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Vladimir Putin is recruiting a "Kids’ Army" to swell troop numbers in Ukraine, according to human rights officials.
The Russian president is said to be trawling youth clubs and conscripting 16-year-olds to replace the estimated 30,000 soldiers killed, wounded or captured in the invasion.
Ukrainian officials have called on the United Nations to investigate his alleged illegal deployment of child soldiers’.
Human rights organisations claim youngsters are being recruited from patriotic clubs which sprang up in Russian-occupied parts of eastern Ukraine, following its 2014 invasion, as part of a campaign to promote the country's culture in Luhansk and Donetsk.
They are said to be undergoing military training and could be sent to the frontline against their will. Some have already been thrust into action and died fighting.
Badges and insignia of Russian military cadets – who are not supposed to be deployed to war zones – have also been found on battlefields in Ukraine. The Ukrainian parliament commissioner on human rights Lyudmyla Denisova said children who participated in the so-called patriotic clubs’ are being mobilised into illegal weapons formations’.
She said: "They have been doing military training and there have been deaths among these teenagers.
"Now they are promoting the entry into the army of civilians, including children in the temporarily occupied territories.
"In doing so the Russian Federation has violated the laws and customs of war provided by the 1949 Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians and the rights of children.
"The recruitment of children is a violation of international law.’’
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Russian commanders have shown a somewhat casual attitude to international law during the Ukraine conflict. British-born Aiden Aslin, a former care worker from Nottinghamshire who has been captured while fighting to help defend Ukraine, has been cruelly paraded on a Russian TV propaganda broadcast.
Aiden’s MP, Robert Jenrick, said: "I am very concerned for the safety of my constituent. Using images of prisoners of war for propaganda is wrong and in contravention of the Geneva Convention."
The 1949 Geneva Convention, to which Russia was a signatory, specifies that exploitation of prisoners of war for propaganda purposes, be it through political rallies or exposing them on television or social media, is against international law.
- Vladimir Putin
- Russia Ukraine war
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