This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
In mid-November, the Russian-installed occupation authorities in the Ukrainian Black Sea region of Crimea approved a program of “preliminary military training” for schoolchildren of all ages beginning in the current academic year.
The program follows years of increasing militarization of the schools on the occupied peninsula, mirroring a similar process in Russia. Russia also approved its program for military training in schools beginning next autumn.
However, the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office for Crimea and the port city of Sevastopol, in conjunction with the Crimean Human Rights Group (CHRG), have filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague condemning the militarization of education in Crimea as a war crime.
CHRG activist Iryna Sedova says the compulsory military training of children under the age of 15 in an occupied territory violates the Rome Statute‘s Article 8, Section b, Point 34.
“With the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine [on February 24], the probability of sending these children to war and their being killed has increased,” she told RFE/RL’s Crimea.Realities. “The Russian state machine is teaching children in Crimea to be ‘loyal soldiers of [President Vladimir] Putin.’ It is teaching them to unquestioningly follow orders…and to be ready to go into the army and serve and die for Russia.”
“Another goal of such an education to raise Russian ‘patriots’ is to instill in Crimean children the idea that they are citizens of Russia, so they forget that they were born in and lived in Ukraine,” she added.
Although Ukraine is not a member of the ICC, Kyiv has accepted its jurisdiction to rule on alleged crimes committed on its territory since September 2013.
There are some 230,000 children attending schools in the occupied region according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s representative office for the Autonomous Republic of Crimea — the region’s official name. The office wrote in September that the “military influence” on the curriculum was “a gross violation of international law.”
“The invaders have diluted the school program with ‘military-patriotic education’ and preliminary military training,” the office wrote on Facebook, adding that the occupation authorities planned to rename schools after Russian soldiers or collaborators.
Sergei Aksyonov, the head of the Russian occupation administration in Crimea, said in September, “Children should know the names of those who, in difficult times, did not hesitate to fulfill their military duty.”
The military training to be implemented with the coming academic year includes “training sessions with small arms and ammunition, military drills and formations, and lectures on military medical training and protection against weapons of mass destruction,” according to the occupation administration’s website.
At least some of the training is to be carried out at bases of the already influential regional militia and Russian military units. The program includes state-organized “patriotic” events, educational excursions to military facilities, and military sports competitions. It also envisions military-education training for teachers.
In addition to the new military training in schools, Russia’s Youth Army — Yunarmia — is particularly active in occupied Crimea, enrolling a larger percentage of children than any region of Russia itself, according to activist Oleh Okhredko of the Almenda Center for Civic Education. Created by Putin in 2016, Yunarmia has enlisted about 200,000 children aged 8-18 across Russia and in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia.
“In occupied Crimea, the Russian authorities are creating children’s paramilitary units with the aim of strengthening their grip on this territory,” Okhredko said. “One of the main goals is the eradication of the Ukrainian mentality and the creation of the image of the enemy from Ukraine.”
The Yunarmia in Crimea is headed by figures who participated in Russia’s 2014 forcible seizure and occupation of Crimea and in the Russian-stoked separatist conflicts in parts of eastern Ukraine.
In addition, the Russian authorities have set up the Crimea Patriot Center with the stated goals of “shaping the moral and ethical qualities of patriotism in the minds of youths,” “inculcating loyalty to the motherland and a readiness to defend it,” and the “preparation of young people for service in the armed forces of the Russian Federation.”
Advertisements urging young locals to enlist in the Russian military blanket Crimea.
“This is being done so that everyone will support the ‘special military operation,'” said activist Emine Ibrayimova of the Free Crimea NGO, using the Kremlin’s euphemism for the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. “It will not just be in the schools, but in all public institutions. The repertoire will be controlled, and the process will intensify.”