The machine comes to school
The government's decision marks a return to Soviet-era "basic military training" that was canceled in 1993. Then schoolchildren were taught self-defense skills in the event of a nuclear or chemical attack, first aid and handling firearms. With the beginning of Putin's rule in 2000, there was a turn to the idea that existed in the tsarist and Soviet eras about the army as a source of patriotic education - uniting people around a strong leader through the development of patriotism. Since 2001, the Russian Ministry of Defense has become one of the three institutions responsible for the implementation of the "Concept for the Patriotic Education of Russian Citizens".
In recent months, youth patriotic educational organizations have stepped up military training with the use of weapons. At the same time, they began attending school classes to promote their practices to their peers. In some cases, schools go even further and provide their own military training, including training in the use of firearms.
After the annexation of Crimea, the number of military-patriotic clubs (VPK) providing military education for children increased, according to official figures , there are already more than 5,500 of them. for the "preservation and enhancement of patriotic traditions." The organization on its website boasts of 1.25 million members, including Ukrainian children from Mariupol, who were forcibly enrolled in its ranks.
Although the use of firearms was practiced by the Yunarmiya even before the invasion of Ukraine, the social networks of regional branches now constantly flash reports of teenagers undergoing enhanced military training. For example, in Magnitogorsk, 40 members of the military-industrial complex and the Yunarmiya took part in the Spartakiad 2023, during which they took part in a swim with Kalashnikov assault rifles in camouflage.
The website of the municipality emphasizes that not only boys, but also girls express a desire to swim the distance with a 3.5-kilogram machine gun on their backs, and one of the participants is quoted: “I like swimming with a machine gun more.” In other cases, children, often referred to as “fighters” by regional media, are taught military tactics and how to navigate snowy terrain in uniform and with machine guns.
In addition to the radicalization of the activities of the military-industrial complex and the Yunarmiya, new institutions responsible for "patriotic education" are beginning to appear. One example is the Leader Club (better known as Vagneryonok), which was established at the end of January 2023 and supposedly has 40 members, including minors, who are recruited mainly through VKontakte . The club trains its members to fly drones, organizes conversations with bloggers and militaristic politicians, and oversees the making of trench candles by teenagers. Although the source of the club's funding is unclear, it is located in the Wagner PMC center in St. Petersburg, built by Yevgeny Prigozhin.
These military-patriotic organizations are involved in supporting the Russian invasion at various levels. Members of the Yunarmiya and the military-industrial complex send letters of support to soldiers and organize donations for "humanitarian aid". In addition, the instructors of these institutions are involved in the training of the newly mobilized or are sent to the front themselves. This can be seen in the example of the military-patriotic club "Bastion" from Stavropol, one of whose instructors used the club's page on VKontakte to collect donations for the sniper he trained after he was mobilized.
Some schools themselves are taking the initiative to teach children how to handle firearms. In February, the St. Petersburg prosecutor investigated several schools and appealed to the Kuibyshev court after it was found that school No. 294 in the Tsentralny District lacked “essential materials,” namely F-1 and RGD-5 grenades and Kalashnikov assault rifles. The principal of the school tried to object to the prosecutor, but to no avail. However, some schools are already well equipped with all the "necessary" weapons.
Some schools also started to run their own military courses. For example, for the celebration of Defender of the Fatherland Day on February 24, 2023, students of school No. 31 in Yoshkar-Ola in the schoolyard in 10-degree frost learned to throw training grenades, run with weapons, disassemble Kalashnikov assault rifles and shoot from air pistols. As a “reserve soldier”, one of the teachers proudly noted that students in grades 6-10 learned “to handle weapons, provide medical care, repel enemy attacks, counterattack at the right time, pass an obstacle course and shoot accurately from any position.”
The machine comes to kindergarten
In recent months, the military-industrial complex and the Yunarmiya have increasingly come to schools to teach children of primary school age how to handle firearms. If earlier parents could decide whether to send their children to the military-industrial complex or not, now they are essentially deprived of this choice. In one of the schools in the Sverdlovsk region, young members of the patriotic club taught 11-15-year-olds how to take apart a Kalashnikov assault rifle right on the school desk and how to put on a gas mask.
In order for children to adhere to the desired path with confidence, in Russian educational institutions they are given weapons in their hands earlier and earlier. Recently, members of the Yunarmiya came to one of the kindergartens in the Krasnoyarsk Territory to carry out "combat training", where "together with the children they dismantled and assembled machine guns."
The kindergarten principal confirmed the incident to the local newspaper :
“We cooperate with the schools of the region and the city, so the guys [from Yunarmia] came to us. The children liked it very much <…>, they know what it is, preliminary work is carried out for the Defender of the Fatherland Day. Everyone was friendly, beautiful, festive atmosphere. The impression was very good, the children saw this for the first time. Of course, they want to be like soldiers - slender, courageous.
The newspaper also interviewed a psychologist to reassure parents who might have doubts about the need to teach a 5-year-old child how to use a machine gun. “If the bearer of the weapon has a high degree of responsibility, then it is safe for the psyche,” the psychologist assured.
However, Western and some Russian specialists in child psychology do not share the optimism of their colleagues. The militarization of the Russian education system is causing great concern around the world, Dr. Philip D. Jaffe, a child rights specialist, told The Insider:
“This is a very, very serious step that profoundly changes the concept of “childhood”. In most countries, adults try to protect children from violence: from violence directed against children themselves, as well as from violence in the world, because it can have consequences for their development. [...] Even in other countries where children receive NVP, that is, a course of basic military training, children are not taught to kill the "enemy" by using weapons. Russia has ratified the convention on the rights of the child in the event of a military conflict, the NVP is contrary to the spirit and word of such a convention.”
The expert emphasizes that in Western society and in international law, education has completely different goals: “In this case, the goal of education is completely different, close in form to preparing for military service. For example, they teach children that the use of violence can be quite legitimate, therefore the use of violence has a legal status and the guys become potential soldiers.”
Psychology professor Alexander Trosov believes that the atmosphere of aggression in which Russia has plunged is even stronger than the school, which determines the development of the child's personality:
“As long as militarism is perceived as a game or a temporary phenomenon, this will not greatly affect the development of the individual. However, if Russian society starts to really strongly identify with military history and the spirit of militant patriotism, the consequences could be more serious. [...] The general discourse that “the whole world is against us”, that “everyone wants to bring the Russians to their knees”, and “we are surrounded by enemies and traitors”, is especially dangerous. The child lives in this space where he is surrounded by aggression. Such thinking can lead to different actions, plus total stubbornness from all sides, unwillingness to stop and seek compromise - children feel that this is the norm.
Often, military-patriotic organizations seize peaceful institutions not in a figurative, but in the literal sense. In Moscow, a youth organization that teaches reading and numeracy to underprivileged children and organizes cultural events has lost a municipal competition for the right to rent a plot of land free of charge, which it has occupied for 25 years. Instead, the military-patriotic club received the right to free rent. Officials justified the decision by saying that "military education is now more important than creativity." This was confirmed by two people who are well acquainted with the circumstances of the case.