Using children in “adult games,” let alone involving them in war politics, is about breaking moral rules, .
However, these rules do not apply to totalitarian regimes, for whom children are, on the contrary, the desired object and resource of their dirty politics. The use of children and militarization of childhood are commonplace in fascist societies. For example, the deployment in Russia since 2015 of the so-called “Youth Army”, managed by the Ministry of Defense, is similar in its scope to the Nazi youth organization “Hitler Youth.” Although the million-strong “Youth Army” still lags behind Hitler’s organization which had almost 9 million boys in its ranks back in 1939.
In this article, the Center for Strategic Communication and Information Strategy will consider how Putin’s regime, which usurped power in Russia, uses children for its political purposes.
Researchers note the demand in totalitarian societies for the image of a child victim, which is the personification of an ideal unclouded worldview.
Totalitarianism constructs the image of a child-hero. This is an ideological and disciplined little person who makes a sacrifice for a great idea, and through torture and death gains a moral victory over the enemy. There are examples of this, i.e., a protagonist from a German film “Hitlerjunge Quex”, or Soviet characters Malchish-Kybalchish, Pavlik Morozov, etc.
“The youngest writer in the world” as a tool of anti-Ukrainian propaganda
For several years now, a thirteen-year-old girl from Luhansk, Faina Savenkova, has been used to deceive people in the world, who should believe that in 2014 it was not Russia that attacked Ukraine, but that Ukraine began to destroy itself.
“Good fame about the girl-playwright is spreading all over the world: Faina’s texts have been translated into dozens of languages, and interviews with her have been published by leading media outlets in Italy, France, Germany and other European countries. A year ago, she became the youngest member of the Union of Writers of the LPR. Her desperate attempts to draw attention of the global society to the troubles of Donbas have found a response in many countries,” an article dated January 12, 2021 says.
Putin’s regime claims that the child is the youngest writer, and uses her to write letters to the UN, as well as to journalists, i.e. American TV presenter Tucker Carlson, to civil society organisations, in particular, Amnesty International. In these letters and video messages, the girl says that Ukraine is taking away children’s peaceful lives.
In 2021, the Russians showed at the UN a video starring Faina. At the same time, Dmytro Polyanskyi, Russia’s representative, cynically “shed tears”, playing a children’s card in dirty Kremlin games:
“On the eve of International Children’s Day, the young writer Faina Savenkova from Donbas called on the UN not to forget about the children of Donbas, who have been living in war conditions for seven years. It is difficult to hold back emotions when you receive such calls… Of course, we will not allow our colleagues from the UN Security Council to forget what the Ukrainian army is doing in the east of their own country.”
Russia orchestrated another appeal to the UN by the same teen girl on December 22, 2021, before the large-scale invasion. Propagandists were supposed to prepare a favorable information ground for a further attack on Ukraine and to justify new murders. This time, the Russians have already blamed the “Myrotvorets” website, which listed Faina as “a victim of psychological violence and Russian terrorist propaganda.”
A few weeks before the invasion, on January 31, the book by Faina Savenkova, “a young writer living in Luhansk,” was presented to Italian readers, as reported by the Russian state agency RIA Novosti. It was reported that the fantasy novel for children Those Who Stand Behind Your Shoulder was presented online. The book was written in co-authorship with Oleksandr Kontorovych. Speranza cultural association and its president Iryna Vikhoreva organized the event.”
There is an eloquent detail: it was this very “culture activist” Iryna Vikhoreva, who previously staged a provocation involving a “DPR” flag at the Shakhtar – Roma football match.
As already mentioned, totalitarian fascist propaganda requires a child to suffer and become a sacrificial victim. “The names of hundreds of Donbas children are in the database of the Ukrainian odious site “Myrotvorets”. Russia has officially informed UN Secretary General António Guterres about this, according to a story from July 21 on the Russian First Channel. – Russian diplomats stressed that the families of boys are threatened by Ukrainian nationalists. However, Western capitals are in no hurry to react to this glaring fact.” Faina Savenkova (Luhansk): “I think that I actually ended up on the website because I recorded my video message to the UN.”
It is interesting that media outlets also reported, according to Faina herself, that “UNICEF, an international organization for the protection of children’s rights operating under the auspices of the UN, offered her to become a Messenger of Peace, but so far there have been no concrete actions from the organization.”
