Belarus state television reported Wednesday that authorities sent a recently arrived group of Ukrainian children from occupied Ukraine to train with the Belarusian military to learn how to evacuate in the event of a fire.
Ukraine and the Belarusian opposition allege that Russian ally Belarus is engaging in the illegal transfer of Ukrainian children to Belarus on a mass scale, which critics say is a campaign to indoctrinate the children as pro-Russian.
Wednesday’s report referred to 35 children from the Russian-occupied Ukrainian town of Antratsyt in eastern Ukraine that Belarusian authorities said were sent to the eastern Belarusian city of Mogilev.
The Belarus1 state television channel said the children are being housed in a sanatorium and are being cared for by employees from the Ministry of Emergency Situations. The military is “teaching the children how to behave in extreme situations,” the state television channel said.
More than 2,400 Ukrainian children aged 6 to 17 have been brought to Belarus from four Ukrainian regions partially occupied by Russian troops, a recent Yale University study found. The Belarusian opposition has called on the International Criminal Court to bring Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and officials in his government to justice for their involvement in the illegal transfer of Ukrainian children to Belarus.
State television footage released Wednesday showed the Ukrainian children wearing the Russian flag sewn onto their sleeves. The state television program said the Belarusian military is conducting “emergency survival training” for the children.
During the report, screams were heard in a smoke-filled room while the program showed the children learning to leave during a fire while holding onto the wall.
“This is not just dry theory, but our classes are conducted in a playful format and are aimed at children,” said Evgeniy Sokolov, inspector of the Mogilev military training center for the Ministry of Emergency Situations.
Ukrainian authorities said they are investigating the deportation of the children as possible genocide. The Prosecutor General of Ukraine has said Belarus is also being investigated over the alleged forced deportation of more than 19 thousand children from occupied Ukrainian territories.
Pavel Latushka, the former Belarusian culture minister turned opposition activist who presented the ICC with evidence of Lukashenko’s alleged involvement in the illegal deportation of children, said that “Belarusian authorities are not hiding the fact that children are being indoctrinated.”
Ukrainian children are being “subjected to re-education and indoctrination” to make them pro-Russian, Latushka told The Associated Press. According to Latushka, there are instances of Ukrainian children being taken to Belarus and then on to Russia where they were put up for adoption.
In March, the ICC issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his children’s rights ombudsman Maria Lvova-Belova, accusing them of war crimes over the illegal deportation and transfer of children from Ukraine to Russia. Moscow has rejected the accusations.
Belarus has been Moscow’s closest ally since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022, when Lukashenko allowed the Kremlin to use Belarus to invade Ukraine. Russia has also stationed some of its tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus.