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Training kids to kill at Ukrainian nationalist camp

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 the country’s radical nationalist groups, hidden in a forest in western Ukraine, 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.

Young participants of the "Temper of will" summer camp, organized by the nationalist Svoboda party, walk to a campsite on July 27, 2018, in a village near Ternopil, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)


“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 human beings, so we can and should aim at them.”

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, was “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.

Yuri Chornota Cherkashin, head of Sokil, left, and instructor Georgiy Barylenko, center, point flashlights on a young participant of the "Temper of will" summer camp, organized by Svoboda party during a night drill on July 29, 2018, in a village near Ternopil, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)


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.

Young participants of the "Temper of will" summer camp, organized by Svoboda party, carry a tree trunk on July 27, 2018, in a village near Ternopil, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

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"

Mykhailo adjusts his AK-47 riffle after bathing in a river during the "Temper of will" summer camp, organized by the nationalist Svoboda party on July 29, 2018, 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)


A young participant of the "Temper of will" summer camp, organized by the nationalist Svoboda party, grabs his AK-47 during a tactical exercise on July 28, 2018, in a village near Ternopil, Ukraine. “We never aim guns at people,” instructor Yuri “Chornota” Cherkashin tells 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)

Young participants of the "Temper of will" summer camp, organized by Svoboda party, lay on the ground with their AK-47 riffles during a tactical exercise on July 28, 2018, in a village near Ternopil, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

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 on July 29, 2018, 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)


Yuri Chornota Cherkashin, right, head of Sokil, gives tactical instructions to young participants of the "Temper of will" summer camp, organized by Svoboda party on July 29, 2018, in a village near Ternopil, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)


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 on July 28, 2018, 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)


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 on July 29, 2018, in a village near Ternopil, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Young participants of the "Temper of will" summer camp, organized by the nationalist Svoboda party, gather in-between exercises on July 27, 2018, in a village near Ternopil, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)


Vasily Tarashuk, left, gives instructions to young participants of the "Temper of will" summer camp, organized by the nationalist Svoboda party, during an exercise on July 27, 2018, in a village near Ternopil, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

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 anthemn on July 28, 2018, 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)

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 on July 27, 2018, 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)

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 on July 27, 2018, in a village near Ternopil, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Young participants of the "Temper of will" summer camp, organized by the nationalist Svoboda party, hold a plank position before having dinner on July 28, 2018, in a village near Ternopil, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)


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 on July 29, 2018, in a village near Ternopil, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)


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 on July 28, 2018, in a village near Ternopil, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Young participants of the "Temper of will" summer camp, organized by the nationalist Svoboda party, receive instructions on July 28, 2018, in a village near Ternopil, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)


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 on July 29, 2018, in a village near Ternopil, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

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Text from the AP news story, Training kids to kill at Ukrainian nationalist camp, by Yuras Karmanau.

Photos by Felipe Dana

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