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How our children are made into our enemies: militarization of teenagers in the Luhansk oblast 12/29/2023 15:39:07. Total views 1034. Views today — 1.


In the language of the Geneva Conventions, it is stated as follows: "Compelling the population to serve in the armed or auxiliary forces of the occupying state, as well as conducting propaganda aimed at ensuring voluntary service".

However, a resident of a small village in the north of the Luhansk oblast, occupied since the early days of the full-scale russian invasion, puts it simply: "He (a ten-year-old nephew) has already cut two hats into balaclavas... He plays war. And the military here, you understand, has long been only russian. Children who have stayed here, especially teenagers, often gravitate towards russian soldiers, seek to communicate with them. Because it's 'cool' for them. Because they lack other leisure activities. And for parents, it's difficult and even dangerous to resist this".

But if everything ended with the usual "everyday life" of living under occupation. Alas...

The occupiers significantly intensified their systematic "work with children" after February 24, 2022

Actively militarizing Ukrainian children, teaching them not just to hate Ukraine but to hate it with weapons in hand, russians began this on the occupied territories after the full-scale invasion. By that time, for about eight years starting from 2014, such a phenomenon, if observed on the captured territories of the Luhansk oblast, was, let's say, in a very mild and unsystematic form. But it did happen—a typical example is provided below.

As for the period after February 24, 2022, the russians actively establish cadet corps named after various terrorists on the occupied territory. They place "boards of heroes" in schools. They introduce subjects into the school curriculum where they teach children to use weapons, while also inciting them to hate Ukraine and directing these weapons specifically against it.

Moreover, such "patriotic upbringing" is systematically carried out on the occupied territories, starting from kindergarten.



"Heroes of the Fatherland Day" in one of the kindergartens in the occupied Rovenky, December 2023

"In general, as sources note, after the start of the full-scale invasion, the number of propaganda measures has significantly increased, including on previously occupied territories of the Luhansk oblast. And, of course, children suffer the most from this", - says Oleksiy Artiukh, a journalist from Luhansk, and editor of the publication Tribun, who tracks the militarization of children from the Luhansk oblast through his own sources.

One of the most systematic directions of such "work" by the russians is sending children to "vacation camps" in the territory of the russian federation, mostly teenagers. Staying in camps, in addition to "leisure" involves wearing military uniforms, certain elements of military training, and ideological influence.

"In these camps, children undergo ideological indoctrination, and various propaganda events are organized for them: concerts, contests, educational programs. Brainwashing is, of course, taking place", - notes Artiukh. "For example, in June of this year, a propaganda resource published a video highlighting the trip of schoolchildren from the occupied Starobilsk district of Luhansk the oblast to Kostroma, russia, for field meetings with the so-called V Army. There, occupiers taught children military discipline and firearms training".

In the original message, it is indicated that these are children from the Milove district – the name before the last administrative reform.

 

Ukrainian teenagers influenced by russian propaganda share what they were taught in the camp

 Firearms training is a mandatory part of the recreational program in the camps

As Oleksiy Artiukh points out, he received from his own sources in the occupation a number of manuals used by the russians during propaganda events for schoolchildren in the occupied Luhansk oblast. "For example, in one of them, there is a clear point: 'Form readiness to defend the homeland, the ability to defend the sovereignty and dignity of the people of Russia and the Russian state, preserve and protect historical truth'", - says Artiukh.

These and similar actions are considered a crime from the standpoint of international law and Ukrainian legislation. However, proving it is very difficult.

"Such actions violate international humanitarian law, in particular, Article 51 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the occupying state from compelling the population to serve in its armed or auxiliary forces, as well as conducting propaganda aimed at ensuring voluntary service", - explained Anastasiia Donets, a lawyer at the International Human Rights Partnership documenting crimes in the occupied territories of Ukraine.

Regarding the qualification of the mentioned actions by the occupiers as crimes, according to Anastasiia, potentially, they can be classified as violations of the laws and customs of war in accordance with Article 438 of the Criminal Code – other violations of the laws and customs of war provided for by international treaties, the consent to the binding nature of which was given by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.

"To qualify these actions as international war crimes in accordance with Article 8(2)(b)(xv) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court – compelling citizens of the hostile party to participate in military activities against their own country, it is necessary to prove that such children are actually involved in military actions", - says the lawyer. She emphasizes that the institution she represents has not yet documented such cases.

