war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

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Russia spends millions on indoctrination and crushing children’s identification with Ukraine in occupied Crimea

Halya Coynash

Since 2016, the Russian occupation regime has spent over 100 million roubles on efforts to turn children into so-called “new citizens” and “patriots of Crimea”.  This figure almost certainly does not include the massive funding behind the Russian Defence Ministry’s so-called “Yunarmia”, or Youth Army, aimed at glorifying war and instilling a Kremlin-distorted view of historical facts.

Iryna Sedova from the Crimean Human Rights Group stresses that Russia is committing a grave international crime through the money it lavishes on trying to turn Crimean children into “obedient servants of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin”.  The funding is spent on various events, competitions, concerts, etc., as well as on camps, special classes, etc. These can appear harmless, but they are all part of the focus on ‘military-patriotic education’ which Putin has inculcated in Russia and which is now being foisted, in violation of the Geneva Conventions, on occupied Crimea. 

Sedova points out that children or their parents may not even realize the impact such measures are having on children’s consciousness. “They think that they are voluntarily going into the occupiers’ army, however in fact they have no choice with anyone around them saying that it’s good to serve Russia and they have to defend it with weapons in their hands”.

Russia has already illegally conscripted over 20 thousand Crimeans into the Russian Armed Forces.  This is in direct violation of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, which states (in Article 5)  that: “The Occupying Power may not compel protected persons to serve in its armed or auxiliary forces. No pressure or propaganda which aims at securing voluntary enlistment is permitted”. 

There have been complaints that some Crimean lads have been put under pressure to renounce their Ukrainian citizenship, with this also being a war crime (under the 1907 Hague Convention. 

In March 2019, we knew that at least 52 Crimeans had been prosecuted over refusal to serve in the Russian army, and that figure is likely to have increased.  

The other major factor in Russian indoctrination is Yunarmia.  This ‘youth army’ which ‘recruits’ children as young as eight, began as a militaristic wing of the ‘Russian Movement of School Students’, which was created by presidential decree on October 2015. That ‘movement’ was, Putin said, intended “to enhance state policy on bringing up the growing generation and facilitate their personal development on the basis of the system of values inherent to Russian society”.  Yunarmia was initiated by the Russian Defence Ministry and supposed to be “responsible for issues linked with the military-patriotic upbringing of young people”. 

The Defence Ministry has openly spoken of wanting a million members of this children and young people’s ‘army’ by 2020, and there are legitimate doubts as to whether all enrolments are actually voluntarily. 

The purpose of Yunarmia, as well as of supposed ‘Cossack units’, is much more sinister in occupied Crimea, with the ‘patriotic education’ about brainwashing children into accepting Russia’s distorted presentation of history and of the events around annexation.  Some of the children may genuinely be excited by the possibility of learning to shoot from rifles, of taking part in reconstructions of real battles, etc. and are doubtless unaware of how they are also quite simply being indoctrinated.

Valentina Potapova, Head of the Ukrainian Almenda Centre for Civic Education, points out in an interview to Krym.Realii that back in 2014, immediately after Russia’s occupation of Crimea, various normative documents were issued on inculcating ‘”Russian identity’ in Crimean young people.  “Russia needed over a very short amount of time to crush Ukrainian civic identity in children’s consciousness on occupied Ukrainian territory”.

It is generally known, she says, that a new identity is easiest to instil via military games and by creating the image of an enemy.  Yunarmia is precisely the structure which can help to destroy Ukrainian identity in occupied Crimea and replace it with Russian.

As for “the enemy”, Potapova recalls the study carried out by the Crimean Human Rights Group which found that the occupation regime was focusing on two target ‘enemies’.  Ukraine and Ukrainians generally, but also often specifically targeting Crimean Tatars.  Details here Russia uses hate speech to stir up fear and hatred of Ukrainians in occupied Crimea

It is important, Potapova stresses, that parents take a principled stand on this, since for the moment Yunarmia is a voluntary formation. 

If we do not raise the issue of Crimea’s militarization, if we don’t seek international sanctions and reaction to what Russia is doing to Crimean children, then in five years we will be seeing a kind of Hitlerjugend.”

Potapova recalls the song in which very young children express their willingness to die if ‘Uncle Vova’ [Putin] calls them to. Details can be found here:

Russian children sing of their readiness to die if called upon by Putin

Early in 2019, the Russian Defence Ministry staged a ‘military game’ in occupied Crimea, with children pretending to be military intelligence agents and gathering information about ‘the enemy’. 

This is no game when we see how Russia is assiduously inculcating the idea that Ukraine and Ukrainians are “the enemy”  which it is then encouraging children to imagine fighting on occupied Ukrainian territory.

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