils a sense of Russian identity in the residents of occupied territories. The former Russian Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky, who currently serves as an advisor to the president of Russia and holds the position of chairman of the Interdepartmental commission on historical education, made a cautionary statement saying that “a nation that doesn’t feed its own culture will have to feed someone else’s army”.

During the period from the beginning of full-scale war in February 2022 to the end of the first quarter of 2024, PFCI allocated a total of RUB 1,123,793,616 (almost USD 12 million) for 181 projects in the TOT of Ukraine. In order to receive funding, the project topic must correspond to one of the predefined activity areas. The most popular ones are as follows:

  •  “We are together. Projects that promote the idea of historical unity of Donbas, liberated territories, cities and regions of Russia, the harmonious coexistence of people of different nationalities and cultures, awareness-raising, educational, volunteer and partnership projects, including in the field of media and culture” – 32 projects.
  • “Cultural Code. Projects that promote traditional spiritual and moral values through culture and creative industries” – 25 projects.
  • “We are together. Projects aimed at integrating Donbas and liberated territories into a single cultural, educational and civilizational space” – 17 projects.
  • “New opportunities. Projects aimed at integrating Donbas and liberated territories into a single cultural, educational and civilizational space” – 16 projects.
  •  “Cultural Code. Projects aimed at promoting and preserving the all-Russian cultural identity, fostering traditional Russian spiritual and moral values, strengthening the civilizational influence of Russian world” – 14 projects.
  • “I am proud. Projects aimed at highlighting the bright and glorious pages in Russian history, culture and modernity” – 11 projects.

As researchers, we are obliged to question everything, including the Russians’ intentions. For example, what if they are funding conditionally-neutral spiritual development projects, such as Bach’s keyboard concertos or lectures on medieval European architecture? To understand this, we analysed the project goals specified in the project authors’ applications.

Based on the results of content analysis, we identified the following key project categories:

Project category

Number of projects

Children and youth education (awareness-building)


Instil a Russian culture in TOT


Developing a sense of patriotism


Promotion of spiritual values


Professional development of cultural workers


Preservation of historical memory


“Special military operation”


Promotion of traditional values


Involvement of TOT residents in cultural life


Historical unity and brotherly people


Education in Russian traditions


Cultural heritage of Donbas and Crimea


Promotion of Russian art and cultural actors




Civic identity construction


Anti-Ukrainian projects


“Great patriotic war”


Crimean Tatars


Russian language


Regeneration of Russian culture


We arrived at the conclusion that even the projects falling under the “other” category are not ideologically neutral by any means. For example, this category includes a project called “Social Forum of Women of Donbas” which aims to show the Russians “what is life like for people who live in Donbas” through a series of “ordinary human stories”, and the project “Let’s give books to Donbas” which aims to replenish the local library collections with Russian literature following the seizure and destruction of Ukrainian books in the TOT.

The most popular location for implementing PFCI projects is Crimea (63 projects), followed by Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts collectively (39) and separately (28 – in Donetsk, 21 – in Luhansk). 13 projects cover the entire territory of mainland TOT, and 12 projects are being implemented throughout the TOT, including Crimea.


Number of projects



Donetsk and Luhansk regions combined


Donetsk oblast


Luhansk oblast


Mainland TOT




Kherson oblast


Kharkiv oblast


Zaporizhzhia oblast


What do Russians want from Ukrainian children living under occupation?

Most often, the children’s projects are aimed at instilling the Russian Christian “spiritual” (11 projects) and “traditional” (10) values in them, integrating the cultural life of TOT with Russia (11), and promoting Russian traditions (7).

Balaklava house of culture proposed the “Choreographic Competition of Russian Folk Dance” project (worth RUB 495,595, Crimea) which was supposed to instil “Russian spirituality” in children living under occupation. Private entrepreneur Maksim Bekirov was specified as the project initiator in the application documents for the reason that the budgetary institutions are not allowed to participate in the competition. Project authors believe that “the deep crisis of spirituality, morality and culture of younger generation and modern society as a whole has had a negative impact on all aspects of human life”. Therefore, it is time for the Russians to “go back to their roots” and “revive spirituality” by discovering the “great heritage of our ancestors” – “the ideas, beliefs, values, customs and traditions that form the cultural code of the Russian people and can be expressed through dance”.

“Cultural war. PFCI grants”

First, second and third-grade pupils living in the occupied parts of Kherson, Zaporizhzhia and Kharkiv oblasts are involved in a project called “The alphabet of the regions” which is aimed at shaping their “vision and perception of the world... through the prism of all-Russian spiritual and moral values”. The essence of this project lies in producing the children’s books that should help them develop a clear view of their “socio-cultural identity at an early age” as well as raise “a new generation of citizens... who are ready for peaceful contemplation and defence of the Motherland”.

The “Generation Donbas” rap performance project implemented under the title of “Flowers under the Hail” also aims to assist children in the TOT to integrate into the Russian socio-cultural space. Teenagers living in the occupied areas of Luhansk and Donetsk regions performed in a play that allegedly tells the “real stories” of people from the “LPR” and “DPR”. For example, the children performing this play addressed the residents of Ukrainian government-controlled territories with rap songs containing lyrics, such as “people are more important than ideas” and “all conflicts end at the negotiating table, and if we can’t communicate with one another, then how can they?”