At the same time, in the process of militarizing children in the Luhansk oblast (as in the case of child abduction), many people are involved.

"Hundreds, and maybe thousands of people from very different backgrounds are involved in this crime. Like in the deportation of children, where, for example, in Khrustalny, even a forensic expert from the local morgue, cooks, and teachers take part", - says Oleksiy Artiukh. "And, in my opinion, russian officials and local collaborators at different levels should be held accountable for this crime".

The first step to militarize a child in the occupation is to make it a part of everyday life

Listening to the stories of those who have been living in the occupation since February of last year, you understand: for a child to perceive a russian military as a role model and embodiment of strength, it mostly doesn't require camps or propaganda events.

"My nephew, who is 10 years old, used to visit the russian military almost every day while they were in the village. Now they have been sent somewhere else – probably to the front line. But obviously, they will bring in new ones soon", - says a resident of one of the small villages in the former Bilovodsk district, which became part of Starobilsk district after the latest administrative reform. The woman is involved in raising the boy because he has no mother, and he lives with his working father.

The boy sometimes has lunch with russian soldiers. They give him cookies and other treats, gift him backpacks or some other "cool stuff". He turned two of his winter hats into balaclavas... All because armed russians in military gear are associated with strength, reliability, and safety for the boy. This is understandable to the father and the aunt. But, according to the latter, resisting this is difficult.

"For me, and even for his father, it's challenging to convince him not to visit the russian military", - the woman says. "It's dangerous to forbid it, as the child may recount our arguments to them, and they may interpret it somehow... The only thing I can tell my nephew is to go there less frequently because he might bother them. Calling them occupiers in his presence is risky. Because, in the end, they might leave this child an orphan if he repeats our words to them".

In other words, children and teenagers objectively gravitate towards russian military personnel because they are strong, armed, confident, generous, and have many "cool stuff"...

By the way, for children who are influenced by russians in such a domestic way, instead of more or less extended trips to specialized camps with military training, other trips are provided – supposedly ordinary travels to the "homeland’s capital Moscow" or "cultural St. Petersburg".

As the interviewee tells OstroV, her fifth-grade nephew visited moscow this fall for some "educational-entertaining excursion" with two other classmates. So, considering that this is a small grade of a small rural school, almost half of the grade went to the capital.

"They collected children for this trip from the entire district. That is, they filled up a big bus", - says the woman.

Homeroom teachers selected candidates for the trips, and parents gave the "legal" permission.

"It's hard for me to judge why my brother, that is, the boy's father, agreed to send his son there. But I understand that once it's offered to you, refusing is very difficult and risky", - says the boy's aunt.

According to her, the children were away from home for about a week. That is, if you take into account the journey, they were actually in Moscow for three days. But the trip made them happy. After all, the weekdays of the occupation depress the children – even though they don't understand the essence of this word. Back home, parents are afraid to let you out on the street. Strange soldiers (even if they are "cool") live nearby instead of familiar neighbors. Most friends and even relatives have dispersed... Back home, for the second year in school, you hear completely different things about the "homeland" from the same teachers (only in a different language) – but you are old enough to remember how it used to be... All of this results into a heavy burden for children. And a week's trip beyond these realities is perceived by them as a breath of fresh air.

"He still tells us how wonderful that trip was", - the aunt says. "About the hotel room where they stayed without adult supervision, about their lunches, excursions... How they had a great time".

The most frightening part of this story, as you listen to it, seems to be that the boy still recounts it in Ukrainian.

The path from a Ukrainian school to the occupation army: story of a militarized teenager

Despite the fact that between 2014 and 2022, occupiers militarized children inconsistently, there are still vivid examples of what happens to teenagers during their formative years in the occupation. This works best when you receive little attention and love in your family, and you seek them elsewhere. And you find them among russian soldiers.

So, meet Volodymyr Antonov (Boyko) from Kadiivka (Stakhanov).

Volodymyr Antonov in service with the occupation army

Volodymyr's story was told to OstroV by his former classmates– those who now live in Ukraine-controlled territory and fiercely hate the separatists and russians.

In 2014, he studied at a school with Ukrainian as the language of instruction – Secondary School No. 2 in Stakhanov (renamed Kadiivka). To send the boy to this school was his mother’s conscious choice.

