Children from occupied Ukraine enlisted in paramilitary ‘Youth Army’ to learn to ‘fight for Russia’
Russia has created another unit of its paramilitary ‘Yunarmia’ or ‘youth army’ in occupied Kherson oblast. Although often likened to the Nazis’ Hitlerjugend, ‘Yunarmia’ is perhaps even more sinister, as it actively seeks to brainwash Ukrainian children on occupied territory into believing, not only that they are ‘Russian’, but that they should want to fight for the aggressor state. The new unit has been named, appropriately enough, after a notorious pro-Russian blogger whom Russia first installed as ‘deputy governor’ of occupied Kherson oblast and then, very likely, killed.
On 20 December, Russia’s state-controlled TASS agency the creation of a Yunarmia unit, named after Kyrylo (/Kirill) Stremousov in Shchaslyvtseve. The collaborator, who had always espoused pro-Russian views, was described, without any inverted commas, as “the deputy governor of Kherson oblast.” Stremousov was reportedly killed on 9 November 2022 in a car accident as he was fleeing from the advancing Ukrainian Armed Forces who were greeted with euphoria when they liberated Kherson two days later. He about Russia’s defence minister Sergei Shoigu and would certainly not be the first Ukrainian collaborator whose death may well be the work of the Russian security services. Halyna Stremousova told those gathered at the school opening of this ‘Yunarmia’ unit that her son had “wanted to do a lot for Russia” but had not managed before his death. While both his mother and son, who was present as a new ‘yunarmia recruit’, could be expected to take such a view, Stremousov was, in fact, a highly disreputable character. His ‘rise to fame’ after 24 February 2022 spoke only of Russia’s lack both of choice and of concern about the quality of the puppet ‘leaders’ it installed to imitate legitimacy.
Stremousov’s son, in his turn, waxed enthusiastic about his ‘joy’ to be in Yunarmia, and in a unit bearing his father’s name. They were to go on hiking trips, he said, to learn to shoot from military weapons and through grenades, as well as training sessions.
The above are the kinds of activities that are likely to attract many teenagers, however such militarized ‘fun’ comes with a heavy dose of ideological indoctrination. The aim is to convince Ukrainian children on occupied territory that they are, supposedly, ‘Russians and to feed them with propaganda, including lies about ‘Russian history’ and about Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Any such militarization on occupied territory is designed into turning Ukrainian children into ‘Russian patriots’ and encouraging them to want to fight for Russia and against Ukraine. Ukrainian human rights organizations monitoring the situation in occupied Crimea have long warned that Russia is attempting in this way to obtain brainwashed recruits for its armed forces, which means for its war of aggression against the children’s own country.
On the eve of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russia was boasting of having ‘recruited’ four thousand Crimean children into ‘Yunarmia’ in 2021, with this bringing to 29 thousand the entire number by early 2022. It is extremely likely that pressure has been applied on children or their parents to obtain such ‘recruitment’. This was the case even before the full-scale invasion. Since then, Russia’s propaganda methods have become even more aggressive, and the punishments, including criminal charges, for opposing the war totally draconian, with parents quite likely afraid of the consequences if their children are not ‘enlisted’ in this paramilitary ‘youth army’. That applies to occupied Crimea, whereas in occupied parts of Donetsk; Luhansk; Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts, it is quite likely that no choice is given at all. Such militarization and enforced efforts to instil ‘patriotism’ towards the aggressor state are in parallel with equally aggressive measures aimed at removing all Ukrainian literature, history books and essentially every aspect of Ukrainian identity from occupied territory.
Russia’s militarization of childhood in occupied Crimea and Donbas had long been condemned by international bodies, including the UN’s General Assembly. On 18 December, against Russia and those abetting its aggression against Ukraine including nine individuals and three organizations implicated in Russia’s militarization and indoctrination of children.
Children from occupied Crimea and Donbas who were still in primary school in 2014 have been brainwashed for years. Russia is now, even more aggressively, seeking to eradicate Ukrainian identity and to convince young Ukrainians that they are ‘Russian’ in other parts of Ukraine under occupation. Sanctions are, of course, welcome, but much more is needed to ensure that Russia fails in its essentially genocidal attack on Ukraine and is driven out of all occupied territory.