Wagner Group mercenaries may be involved in the militarization of Ukrainian teenagers in Belarus

Дата: 03 July 2024 Автор: Olesya Lantsman
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After seizing parts of Ukrainian territory, Russia began using militarization in education to change the identity of Ukrainian children.

According to the Almenda Center for Civic Education, at least 35,000 children have already been enrolled in the so-called Yunarmiya (the All-Russia Young Army National Military Patriotic Social Movement Association) in Ukraine’s temporarily occupied territories, and this number is constantly increasing.

According to human rights activists, the Russian authorities are using the militarization of adolescents to make young people support aggression and violence. Belarus has also joined this process of militarizing Ukrainian teenagers.

In May 2022, the unrecognized President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, signed Decree No. 160, “On the Development of Military and Patriotic Clubs.” The purpose of these clubs is to popularize and romanticize the war, not only among Belarusian youth but also among Ukrainian children.

ZMINA has learned that mercenaries from the private military company “Wagner Group” conducted training in some of the military camps where Ukrainian teenagers were brought.

“Game” of war and military-patriotic clubs in Belarus

Very often, in the Belarusian state media and social networks, you can see photos of children in military uniforms with weapons in their hands and smiles on their faces. The propaganda media seem to be trying to reassure the audience that war and weapons are not scary; on the contrary, they are an interesting and important game.

Photo: Belarusian state media outlet

The children participating in such events must believe that the Russian and Belarusian military are not enemies. They are not the ones who bring death and pain. They are portrayed as kind and smiling gentlemen who help children with disabilities and give them gifts, and with whom you can take selfies.

Instead, Ukrainian soldiers are portrayed as brutal neo-Nazis who have taken away children’s childhood and are bringing them death.

In this case, Russia is raising Ukrainian children with militaristic attitudes so that they would be ready to act in Russia’s interests even beyond its borders.

Day of the Russian Airborne Troops in occupied Sevastopol. Photo: Krym.Realii

In May 2022, President Lukashenka signed Decree No. 160, “On the Development of Military-Patriotic Clubs.” According to the register available to the ZMINA Human Rights Center, as of April 1, 2024, 129 military-patriotic clubs were already operating in Minsk Oblast alone, with 3,116 children enrolled in them.

Military-patriotic clubs usually operate based on military units, subdivisions of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Emergency Situations and Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Belarus or with the participation of instructors of these units in Belarusian schools.

Assistant Minister of Defense for Ideological Work in the Armed Forces of Belarus, Major General Leonid Kasinsky, called their creation vital.

“This direction yields a very important result. These are patriots ready to stand up in arms in a difficult moment to defend our Republic of Belarus,” he said.

“I came here to learn how to shoot, to learn basic medicine to defend my homeland…” says 14-year-old Kateryna from Belarus, a student of the Granit military camp, in one of the propaganda videos.

Belarusians are generally frightened by the threat of a military buildup by neighbouring countries.

“The situation on the border of Belarus continues to escalate: the Ukrainian military has deployed a 15,000-strong group near the southern border, and NATO is increasing its military presence on the western side,” writes the Belarusian state media outlet SB. Belarus Today.

Screenshot of the news from the state media of Belarus

Since the beginning of the armed conflict in Ukraine, the Russian Federation has been systematically sending children from the temporarily occupied territories to the Republic of Belarus for so-called “rehabilitation,” during which children are involved in various activities to foster a “patriotic” attitude towards the aggressor country. The children are brought to military-patriotic camps, told about “Ukrainian nationalists who have been unleashing terror for nine years” and about kind Russians who are “saving” everyone.

Screenshot of the news from the state media of Belarus

On a visit to the Special Forces

An analysis of Belarusian media publications shows that the program of stay of Ukrainian children usually includes excursions to the Belarusian Academy of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the security centre of the Ministry of Emergencies. There, children from the frontline areas were allegedly offered not to think about what was happening at home. Still, the military organized an arms exhibition and held shooting workshops.

One of the popular destinations where Ukrainian children are taken from the occupied territories is an excursion to the military unit 3214 of the Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus, which houses the military-patriotic club “Rys [Lynx].”

Children from the occupied Donetsk region were brought to military unit 3214 in Belarus for an excursion.