Despite the referendum and the dominance of the militants in May, he finished the 7th grade "under Ukraine", as they say. Then came the insane summer of 2014.

The 8th-grade classes began closer to the end of September, and five or six children out of twenty-something came to school... Then someone else left, someone returned, then new students joined the class...

Certainly, parents or guardians made decisions for the children. The same goes for Volodymyr. The boy's mother stayed in the city with him and his siblings. The father was absent from the family. It is hard to tell whether the boy knew him at all.

Classmates continued to keep an eye on each other via social networks. In 2018, when they were 17-18 years old, they saw a photo where Antonov was wearing the russian uniform and receiving awards from local collaborators on the stage of the local palace of culture. These collaborators shook his hand, and he took pride in it.

 

In 2018, Volodymyr already wore the russian uniform and received awards from collaborators in Kadiivka, including from the mayor of the city, Sergey Zhevlyakov.

Starting from February 24, 2022, he began actively posting photos taken in Novoaidar, Lysychansk, Sievierodonetsk, and other occupied and destroyed settlements in the Luhansk oblast. He did it as a serviceman of the occupation army.

It took him some time to learn how to "blur" what allowed identifying the shooting location. Therefore, classmates managed to trace his "career" to some extent.

Later on, Antonov disappeared from sight for a while. And then he reappeared under the last name Boyko. The explanation for this change is unknown.

With other invaders on the territory of the Luhansk Border Guard Detachment in occupied Lysychansk. Here, he is already Boyko.

 Here, Volodymyr Antonov-Boyko had the sense to blur the location of the photo.

It is noteworthy that the parents of his classmates still believe that at the time of making the fateful decision – in 2014 – he was a child, and the decision to stay in Kadiivka was made by his mother. She allowed him to attend various clubs and camps, seemingly absolving him of responsibility.

But his peers see it differently.

Yes, the boy was indeed left in Kadiivka by his mother back in 2014 when he was 13 years old, and he was genuinely a child at that time. Yes, circumstances unfolded in a certain way for him over these 9 years. But for his peers - citizens of Ukraine - these are not valid arguments. Over these years, they have become adults. Therefore, arguments like "...he was a child" don't work here. For them, he is an enemy. An enemy that needs to be eliminated.

And, to be honest, when you compare Volodymyr's story to those 10-year-olds who are currently being taken to the "capital of our homeland Moscow" for a "breath of fresh air", it becomes horrifying.

And it is precisely this horror that is one of the reasons to seek a comment from a psychologist. Because one wants to believe that this horror can still be "unraveled". Otherwise, even preparing an article on this topic leaves a sense of hopelessness.

From the psychologist's point of view: "We should not treat them as lost children. But we have a tough job ahead that requires significant effort, blood, and sweat".

Psychologists, whom we approached for comments, noted that this is an extremely challenging topic. Some of them declined to comment precisely because they didn't want to take responsibility for professionally commenting on such a matter.

Here is the comment from Oksana Ivantsova, a group psychoanalyst, crisis psychologist and trauma therapist, head of the NGO Crisis Center for Mental Health.

"Children in the occupied territories are undoubtedly part of a vulnerable category. They are still growing, their mental apparatus is not definitively formed, they depend on adults, and at the very least, they will be subjected to indoctrination (teaching the doctrines of occupiers without engaging critical perception - OstroV) by the occupying authorities. Children from socially disadvantaged families or orphans will also be drawn to military and paramilitary formations, and later, as adults, they may participate in military actions (we already see examples of this because the war has been going on for 10 years). However, we should not treat them as lost children. There are even attempts to apply specially developed UN programs for rehabilitation of child terrorists and their subsequent reintegration into society. This would be a much more challenging task for us. An indoctrinated child is not a weaponized one (child terrorists in formations like the Tamil Tigers, Hamas, ISIS). Therefore, after the liberation of territories, we must exert significant efforts in the psychological rehabilitation and reintegration of our children into society", - she notes.

Oksana emphasizes that the processes discussed are reversible, but making them so is very difficult and requires complex systemic work.

"Systemic work demands significant effort, blood, and sweat. The results are often neither quick nor obvious. We (humans) exist in a complex world, yet we desire quick and simple solutions. Being human is hard work", - says the psychologist.

By Yuliia Sabaieva, OstroV