Training kids to kill at Ukrainian nationalist camp

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- The campers, some clad in combat fatigues, carefully aim their assault rifles. Their instructor offers advice: Don't think of your target as a human being.

So when these boys and girls shoot, they will shoot to kill.

Most are in their teens, but some are as young as 8 years old. They are at a summer camp created by one of Ukraine's radical nationalist groups, hidden in a forest in the west of the country, that was visited by The Associated Press. The camp has two purposes: to train children to defend their country from Russians and their sympathizers — and to spread nationalist ideology.

"We never aim guns at people," instructor Yuri "Chornota" Cherkashin tells them. "But we don't count separatists, little green men, occupiers from Moscow, as people. So we can and should aim at them."

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Training kids to kill at Ukrainian nationalist camp
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Training kids to kill at Ukrainian nationalist camp
In this July 28, 2018 photo, participants of the "Temper of will" summer camp, organized by the nationalist Svoboda party, hold their AK-47 riffles as they receive instructions during a tactical exercise in a village near Ternopil, Ukraine. Campers as young as 8 years old practice using assault rifles. They are taught to shoot to kill Russians and their sympathizers. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
In this July 29, 2018 photo, a young participant of the "Temper of will" summer camp, organized by the nationalist Svoboda party, takes position with her unloaded AK-47 riffle during a night exercise in a village near Ternopil, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
In this July 29, 2018 photo, Yuri "Chornota" Cherkashin, head of Sokil (Falcon), the youth wing of the nationalist Svoboda party, sits with his AK-47 rifle at the "Temper of will" summer camp in a village near Ternopil, Ukraine. "We never aim guns at people," he tells his campers. "But we don't count separatists, little green men, occupiers from Moscow as people, so we can and should aim at them." (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
In this July 29, 2018 photo, Yuri "Chornota" Cherkashin, head of Sokil (Falcon), the youth wing of the nationalist Svoboda party, gives tactical instructions to young participants of the "Temper of will" summer camp in a village near Ternopil, Ukraine. "We never aim guns at people," Cherkashin tells his students. "But we don't count separatists, little green men, occupiers from Moscow as people, so we can and should aim at them." (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
In this July 29, 2018 photo, instructor Georgiy Barylenko, left, holds a flashlight as he walks with a young participant of the "Temper of will" summer camp, organized by the nationalist Svoboda party, during a night drill in a village near Ternopil, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
In this July 29, 2018 photo, young participants of the "Temper of will" summer camp, organized by the nationalist Svoboda party, practice tactical formations with AK-47 assault riffles in a village near Ternopil, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
In this July 29, 2018 photo, Mykhailo adjusts his AK-47 riffle after bathing in a river during the "Temper of will" summer camp, organized by the nationalist Svoboda party, in a village near Ternopil, Ukraine. At 18, he is the oldest of the campers. "Every moment things can go wrong in our country. And one has to be ready for it," he said. "That's why I came to this camp. To study how to protect myself and my loved ones." (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
In this July 28, 2018 photo, young participants of the "Temper of will" summer camp, organized by the nationalist Svoboda party, sit inside a tent with their AK-47 riffles as they receive instructions during a tactical exercise in a village near Ternopil, Ukraine. The camp has two purposes: to train children to defend their country _ and to spread nationalist ideology. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
In this July 29, 2018 photo, instructor Georgiy Barylenko, holds a flare as he instructs young participants of the "Temper of will" summer camp, organized by the nationalist Svoboda party, during a night drill in a village near Ternopil, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
In this July 28, 2018 photo, a young participant of the "Temper of will" summer camp, organized by the nationalist Svoboda party, uses his cellphone to call his parents in a village near Ternopil, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
In this July 28, 2018 photo, Mykhailo, 18, center, leads other young participants of the "Temper of will" summer camp, organized by the nationalist Svoboda party, as they stand in formation singing nationalist songs in a village near Ternopil, Ukraine. Mykhailo is the oldest of the campers. "Every moment things can go wrong in our country. And one has to be ready for it," he said. "That's why I came to this camp. To study how to protect myself and my loved ones." (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
In this July 28, 2018 photo, young participants of the "Temper of will" summer camp, organized by the nationalist Svoboda party, receive instructions in a village near Ternopil, Ukraine. The camp has two purposes: to train children to defend their country _ and to spread nationalist ideology. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
In this July 28, 2018 photo, a young participant of the "Temper of will" summer camp, organized by the nationalist Svoboda party, plays a guitar decorated with a sticker depicting bombs hitting a mosque, as others sing around a bonfire in a village near Ternopil, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
In this July 28, 2018 photo, young participants and instructors of the "Temper of will" summer camp, organized by the nationalist Svoboda party, stand in formation as they sing the national anthem in a village near Ternopil, Ukraine. Earlier this year, the Ministry of Youth and Sports earmarked 4 million hryvnias (about $150,000) to fund some of the youth camps among the dozens built by the nationalists. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
In this July 28, 2018 photo, young participants of the "Temper of will" summer camp, organized by the nationalist Svoboda party, receive instructions in a village near Ternopil, Ukraine. The camp has two purposes: to train children to defend their country _ and to spread nationalist ideology. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
In this July 28, 2018 photo, a young participant of the "Temper of will" summer camp, organized by the nationalist Svoboda party, plays a guitar decorated with a sticker depicting bombs hitting a mosque, as others sing around a bonfire in a village near Ternopil, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
In this July 27, 2018 photo, a member of Sokil (Falcon), the youth wing of the nationalist Svoboda party, stands in a forest as he guides participants to the "Temper of will" summer camp in a village near Ternopil, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
In this July 27, 2018 photo, young participants of the "Temper of will" summer camp, organized by the Svoboda party, walk to a campsite in a village near Ternopil, Ukraine. The camp has two purposes: to train children to defend their country _ and to spread nationalist ideology. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
In this July 27, 2018 photo, young participants of the "Temper of will" summer camp, organized by the nationalist Svoboda party, gather in-between exercises in a village near Ternopil, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
In this July 27, 2018 photo, a young participant of the "Temper of will" summer camp, organized by the nationalist Svoboda party, buttons up a camouflage shirt as he prepares for an exercise in a village near Ternopil, Ukraine. Campers as young as 8 years old practice using assault rifles. They are taught to shoot to kill Russians and their sympathizers. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
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The nationalists have been accused of violence and racism, but they have played a central, volunteer role in Ukraine's conflict with Russia — and they have maintained links with the government. Earlier this year, the Ministry of Youth and Sports earmarked 4 million hryvnias (about $150,000) to fund some of the youth camps among the dozens built by the nationalists. The purpose, according to the ministry, is "national patriotic education."

