Vladimir Putin has assembled a child army of a million youngsters ready to fight for Russia armed with AK47s and grenades.
The Russian president established the All-Russia "Young Army" National Military Patriotic Social Movement Association in 2015.
The force, formed mainly of schoolchildren, has grown massively since then and is now thought to have more than one million members, and is known in Russia as “YunArmia”.
Described as a "military and patriotic" organisation, YunArmia – for girls as well as boys – has been criticised as an echo of Hitler Youth.
Hitler Youth was an organisation launched by the Nazi Party in the 1920s where young men were trained to become future members of Adolf Hitler's army.
For many in Russia, though, the young army is seen as instilling discipline in young Russians – keeping them out of trouble.
Kids as young as eight are taught military drills, how to handle weapons, practice wrestling and learn to parachute.
It is highly likely that some of the students from the first batch of recruits are now fighting on the front line in Ukraine, or killed in action – but it is impossible to clarify this, as integration into the full army happens upon graduating from the camps.
The man behind the creation of the movement was Sergei Shoigu, who is now one of the country's top military personnel and a known-close alley of Putin.
Just this week, he said: “The main thing for us is to protect the Russian Federation from the military threat posed by Western countries, who are trying to use the Ukrainian people in the fight against our country.
“We vow to demilitarise and de-Nazify Ukraine.”
The website for the child army states that one million youngsters are currently members, which spans across 85 regional headquarters throughout the country.
The army was split into a boys and girls section a few years ago.
At the girls camp, they are taught intensively six days a week the usual school subjects, how to sew and cook, sing and draw, fence and dance, as well as first aid and self defence, countering terrorists, and to speak several foreign languages fluently.
The boys camp focuses mainly on fitness and how to use guns.
The site also has a “hall of fame”, which highlights some of the ”top students” from the camps.
One of those is a female recruit called Ekaterina Belova.
The site states that she joined on October 14, 2018.
It reads, in broken English: “Thanks to the timely actions of Ekaterina, a life was saved.
“In the summer of 2020, in Smolensk, a member of the Youth Army, walked with friends.
“At that moment, she turned her attention to the boys riding bicycles. One of them fell down and started screaming in pain.
“The girl was not at a loss to assess the injury, the tissues of the young man's left leg were torn, the femoral vein was damaged.
“Realizing that there was no time to lose, she began to act before the arrival of the medical team.
“She asked an eyewitness to the incident for a T-shirt, from which she made a pressure bandage and stopped the bleeding.
“After that, an ambulance arrived and took the victim to the hospital.”
Back in 2018, we reported on a female cadet, then aged 12, who “dreamed” about going into the secret service, because she liked “working with machine guns”.
She added: “I want to do something for the benefit of my Motherland like all of us here.”
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