On August 9, 2022, Russian media reported that Faina Savenkova wrote an open letter to the international non-governmental organization Amnesty International. “I ask you to conduct an investigation into the murder of children committed by the Ukrainian army on the territory of Donbas. In addition, I ask you to consider the activity of the Ukrainian website “Myrotvorets”.
Angels and demons
However, Russians use not only living children, but also those whom they killed themselves by attacking Ukraine. So, in 2015, the invaders in Donetsk created the “Alley of Angels” memorial, which serves a propaganda purpose: to be visual confirmation of the thesis that “Ukrainians kill children.”
A screenshot from the propaganda site “Alley of Angels”, created in 2022, whose task is to promote the narrative that Ukraine is to blame for the deaths of children.
Ukrainian prisoners of war are brought to the “Alley of Angels” to film stories about how they “repent of their crimes.” In the first days of the full-scale war, Ukrainian soldiers were brought there again. On March 25, foreign so-called journalists, ipso facto propagandists, were invited to communicate with Ukrainian prisoners there. Besides, a video was published on May 10, containing orchestrated footage of a soldier’s remorse: “When the prisoner was brought to the Alley of Angels, dedicated to the children of Donbas who died as a result of Kyiv aggression, the soldier could not hold back his tears. He fell to his knees in front of the monument and wept.” “We were really misled. This is a shock to me. Children are the biggest shock. I am a father myself and I will kill for my children,” he said.
During the summer, Russia continued to speculate on the memory of the victims of its aggression. On June 1, a video clip was projected onto the walls of the US Embassy in Moscow, in which it was claimed that “the American military is responsible for all the dead children of Donbas.” On June 8, “spontaneous memorials appeared in Moscow and St. Petersburg in memory of the girl Veronika Badina, who was killed by shelling from Ukrainian nationalists in Donetsk.”
On July 27, the First Channel reported: “Rallies take place in many cities. In Moscow, volunteers of the “Young Guard of United Russia” gathered near the embassies of the United States and Great Britain – the countries that are arming Kyiv. On the squares that now bear the names of the DPR and LPR, today the portraits of children who died in Donbas are exhibited… A moment of silence, 130 balloons flew into the sky in memory of each child who died… Deputy Speaker of the State Duma, Anna Kuznetsova, laid flowers at the monument to the killed children. “International human rights’ mechanisms, as they call themselves, the United Nations and other institutions, betrayed the rights of children. They betrayed the children not only in Donbas, but also in Syria, Libya, Iraq, and everywhere where innocent children died…” said Anna Kuznetsova.
We see another reflection, when Russians repeat the narratives of Ukrainians that international organizations are powerless to stop the Russian invasion and murder, but they turn them upside down. Russians diligently carry out the difficult task of convincing themselves, at least for a while, that they are not murderers.
Beautiful words, to which the Russians give a magical meaning, are used to incite a new wave of war. This is what Russian actor Andrei Sokolov says: “Why did I support the special operation? – This is an axiom. I am Russian, I grew up in this country and I will die here. There were a lot of prerequisites: the “Alley of Angels” and everything that was going on all this time in Donbas. If the special operation didn’t take place, it would be very bad there. That’s all.”
The following story shows how children’s names end up on the memorial. According to a report by Radio Liberty, in the summer of 2014, the Russian TV channel NTV reported that “in the village of Rozsypne, a motorcade with refugees, mostly women and children, came under fire from the Ukrainian military. The death of a three-year-old boy is reported, and more than ten people are injured.”
However, the Security Service of Ukraine published a recording of an intercepted call between two militants of the so-called “DPR”, which indicated that the convoy in Rozsypne was mistakenly shot by the militants themselves.
There is another example of how Russians use the deaths of children to incite hatred and accuse Ukraine without evidence. After the information appeared that a four-year-old girl and 7- and 8-year-old boys were killed in Vinnytsia by Russian rockets on July 14, pro-Russian Telegram channels responded to the news with references to the death of little Kira Zhuk and her mother Khrystyna in 2014.
