Standing in front of a blackboard, their fingers fly over an AK-47, disengaging the magazine, bolt cover and spring. Shouts ring out as pupils excitedly race to beat each other in the race to disassemble and reassemble the weapon – aiming for the perfect time of 35 seconds.
This is a classroom with a difference, where Ukrainian schoolchildren learn to use Kalashnikovs, gas masks and grenades. The boarding school in eastern Ukraine specialises in IT and art, but its 151 students also take part in target practice.
Some 150 miles from the miltiarised ATO zone, beyond which lies the frontline of the war with Russia, children aged five to 18 learn military and survival skills alongside reading and writing. Classes are led by a drill sergeant, who carefully oversees his students’ work while dressed in army fatigues.
The children are taught how to assemble and disassemble an assault rifle, handle ammunition, use personal protectiive gear, along with target practice. Further classes cover tactics, topography, terrain orientation and emergency survival.
Students said the lessons taught them discipline and confidence, and that “taking arms was a serious thing.” Another said he enjoyed the lessons, and would “protect my country in the future, if I had to.”