March 26, 2024, 16:15

Kindergartens, schools, churches, and ministries: How is russia indoctrinating Ukrainian children in occupied territories and during deportations? 

The russian military operation to seize Crimea in February 2014 unleashed a wave of atrocities, including crimes against Ukrainian children. Now, russia is employing similar tactics in other parts of Ukraine, notably in the militarization of children. This sinister agenda initially observed in Crimea, has expanded rapidly in newly occupied territories. 

Olha Skrypnyk, Head of the Board of the Crimean Human Rights Group, highlighted these alarming trends during a discussion at the Media Center Ukraine – Ukrinform.

“Today, our focus is primarily on the egregious crime of propagandizing children to enlist in the russian military. Such conduct is expressly prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention, as the aggressor state, acting as an occupying power, lacks the authority to engage in such propaganda targeting minors. Examining Crimea through a legal lens, it becomes evident that the propaganda disseminated among children over the past decade constitutes a clear act of war crime, specifically coercion to enlist. This propaganda serves not merely as a tool for dissemination but as a coercive tactic aimed at steering children toward eventual enlistment in the russian army as they come of age. It effectively eliminates alternatives, constraining individuals within a reality where serving in the russian military appears to be the sole viable option. In essence, it amounts to coercion,” elucidated by Olha Skrypnyk.

She underscores russia’s aggressive push towards total militarization of children, achieved through a pervasive network of events and institutions. Notably, kindergartens and schools serve as the primary vehicles for russia’s illicit agenda. Since the peninsula’s occupation, various forms of patriotic education initiatives have been swiftly implemented, integrating seamlessly into the educational framework. Moreover, any programs tangentially related to children inevitably intertwine with the overarching narrative of patriotic education, all with the shared goal of grooming children for russian military service, compelling them to embrace a reality where their ultimate duty is to serve and potentially sacrifice their lives for russia.

Formal curricula in schools regularly feature sessions where russian military personnel, implicated in the killing of Ukrainians in both newly and previously occupied territories, are actively involved. These indoctrination tactics extend beyond schools, permeating even into the realm of early childhood education in kindergartens.

“Just to illustrate the magnitude of this endeavor and the substantial financial resources allocated to it, consider that in 2020 alone, over 22 million hryvnias were earmarked from the so-called Crimean budget, in addition to other funding from the russian budget, for a single youth program. This staggering figure is solely for youth-oriented initiatives, underscoring the significant investment made in shaping the minds of young individuals towards military service,” remarked Olha Skrypnyk.

Moreover, summer camps serve as another cog in russia’s machinery of militarizing Ukrainian children. In 2022, reports emerged of Ukrainian children from occupied territories being transported under the guise of evacuation to these camps. However, far from offering rehabilitation or assistance, these camps function as yet another tactic to coerce children into serving in the russian army, while simultaneously eroding their Ukrainian identity.

Olha Skrypnyk highlighted the complicity of all political factions within russia in the militarization of children, despite legal prohibitions against such involvement, particularly within the educational sphere. 

Furthermore, the so-called russian Orthodox Church has been implicated in this agenda, with religious gatherings under occupation authority control often serving as platforms for indoctrinating children into militaristic ideologies.

The machinery of child militarization extends to institutions such as the so-called Ministry of Education and Science of Crimea, which oversees both formal and extracurricular educational systems, thereby facilitating the propagation of propaganda. Additionally, the Ministry of Sports of russia plays a role in imposing russian ideology, while the Ministry of Defense of russia wields considerable influence by issuing directives on event organization and children’s involvement.

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