However, as human rights activist Oleksandra Dvoretska recalls, Natalia Zhuk, whose daughter and granddaughter were killed, appealed for help to Kyiv and did not accuse Ukraine of the murder. “Natalia never said that she knew who killed them. She never blamed Ukraine. Natalia came to Kyiv and turned to the Ukrainian law enforcement agencies to find the truth.”
One should remember that, according to the Prosecutor General’s Office, as of the morning of August 26, 2022, juvenile prosecutors have information about 377 killed and more than 733 wounded children with injuries of various degrees of severity as a result of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Children in the hands of Putinism
The Russians did not refrain from using Ukrainian children against Ukraine. On May 24, the Security Service of Ukraine reported that it discovered a mobile application that swindled geolocation and photos of important objects out of children in a game form. Game participants earned virtual prizes that could be exchanged for electronic money.
In Russia itself, children, like the entire population, live under a regime that hasn’t changed in over twenty years.
On the third of March, a special lesson was held in Russian schools, where teachers using videos were to explain to children why Russia attacked Ukraine. The main idea of the lesson: Russia is defending against Russophobic Ukraine, and the war began because of the Maidan.
A piece from a Russian curriculum for grades 9-11 says: “The overseas curators assigned the Ukrainian authorities and future generations a terrible task — victory over Russia, victory at all costs. As they say: “Fight Russia to the last Ukrainian.”
Children are also told that everything they see on the Internet is fake news because there is an information war underway.
The design of community centers and other institutions nowadays features the Z symbol, and children and young people were engaged in flash mobs to stand in the shape of this letter.
From the first of September, every Monday in Russian schools, the flag is to be raised and the anthem of Russia is to be sung — this was emphasized even by Putin.
“Youth Army” of Kremlin elders
In parallel with preparing the army for the invasion of Ukraine, Putin was preparing another one — the “Youth Army.” It is an organization to educate young people in a militaristic culture under the supervision of the Ministry of Defense.
In 2016, the organization began operating, and in 2019, it already included 300,000 children. Here’s how Novaya Gazeta described its work in 2019:
“Teachers were to form school Youth Army detachments. They are managed by district and regional headquarters, and above them stands the federal headquarters of the Youth Army, directly subordinate to the Ministry of Defense of the RF.”
The starting age to join the Youth Army is 11. When children are accepted into the “Youth Army,” they must undergo a special ritual, during which the child swears: “… to strive for victories in education and sports, to lead a healthy lifestyle, to prepare themselves for service and actions for the benefit of the Motherland. To honor the memory of the heroes who fought for the freedom and independence of our Motherland, to be a patriot and a worthy citizen of Russia. With honor and pride to bear the high rank of a Youth Army member. I swear.”
An eight-year-old boy from the Belgorod region, Alyosha Pavlichenko, who was made the symbol of the “special operation” to replace the granny with a red flag, is solemnly accepted in the “Youth Army by the “Chief of the Youth Army General Staff,” Olympic champion Nikita Nagorny.
On June 5, 2021, Deputy Minister of Defense of Russia Andrey Kartapolov said that the “Youth Army includes more than 830,000 young men and girls, 78,000 have joined the ranks of the movement this year”
According to him, increasing the number of young people is among the priority tasks. “By the end of this year, we need to bring this figure to one million people.” As we can see, the attack on Ukraine was prepared together with the militarization of society.
On March 20, the Chief Directorate of Intelligence of Ukraine published a Russian order “On the organization of the engagement of members of the military-patriotic public movement “Youth Army” in the special operation on the territory of Ukraine,” signed by the Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation Shoigu.
“Due to the lack of manpower to replenish the ranks of the occupation army, the leadership of the Kremlin is considering the possibility of involving minors of the Russian Federation in hostilities,” reported Ukrainian intelligence officers.
Neither did they miss an opportunity to emphasize the obvious similarity of Putinism with Hitlerism: “Similar actions were carried out by the military leadership of Nazi Germany during World War 2. Since 1943, high school students in Hitlerjugend detachments were involved in service in anti-aircraft artillery units.”
To understand the level of militarization in Russia, we can compare the declared number of members of the “Youth Army” with the number of participants of the Ukrainian scout organization “Plast,” which at the beginning of 2019 included only 8,500 people of all ages. In addition, Plast in Ukraine is not subordinate to the military and has a decentralized network structure.
