After the liberation of the Kharkiv region, the horrific details of the occupation became known: mass graves, torture, and murder. However, some crimes have been recorded by Russians themselves during this time. For almost half a year of occupation, Russia systematically engaged Ukrainian children in the occupied territories in their activities, imposed pseudo-patriotic ideas, and took them to the territory of the Russian Federation.
One of the occupation centers of the Kharkiv region was Kupiansk – a city located 50 km from the border with Russia. It was here that the Russians deployed an administrative center where they brought Russian textbooks for Ukrainian schoolchildren and published hundreds of propaganda photos and videos with little Ukrainians.
‘Slidstvo.info’ together with human rights activists collected and analyzed evidence of how Russia is preparing our children for use in the war.
MILITARIZATION OF CHILDREN
It is obvious from the photos and videos that Russians start engaging children from a very young age. In early July, the pro-Putin United Russia party opened a children’s recreation center in Kupiansk, where elementary school children drew Russian flags and wrote slogans such as “we are one nation with Russia”. On Children’s Day, a celebration was held here, where Ukrainian children were photographed with the occupiers against the background of military equipment.
Russians like to use mass events for propaganda – during the occupation they organized a number of sports events. However, what distinguished them from ordinary children’s competitions was that the Russians constantly militarized these events. For example, during regular sports activities, children were taught to shoot.
Further, Russian propaganda is only gaining momentum. When children were being prepared for school, Russian textbooks were brought to Kupiansk.
Among those that can be seen in the videos published by Russians, there are textbooks on literature for the 1st and 10th grades. Tenth-graders were to study only the works of Russian writers, and first-graders – Russian proverbs.
WAR PROPAGANDA AND RECRUITMENT
While in regular classes love for Russian culture is presented more or less veiled, in some classes children are openly recruited for war. After the start of the full-scale invasion, Russia launched an extracurricular supplementary curriculum – “Conversation about important things”.
As the Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation explains, “the purpose and results of the lesson: students’ understanding of the goals of the special military operation, the fact that the residents of the DPR and LPR (transl. – the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, illegal formations created by Russia and separatists in the eastern part of Ukraine) are Russian people, so their return to Russia is important. The Russian military are heroes”.
Schoolchildren are taught the meaning of the words ‘patriotism’ and ‘Motherland’, and in some lessons, Ukrainian children have to tell what they are proud of in Russia and how they want to be useful for it. Every Monday begins with such lessons in schools in the occupied territories.
“There is an order on what lessons should be held and for which classes,” Kateryna Rashevska, a lawyer at the Regional Human Rights Center, explains to ‘Slidstvo.info’, “For example, “Heroes of the special operation”, “Crimea, Kherson is Russia”, “There is such a profession – to defend the homeland” for 10–11 grades. You understand that 10–11 grades are the children who will go to war later. The ground is being prepared to recruit them to the Russian troops”.
In summer, when Kupiansk was under occupation, graduates of some schools received Russian diplomas.
CHANGES IN THE DEMOGRAPHIC STRUCTURE OF THE POPULATION
In order to arrange the educational process, Russia recruited Ukrainian teachers and brought Russian teachers to the occupied territories.
Thus, in June, local teachers from Kupiansk went to the “LPR” to receive instructions for the next school year, and some teachers were sent to Russia for advanced training courses.
One of the members of the delegation to the LPR was the head of the education department of the city council Roman Dolgin. Together with the education workers of Kharkiv oblast, they went to receive a new school curriculum. Subsequently, the prosecutor’s office of Kharkiv oblast announced Dolgin suspicion of collaboration – the educator risks imprisonment for up to ten years.
Along with the recruitment and “retraining” of Ukrainian educators, Russian teachers were massively brought to the territory of the occupied Kharkiv region.
Ukrainian human rights activists investigating these Russian crimes say that some teachers were offered high salaries.
“They wanted to bring teachers from remote regions of Russia. They were offered crazy salaries – more than two thousand dollars. There were those who agreed to go. We understand that they are criminals from the moment they crossed the border with Ukraine. But with the volume of needs in the occupied territories, the Russians failed to fulfill the plan. Now there are five times fewer educational institutions than before the invasion,” says Kateryna Rashevska.
The occupiers themselves do not hide the fact that such actions of Russia are aimed at colonizing the occupied territories in their interviews. For example, First Deputy Minister of Education of the Russian Federation Alexander Bugayev said: “Our main task is to integrate all schools of the Kharkiv region into the all-Russian educational space”.
According to Ukrainian human rights activists, this policy of Russia shows their desire to destroy part of the Ukrainian national group.
“This is definitely an eradication of identity, as well as a change in the demographic structure of the population. No matter how many of them come there, first they will bring doctors, then teachers, then law enforcement officers, judges. And what will be left of these regions? And then they will say: “Let’s have a referendum, let’s vote”. And who will vote? Imported Russians,” Kateryna Rashevska comments on the actions of the occupiers.
ABDUCTION OF CHILDREN
During the occupation of the Kharkiv region, which has now been liberated by the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the Russians sent several groups of children to Russia for excursions and recreation. Thus, high school students went to Yaroslavl Pedagogical University for an excursion “within the framework of the federal project “University profile educational shifts”. And several groups of school-age children were taken to children’s camps in Krasnodar.
“Many people do not understand why Ukrainians sent their children to Russian camps. But it is not difficult for me to understand. When the territory is constantly under shelling, you want your children to have at least a little rest from it. Many children were sent to camps in Russia and Crimea. But there they were actually being recruited, propagandized, meeting the “heroes of the SVE” and so on,” says human rights activist Kateryna Rashevska.
While the children were “on vacation”, Russian propaganda spread reports that they were all satisfied with the conditions of their stay in Russia.
However, when the Ukrainian military liberated Kupiansk and other cities in the Kharkiv region, Russia changed its mind about giving the children back. According to Kateryna Rashevska, some children are now being transported even to the territory of Belarus: “They say they have extended the vouchers for children, but it is unknown how they did it unilaterally. That is, the children were actually kidnapped.”
Ukrainian families after the de-occupation of the Kharkiv region tried to return their children home, and some of them succeeded – 37 children returned to the territory of Ukraine in mid-October.
“The process of return was difficult but successful. Parents traveled a long way through several European countries to pick up their children,” the Ministry of Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories reported on its Facebook page.
Crimes committed by Russia against Ukrainian children can form the basis of evidence of genocide of the Ukrainian people: “Actions aimed at colonization of the territory, militarization of children and deportation can be qualified as both a war crime and a crime against humanity, in accordance with the Rome Statute,” explains Kateryna Rashevska, “For us, as an organization that studies genocide, this is another evidence of special intent, evidence that the Russian Federation commits all these crimes, not by chance. This is not the result of an armed conflict, all this is created in order to completely or partially destroy the Ukrainian national group”.
The video has English subtitles.