Those studying medicine in rebel-held Donetsk now risk being left without internationally recognised degrees.
The self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, a breakaway region of Ukraine founded three years ago, has started taking steps towards creating a sense of nationhood.
Separatist leaders have drawn up a constitution for the DPR and the school curriculum was changed from Ukrainian to Russian last year.
Children are taught about citizenship and how they can contribute to and live in what leaders of the self-proclaimed republic hope will eventually be a widely recognised independent nation.
“I think that this course on citizenship in the context of our new political system is very interesting for children,” schoolteacher, Liliya Agorua, told Al Jazeera. “It helps to form principles of citizenship, patriotism and self worth.”
Although not internationally recognised, DPR authorities have said they are trying to build a state for people who do not want to be part of Ukraine.
Russian-backed separatists and government forces continue to fight in eastern Ukraine, with little evidence of either side honouring an internationally brokered ceasefire.
The Ukrainian government describes Donetsk as land occupied by what it sees as “terrorists”. Russia, which the DPR relies on economically and for humanitarian aid, does not recognise it either but the region has become “increasingly state-like”, Stratford reported.
“The DPR started issuing its own vehicle number plates in April 2015. The currency was changed from Ukrainian hryvnia to the Russian rouble in September the same year, and the DPR has even started issuing its own passports,” he said.
More than 9,800 people have died since April 2014 in fighting in eastern Ukraine between government forces and separatists. Fighting on Donetsk’s outskirts escalated for several days earlier in February.