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.

Children trained to be ‘Putin’s faithful soldiers’ in Russian-occupied Crimea

Halya Coynash

Children in Yunarmia learning to shoot Photo posted by Ukraine’s Crimean Prosecutor

Children in Yunarmia learning to shoot Photo posted by Ukraine’s Crimean Prosecutor

Children in Russian-occupied Crimea are to receive basic military training, with this including learning how to use firearms and other “foundations of military service”.  Russia began trying to get Ukrainian children to want to kill Ukrainians and defend the aggressor state from soon after its invasion of Crimea, but this is the first time that military training will be added to the ordinary school curriculum.

Sergei Aksyonov, the Russian-installed ‘head’ of occupied Crimea issued ‘instructions’ on 10 November regarding the introduction of basic military training in Crimean schools and professional educational establishments. The plan is to organize “basic knowledge in the field of defence and training in the foundations of military service for the 2002/2023 academic year.”  Some of this ‘training’ will take place at military units and / or will involve learning to shoot, etc.  There will also be ‘educational excursions’ and military-sport competitions.

Aksyonov’s actions with respect to occupied Crimea closely followed the announcement on 9 November from Russia’s education minister Sergei Kravtsov that a course in initial military training for schools was to be piloted from January 2023, but only introduced from the beginning of the next academic year (from 1 September 2023). 

This is the second addition to the Crimean (and Russian) school curriculum since Russia began its full-scale war against Ukraine.  Within days of the total invasion, at least some schools in Russia (and possibly in occupied Crimea) had been sent instructions on holding a special ‘social studies lesson’ on 1 March 2022.  Teachers were supposed to present the ‘arguments’ given by Russian leader Vladimir Putin for what he called ‘a special military operation’ and to condemn calls to take part in anti-war protests.   The answers foisted on them in response to anticipated questions were especially surreal.  If asked if this was a war against Ukraine, and could it have been avoided, the teacher were told to say that it was not a war but “a special peacekeeping operation”.  They were to claim that its aim was “to defend people who, over 8 years, have been subjected to ill-treatment, genocide from the Kyiv regime. And for this we will aim at the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine….” <> “The special military operation is a forced measure to save people in Ukraine”. <>  “We do not plan to occupy Ukrainian territory.  We do not plan to foist anything on anybody by force.”

From 1 September, so-called ‘conversations on serious issues’ became a compulsory part of the curriculum in both Russia and occupied Crimea.  They are held each Monday during the first lesson, after the Russian flag is raised, and Russian anthem sung.  Worth noting that the plan, at least, was to hold such ‘lessons’ in those parts of Ukraine which the invading army was occupying.  There was heavy resistance to Russian-foisted propaganda in the classroom, and very many Ukrainian parents have refused to send their children to such ‘schools’. 

The aim of such ‘conversations’ is, of course, to push the official narrative on Russia’s so-called ‘special military operation’.  The nine months of this full-scale war of aggression have demonstrated that teachers or parents in occupied Crimea or Russia who deviate from the official line (by, for example, acknowledging the atrocities committed in Bucha and other Ukrainian cities) will lose their jobs, and face at least administrative, if not criminal prosecution.

Such propaganda and other ‘patriotic’ measures have been actively supported by Aksyonov and the occupation regime.

Human rights defenders have been warning since 2014 that Russia is systematically seeking to raise young people in occupied Crimea who have been brainwashed into both seeing Russia as ‘the motherland’ and in being willing to fight and die for it.  The main difference with such ‘conversations’ and the new military training, is that no pretence is being made that these are supplementary and voluntary activities. 

Russia’s militarization of childhood and attempts to inculcate highly dubious ideas about ‘patriotism’, as well as about Russian history, Ukraine, and the war Moscow is now waging, are shocking even in Russia itself.  In occupied parts of Ukraine, they are grave violations of international law, especially since Russia is also actively seeking to destroy anything Ukrainian and to get children to see Ukraine as their enemy.  Back in 2021, a 13-year-old girl could be heard on a propaganda video explaining why she wanted to join ‘Yunarmia’ [Russia’s ‘Youth Army’].  She needed, she claimed, to be able to defend her parents, and what she was being told was ‘her country’ if Ukraine invades.  A year later, intensive propaganda is being applied to ensure.

In a recent interview, Iryna Sedova from the Crimean Human Rights Group told Crimean Realities that the occupation regime in Crimea is using such military ‘lessons’ to prepare future Russian soldiers who, even at school, are willing to die for Russia.  She says that compulsory military training of children under the age of 15 from occupied territory during war time so that they serve in the occupying regime’s army bears the hallmarks of a war crime.

The Russian state machine is teaching children in Crimea to become “true soldiers of Putin” <> Another strategic aim of such education is to bring up ‘patriots’ of Russia, to instil in Crimean children the idea that they are citizens of Russia, so that they forget that they were born and once lived in Ukraine.”

Many of the activities that will now form part of the Crimean and Russian curriculum have already been actively pushed in occupied Crimea via Russia’s militaristic ‘Yunarmia’ and so-called ‘Cossack’ militaristic formations. 

According to Oleh Okhredko from the Almenda Civic Education Centre, there are more such units of Yunarmia in occupied Crimea, than in Russia and a greater percentage of children are being drawn into it.  The reason, he says, is extremely simple.  The Russian regime in occupied Crimea is creating such militarized children’s units in order to hold on to the territory. One of the main aims is to eradicate Ukrainian mentality and to form an image of Ukraine as the enemy.

Yunarmia and similarly militaristic organizations for children and young people, are, like the material presented in schools, aimed at indoctrinating children into believing that Russia did not invade Crimea and that they themselves are ‘Russian’.

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