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The Kremlin has resorted to recruiting children to boost its troop numbers in eastern Ukraine, according to human rights officials.
In a bid to replace the estimated 30,000 soldiers either killed, wounded or captured so far in the war, Moscow is said to be recruiting from youth clubs and conscripting 16-year-olds.
So-called ‘patriotic clubs’ sprang up in Russian-occupied parts of eastern Ukraine following its invasion in 2014 as part of a campaign to promote the country’s culture in Luhansk and Donetsk.
The reports come as Ukraine has been forced to give volunteer civilians weapons training so that they can defend their cities. The training includes close defence tactics, use of weaponry, military tactics and first aid. Yesterday, Ukrainian officials called on the United Nations to investigate Russia’s alleged use of ‘child soldiers’.
Russia has been accused by a human rights organisation of using ‘child soldiers’ to help bolster their army in eastern Ukraine (pictured: A teenage volunteer is taught how to aim a Kalashnikov in Lviv, Ukraine, as part of civilian training)
Ukraine say that Russia have violated the Geneva Convention by recruiting children into the army (pictured: Russian soldiers in Mariupol)
According to human rights organisations, the children are undergoing military training and could be sent to the frontline – perhaps against their will.
Some may have already been thrust into action and lost their lives in the fighting.
Reports have also suggested the badges and insignia of Russian military cadets, who are also not supposed to be deployed to war zones, have been found on battlefields in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian parliament commissioner on human rights Lyudmyla Denisova said: ‘The occupation authorities [of Luhansk and Donetsk] are conducting the mobilisation of children who participated in the so-called patriotic clubs, to the levels of illegal weapons formations.
‘They have been doing military training and there have been deaths among these teenagers [in Ukraine].
‘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.’
Russia’s patriotic clubs have been described as indoctrination centres by campaigners. The programme started in 2015, the year after the Russian invasion of Luhansk and Donetsk.