An animated series “Ivan and Mariya” will be created for children ages 3 to 8 with the intention of promoting “traditional Russian family relations” in Luhansk region. The project authors stated that the children will learn about “love, forgiveness, humility, responsibility, homeland, kindness, care, and mutual help” from their cartoon. The authors are particularly concerned about the fact that the fathers of families living in the active combat areas are likely to be on the frontline, and the mothers who are forced to perform the duties of both parents don’t have the time to give enough attention to their children. Therefore, the animated series is intended to “set an example of love and kindness” for children.

PFCI also allocated funds for the inclusion of “Natives of Donbas and liberated territories – patriots of Russia” programme in the folk music and dance competition “Samorodki” held in Sevastopol. Teenagers and young people from Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions are invited to take part in the “Balalaika Day” folk music festival, costumed parades of citizens wearing certain symbols (without specifying which ones), patriotic flash mobs, and to get acquainted with the “legendary history of the patriotic capital of Russia” (this is in reference to Sevastopol). All these events are justified by “confrontation with the Western world” which is trying to “cancel [Russian] culture, language, Orthodoxy, nationality and traditions”. According to the organisers, the “conflict of values” between the West and Russia “is currently manifesting itself in direct participation of conflicting parties in active hostilities".

Anti-Ukrainian project

In addition to dozens of programmes that glorify the great Russian culture, traditions and values, PFCI provided funding for five projects which are aimed at discrediting the Ukrainian government and nation in the TOT. For example, PFCI allocated funds for holding an exhibition “The Art of Survival” in the “Russia – my history” parks which have already been built in Melitopol and Luhansk. The exhibition exposition will compare the damage suffered by Russian museums during the Second World War with the losses incurred by the Art museum of Kuindzhi and the Drama theatre in Mariupol during the Russian army’s assault on the city. The project authors want to “debunk” a “myth” that the cultural heritage sites were destroyed by Russians, and place the blame for the destruction of Russian museums in 20th century and the museums of Mariupol in 2022 on the Nazis. The project participants will create an interactive “map of cultural losses of Donbas” caused by the “Ukrainian Nazis”. This map will be used in the so-called people’s diplomacy to mainstream the topic of “Ukrainian war crimes”.

Furthermore, PFCI allocated RUB 9,000,000 (approximately USD 100,000) for the activities of “Russian Donbas” expert club in Donetsk region. Members of this club will take a scientific and expert assessment of “topical events of the republican and international significance”, as well as draw up specific recommendations and deliver speeches on the topic of “denazification”. The club also plans to hold a discussion on the “historical preconditions for the revival of neo-Nazism in modern Ukraine", the “instilment of nationalist ideology”, the “war crimes of Ukrainian Nazis”, etc.

The “documentary” movie “Ukrainian Fascism: lessons of history and our days” is intended to raise public awareness of the “criminal nature” of Ukrainian authorities. The documentary is primarily targeted at the high school and university students. It is expected that they will take part in public discussions on the issues raised in this film. According to the film-makers, “it is impossible to defeat Ukrainian neo-Nazism and neo-fascism through military means alone”. Therefore, “aside from discussing our military victory, we must think of the cultural and psychological layers”. The film series “What does Donbas fight for?” also aims to inform the audience about “the suffering of residents of Donbas” from “Ukrainian Nazism”.

Besides the above-mentioned movies, PFCI also financed the creation of a series of analytical programmes “The ball is in our court” which are intended to “debunk Ukrainian fakes” about Russia and the Russo-Ukrainian war.

What do the activities of Putin’s Fund tell us?

Firstly, the amount of budgetary funds allocated to the cultural sector through the intermediary of PFCI indicates that Russification of Ukrainians living under occupation is Russia’s top-priority goal. Activity of PFCI is only one aspect of Russification process, which is accompanied by systematic destruction and plundering of Ukraine’s tangible heritage assets, replenishment of library collections with Russian literature, militarisation of education system, and systematic repression of those who retain and practice any components of Ukrainian identity. PFCI cash injections into cultural occupation of the TOT are supplementary to core funding provided by the Russian Ministry of Culture and central government as a whole.

Secondly, the focal points of the projects leave no room for doubt that the official doctrine of Russian multiculturalism, on the basis of which the Kremlin is trying to build a Russian civic identity in a multinational empire, does not apply to Ukrainians under occupation. Although Russian propaganda still does not dare to call them Russians and usually refers to Ukrainians in the TOT as “residents of new regions” or “residents of Donbas and Novorossiya”, the Kremlin does not plan to recognise Ukrainians as a separate national group even nominally. The “revival” of Russian culture, language and “historical memory” is the only line of national identity policy pursued by the Kremlin. So that years later, the Russians could safely say: “See, we told you we are one people”, without mentioning all the murders, severe injuries, destruction and other malpractices aimed at creating “one people” by artificial means.