No football or tennis camp for these Ukrainian children. A camp organized by radical nationalistic groups, where they are taught how to use semi-automatic weapons. And how they can kill Russians.
Journalists from the American news agency AP visited the summer camp of radical Ukrainian nationalists in July. Hidden in the forests in the west of the country, the children sleep in tents. Most are young teenagers, but there are also children of barely eight years in the group. In the middle of the night they are awakened with the sound of a grenade. Once out of the tent, they get an AK-47 pushed in their hands and they are taught how to use the weapon.
The goal of the summer camp consists of two hatches. First, the children are trained to defend their country against the Russians and their allies. Secondly, the groups want to spread the nationalistic ideology with the camp.
It is intended that when these boys and girls shoot, they also kill their target. “We never target our weapons to people,” instructor Yuri “Chornota” Cherkashin tells the children. “But we do not count separatists as people, so we can and must hit them.”
The nationalists in Ukraine are often accused of violence and racism. Yet they play an important role in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. The nationalist groups have a good relationship with the Ukrainian government. Earlier this year, the Minister of Youth and Sport allocated another 130,000 euros to subsidize nationalistic summer camps for young people.
The conflict between Ukraine and Russia started in early 2014 after the then Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych had been deposed. A new President of Parliament was appointed. The unrest that arose there also continued in the Crimea, where the inhabitants are mainly Russian. And were not satisfied with the change of power in capital Kiev.
Russian President Putin decided to take Crimea – the peninsula that belonged to Russia until 1954. This led to strong protests in Ukraine. In various parts of the country, these protests resulted in an armed conflict between pro-Russia rebels on the one hand. And the Ukrainian army on the other.