For example, in June 2022, we saw a report by the state agency Belta about one of these excursions. Children with disabilities, brought to the military unit by Olha Volkova, director of the Donetsk NGO Dolphins, are accompanied by the military and walk through the territory of the unit, some of them in wheelchairs. One of the wheelchairs, in which a girl with a leg amputation is sitting, is being pushed by a soldier.

Children from the occupied Donetsk region were brought to military unit 3214 in Belarus for an excursion.

In the photo above, the same children are near one of the buildings, and opposite them are military special forces units in full gear, a table with weapons laid out. Children from Ukraine’s territories captured by Russia and taken to Belarus for so-called rehabilitation were brought to the military camp to talk about the special forces combat brigades and demonstrate weapons and military equipment.

In another media report, we see a group of children from the temporarily occupied Horlivka, Donetsk region, walking through the territory of the same special military camp, “Rys,” in December 2022. The teenagers and junior schoolchildren are met by the military dressed as toy lynxes.

Children from occupied Horlivka were brought to a meeting with the Belarusian military in the military-patriotic club “Rys.”

The children are told about combat missions, given a tour of the unit, shown weapons, and even allowed to hold them. In the published photo, a boy about nine years old is trying to hold a large assault rifle.

Children from occupied Horlivka were brought to a meeting with the Belarusian military in the military-patriotic club “Rys.”

Afterwards, the children are taken to a concert with Father Frost and Snow Maiden, where they dance, sing, and receive sweet gifts. It is a “New Year’s fairy tale” in a Special Forces military unit.

Children from occupied Horlivka were brought to a meeting with the Belarusian military in the military-patriotic club “Rys.”

Role of the Wagner Group

However, training the military camps’s students is not limited to mentoring by Belarusian special forces. It has become known from open sources that instructors from the private military company, The Wagner Group, have joined children’s so-called “patriotic” education. It is the same company whose members are involved in war crimes around the world and were particularly prominent during the war in Ukraine, where they committed attacks on civilian targets, torture and extrajudicial executions of Ukrainian prisoners of war. After a coup attempt against Russia’s military leadership in June 2023, which ended in the liquidation of the owner of the private military company, Yevgeny Prigozhin, some of Wagner’s units were transferred to Belarus. There, mercenaries from Wagner Group began to train Belarusian law enforcement officers, from police to special forces.

And since the fall of 2023, they have taught Belarusian teenagers the military craft. Such education is happening in those military-patriotic clubs where children from the occupied regions of Ukraine are regularly brought.

For example, the Instagram page of the military-patriotic club “Rys” posted a report that instructors from the private military company, The Wagner Group, had trained the students and talked to them about patriotism.

“They spoke about their morale, camaraderie, hardships and sense of patriotism,” the statement said.

Photo of the meeting with the mercenary of the Wagner Group

In the published video, the members of the Wagner Group teach children how to handle weapons, shoot them, and seize buildings and premises. And at the end of the training, they traditionally give children gifts.

ZMINA has already reported that the most active in the illegal trafficking of Ukrainian children to Belarus is Oleksiy Talay, a staunch supporter of Alexander Lukashenka and a Paralympian known for his public anti-Ukrainian statements. He is also the one who organizes excursions for children to the “Rys” military camp.

“Thanks to the support of Alexey Talay’s foundation, as well as the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Minsk City Executive Committee, Belarusian Main Department for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption, and the Internal Troops, the children (Ukrainian teenagers from Horlivka – Ed.) have the opportunity to break away from the circumstances in their homeland (the state Belarusian media call Russia the homeland of children from the Russian-held territories of Ukraine – Ed.) and plunge into a New Year’s fairy tale,” reads one of the messages on the channel of the Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Therefore, the Belarusian Main Department for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption, the Minsk city authorities and the internal troops of the Republic of Belarus are also involved in the illegal transfer and militarization of Ukrainian children. In particular, Colonel Sergei Grebennikov, the deputy commander of the internal troops, and Nadezhda Lazarevich, the first deputy head of the Minsk City Executive Committee and the deputy head of the Belarusian Women’s Union, who personally accompanied the Donetsk children during their New Year’s visit to the “Rys” military-patriotic camp.

In general, children taken from the temporarily occupied territories are kept by the Russians in boarding schools, where they are given so-called “lessons of courage” and invited to meet the Russian military or cadet colleges. After such “education,” Ukrainian children plan to enter a military school and are offended if they are called Ukrainians.

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