Ministry spokeswoman Natalia Vernigora said the money is distributed by a panel which looks for "signs of xenophobia and discrimination, it doesn't analyze activities of specific groups."

Cherkashin is a veteran of the fight against pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine; he was wounded in combat and later came to lead Sokil, or Falcon, the youth wing of the Svoboda party. It is important, he says, to inculcate the nation's youth with nationalist thought, so they can battle Vladimir Putin's Russia as well as "challenges that could completely destroy" European civilization.

Among those challenges: LGBT rights, which lecturers denounce as a sign of Western decadence.

"You need to be aware of all that," said instructor Ruslan Andreiko. "All those gender things, all those perversions of modern Bolsheviks who have come to power in Europe and now try to make all those LGBT things like gay pride parades part of the education system."

While some youths dozed off during lectures, others paid attention. Clearly, some were receptive.

During a break in training, a teenager played a nationalist march on his guitar. It was decorated with a sticker showing white bombs hitting a mosque, under the motto, "White Europe is Our Goal."

Aside from the lectures — and songs around the campfire — life for the several dozen youths at the Svoboda camp was hard.

Campers were awakened in the middle of the night with a blast from a stun grenade. Stumbling out of their tents, soldiers in training struggled to hold AK-47s that were, in some cases, almost as tall as they were. They were required to carry the heavy rifles all day, and one of the girls broke down in tears from exhaustion.

At 18, Mykhailo was the oldest of the campers. The training, he said, was necessary.

"Every moment things can go wrong in our country. And one has to be ready for it," he said. "That's why I came to this camp. To study how to protect myself and my loved ones"

 

 

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