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.

Russia indoctrinates children to want ‘to defend’ occupied Crimea against Ukraine

Halya Coynash
Children in Yunarmia caps and military gear at ceremony in Sevastopol Photo

If Russia’s frightening militarization of childhood at home is aimed at getting young people to love and want to ‘defend’ their country, in occupied Crimea, Russia also wants children to hate Ukraine.  One such method is to invite Donbas militants to speak with children and give them a gravely distorted view of Kyiv and of the Ukrainian army.  Small wonder then, as Volodymyr Chekryhin from the Crimean Human Rights Group notes, that a 13-year-old girl, in explaining why she wanted to join ‘Yunarmia’ [Russia’s ‘Youth Army’] mentioned such tales and said that she needed to be able to defend her parents, and what she was being told was ‘her country’ if Ukraine invades.  

Valentina Potapova is educational director at the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union [UHHRU] and has taken part in a major sturdy into how Russia is militarizing education in Crimea and trying to destroy Ukrainian children’s sense of identity as Ukrainians, and in some cases, as Crimean Tatars.  As part of the study UHHRU, together with the Crimean Human Rights Group and Zmina, have identified twelve individuals playing an especially malignant role in such militarization.  While it is Russia that is grossly violating international law, those individuals who collaborate with the occupation regime should be left in no doubt that they will be held accountable.

It is no accident that education was included in the provisional measures that the UN’s International Court of Justice imposed upon April 2017.  The Court’s order to “ensure the availability of education in the Ukrainian language” has been totally flouted, with essentially no schools in Crimea now providing lessons in the Ukrainian language.  Potapova points out there is also no opportunity for children in Crimea to learn the history of Ukraine.  In fact, what they do learn is a heavily distorted view of Crimean and Russian history, including an entirely false narrative about the events in early 2014 (details here).

There are various militarized formations, with children drawn into and even giving oaths of allegiance to so-called ‘Cossack units’.  The most worrying, however, is Russia’s Yunarmia, which ‘recruits’ children from the age of eight and which is effectively controlled by Russia’s defence ministry.

There are very real grounds even in Russia for worrying about this ‘youth army’ and the military-patriotic upbringing of young people” it is intended to epitomize.  The situation in occupied Crimea is especially shocking since Yunarmia is clearly aimed at brainwashing children into believing Russia’s false narrative on history and ‘patriotism’, and into getting them to want to take part in the occupier’s army.  This is expressly prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention, and Russia’s glorification of war; recruitment and conscription into its army can be considered war crimes.

Potapova notes that there is believed to have been an order indicating that military people should enrol their children in Yunarmia.  While membership is officially voluntary, there are reports of kids facing bullying if they do not take part.  The pressure is enormous, and, as Potapova says, this is a very tough moral decision for parents. 

Yunarmia is part of a major propaganda drive that Russia has waged since its invasion in February 2014.  Chekryhyn recalls a recent propaganda video where children were saying what they wanted for New Year.  Younger children were allowed to want something as non-ideological as a bicycle, but the 12-year-old said that he was ‘dreaming’ of a full Yunarmia uniform.  

Chekryhin stressed that Russia is spending millions on all of this propaganda, aimed at brainwashing kids to want to join the Russian army and into losing their own Ukrainian identity. All of this should be viewed as a war crime, he says, as well as a violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The human rights groups explain that their list of people particularly implicated is aimed primarily at drawing attention to the wholesale violations and at preventing them in future. The 12 names are complicit in efforts to develop in Crimean children the cult of war and violence; to encourage them to see both Ukraine and western countries as hostile; to distort the facts about Ukrainian history and to tolerate the crimes of the Soviet regime.  

Natalia Geogievna Goncharova (Ukr. Honcharova, a Ukrainian citizen)

So-called minister of education from 2014 – 2019, Goncharov was responsible for having installed a system of ‘military-patriotic education’ and militarization in educational institutions in occupied Crimea.  

Valentina Vasilievna Lavrik  (Ukrainian citizen)

‘Minister of education’ since December 2019, following in Goncharova’s steps with respect to militarization.  She has introduced cadet classes to train children for working within bodies of the Russian ministry of emergencies.

Yelena Nikolaevna Bogomolova (Ukrainian citizen)

Head of the ‘Sevastopol department of education’ since 30 September 2019 and has organized many so-called military-patriotic educational events.

Vladimir Vasilievich Krivosheyev (Ukrainian citizen)

A teacher in Dzhankoy and the founder of a so-called centre for military-patriotic education,  one of the biggest in occupied Crimea.

Iryna Dmitrievna Klyuyeva (Ukrainian citizen)

So-called Crimean Ombudsperson for Children’s Rights, she has been actively involved in the policy of militarization and has fostered the spread of so-called military patriotic movements.

The others are teachers / lecturers who have played a major role in encouraging militarization. 

Lenura Nizazivna Belyalova  (country of citizenship unknown) 

Andrei Pavlovich Falalyev (Ukrainian citizen)

Konstantin Albertovich Fedorenko  (Russian citizen)

Renard Vladimirovich Kutkovsky  (Ukrainian citizen)

Andrei Alexandrovich Popov  (Ukrainian citizen)

Andrei Nikolaevich Shparyov  (country of citizenship unknown) 

Natalia Vladimirovna Treshcheva (Ukrainian citizen)


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