According to a comment provided to hromadske.ua by Oleh Ohredko, an analyst at the “Almenda” Civic Education Center, even pre-schoolers are part of the militarization process in Russia.
“Russia went further than Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, the Soviet Union. In totalitarian countries, it all started with school. Now in Russia, militarization starts from kindergartens. It intensifies during the holidays. So far, it’s all theatrical. But you can already see preschool children used at parades,” he says.
According to Ohredko, the number of military-patriotic measures in Crimea is higher than in any Russian region after the occupation. They introduce cadet classes — the task is set that they operate almost in every institution. In addition, the following classes are quite different: army, Cossack, Investigative Committee, tax, border guard classes.
The Almenda analyst says: The “Youth Army” is introduced in the education system — its centres are in each school. Children deprived of parental care also fall under the care of this structure. Moreover, according to the order of the Minister of Defense of Russia, the children of all servicemen should be members of the “Youth Army”.
However, after facing the reality in Ukraine, it turns out that there is a beautiful wrapper of a disciplined “Youth Army,” and there is a morally rotten Russian army, which cannot behave in a civilized manner, killing civilians, looting, and torturing. This is the real Russia, whose face it hides even from itself.
In 2019, the “Youth Army” was created and in the so-called “LPR/DPR.” The most unpleasant thing is that Russians in the newly temporarily occupied territories are already trying to engage Ukrainian youth actively in the newly created Ruscist organizations.
On July 22, the Chief Directorate of Intelligence reported that “the occupation administrations in the temporarily occupied territories of Kherson region are trying to instill a pro-Russian view in Ukrainian youth. One of the main elements of this policy was the so-called “military-patriotic education.” To this end, “civic organizations” such as “young builders from Kherson region,” “young people of Kherson,” etc. are actively formed. The participation of Ukrainian youth in them is increasingly becoming forced.
Occupiers pay special attention to the “educational process” in the occupied territories, trying to show the normalization of life in schools with the Russian curriculum. Late August, it became known that armed Russian troops would be deployed outside schools. The Russians also promised to pay parents RUB 10,000 for each schoolchild from 6 to 18 years old, who went to school in the occupied territory.
And in Mariupol, destroyed by Russia at the end of August, the first nine teenagers were admitted to the “Youth Army.”
The InformNapalm community on August 30 published another package of Russian guidelines, which gives an idea of what will be taught in the occupation schools. For example, here is a quote from the lesson script for high school students: “Today has given us a long-awaited opportunity to meet within the walls of our school, we were able to see our friends, teachers again. And that means that we are returning to a peaceful life. Together with all the boys and girls of the vast Russia, we hear the first bell of the new academic year. And today we would like to talk to you about Russia, to feel like part of its great history, to look into the future together with schoolchildren like you from Vladivostok and Grozny, Moscow and Sevastopol, Arkhangelsk and Tyumen. The goal of Russian state-building has always been to create a common historical destiny for the peoples living in large areas of our Motherland, involving them in the great culture created by our united people. … This grandeur (of the territory) and the inclement nature have also tempered our national character. That is why in all times the words of Alexander III are relevant: “…Everyone is afraid of our vastness. And so, we have only two allies — the armed forced and the navy”… After the development of new territories, small peoples joined the imperial life, faithfully served Russia…”
A detailed analysis of the occupation lesson from the Ministry of Education of Russia can be found in the piece penned by the Center for Strategic Communication and Information Security.
At the Army-2022 event in Russia, one of the stands exhibited “Ukrainian Nazism” in schools.
Russian propaganda is constantly repeating that the Ukrainian education system makes Nazis of children. This is similar to “stop the thief,” which, as you know, the thief is always the loudest to shout.
It is worth adding that as shown by the interview of blogger Volodymyr Zolkin with Russian prisoners, a significant part of them are young men a little older than 20 years, who signed a contract immediately after their active service. Terror-mobilization was conducted in the occupied territories of Ukraine, when students were forcibly sent to fight right from the universities. Given the low combat value of such a replenishment of the ranks, it can be assumed that it was fundamental for Russia to lead them to slaughter, as a sacred sacrifice, in order to have another “Young Guard” to educate new generations on this example.
– What kind of people are you attracted to?
– Probably kind and honest. I don’t really like those who lie. I’m used to believing people.
Center for Strategic Communication and Information Strategy