Ukraine rebels train child sol­diers in the mak­ing: Kiev

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY YU­LIA SILINA

He is only 14 but al­ready knows how to as­sem­ble a Kalash­nikov ri­fle. De­nis is a child soldier in the mak­ing — ea­ger to join the pro- Rus­sian mil­i­tants fight­ing Ukrainian troops.

“If I were an adult, I would fight,” the skinny boy with a di­sheveled crew- cut said in a warscarred town deep in the heart of the rebel- run east of the exSoviet state.

“I want to see war, to learn how to shoot, to see the tanks,” he said with an air of ex­cite­ment as two adult rebels stood nod­ding at his side.

The U. N. chil­dren’s agency said in Jan­uary it had no proof of mi­nors be­ing used in one of Europe’s blood­i­est and most diplo­mat­i­cally- charged con­flicts since the end of the Cold War.

UNICEF be­lieves that about 250,000 chil­dren are be­ing ex­ploited in wars fought across nearly two dozen coun­tries — many of them in Africa.

But the Western-backed lead­ers in Kiev ac­cuse the rebels of train­ing a small army of child sol­diers in schools un­der their con­trol.

About 20 kids be­tween the ages of 14 and 19 are still tak­ing train­ing lessons in the town of Khart­syzk — home to 60,000 peo­ple prior to the break­out of hos­til­i­ties and a flood of mi- grants for safer re­gions that fol­lowed — in the first weeks of their sum­mer break.

Some like De­nis are learn­ing ba­sic drills. But his par­ents are un­der­stand­ably wary af­ter be­ing trapped in fight­ing that has killed 6,500 and shows few signs of abat­ing 15 months on.

“They do not talk about the war with me. They hate it,” De­nis said. “They do not even watch the news.”

Oth­ers like 17- year- old Alina are tak­ing first aid lessons pro­vided by the rebel com­mand.

“We are still chil­dren and not ready to go to the front,” she con­ceded.

“But if some­thing were to hap-

pen, I would be able to help out.”

‘ Back to the USSR’

The Khart­syzk mil­i­tary lessons for chil­dren are or­ga­nized by Pa­tri­otic Don­bass — the lo­cal name for a rust­belt re­gion that hugs the 2,000- kilo­me­ter ( 1,250- mile) Don River and in­cludes the self­de­clared “peo­ple’s re­publics” of Lu­gansk and Donetsk.

Pa­tri­otic Don­bass boss Yury Tsupka — a 53- year- old who dis­dains the Ukrainian na­tion­al­ists who fight as vol­un­teers across the war zone — said he only wanted to re­in­state the old Soviet tra­di­tion of teach­ing army skills in school.

“We de­cided

to go back

to what we had in the USSR,” the fa­tigues- clad Tsupka said.

“We will also teach them to dig trenches, to work the ter­rain.”

Tsupka said more and more schools across the heav­ily Rus­si­fied re­gion were run­ning such mil­i­tary clubs. He said there were at least four oth­ers in sur­round­ing towns alone.

But not all of them are pro­vid­ing sim­ple train­ing.

Some have seen their pupils ac­tu­ally join the Khart­syzk sep­a­ratist units sta­tioned in the mine- strewn fields that stretch 20 kilo­me­ters ( 12 miles) east of the rebel strong­hold city of Donetsk.

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