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Toy cars and master classes to disperse rallies. How Rosgvardiya recruits school kids

A military-patriotic campaign called “Vacation with Rosgvardiya” is gaining momentum across Russia. Schoolchildren are gathered in out-of-town boarding houses, where Rosgvardiya officers teach them “love and respect for the fatherland.” The Russian authorities launched the first program, Patriotic Education for Russian Citizens, back in 2001. The federal budget allocated 130.78 million rubles for that program and this amount has been increasing every year. In addition to summer camps, the National Guard is engaged in agitation at schools and universities, it produces toys (police cars and figurines depicting police officers with truncheons), holds show rallies, and teaches children to suppress protests. According to school kids interviewed by The Insider, many are impressed and dream of becoming Rosgvardiya officers. Anyway, kids are so bombarded with patriotic education, stunt shows, and field trips that they simply have no time left to prepare for other professions.

  • Figurines of smirking law enforcement officers and vacations with Rosgvardiya

  • Staged exercises and rallies

  • Campaigning for enrollment in universities linked to law enforcement

  • Patriots with Guns

  • Lectures on the “special operation”

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Figurines of smirking law enforcement officers and vacations with Rosgvardiya

In June 2022 a new title, “The Forest Guard”, hit the Russian comic book market. It was about anthropomorphic animals from the fairytale town of Dubrava. In the story, all the inhabitants of the city - predators and herbivores - live in peace, but such a lifestyle does not suit everyone. The stability of Dubrava is constantly threatened by intruders; to fight them, a special unit of the Forest Guard is created. The real Rosgvardiya served as a prototype, and Rosgvardiya also acted as the comic book publisher - three parts of the story can already be read on the agency's website.

The comic book is not the only patriotic “merchandise” for the younger generation that saw the light this year. The production of a Rosgvardiya construction set was launched for younger children, which included toy cars, weapons and figurines of smirking law enforcement officers.

Constructor set from Rosgvardiya
Constructor set from Rosgvardiya

The agency believes that “children need proper toys,” which will help to instill appropriate values in them: patriotism, honesty, loyalty to the cause.

The Russian National Guard works all year round to develop those values in young people. The law enforcers have an especially busy schedule in the summer, which is the time of the “Vacation with Rosgvardiya” campaign. They visit pre-school and health camps across the country, where they give lectures, hold sports events and other initiatives. Among them, for example, is the so-called “Staying fit with a law enforcement officer” program – it's not the usual morning warm-up for children, but a full drill practice with a demonstration of self-defense techniques by Rosgvardiya officers.

“Vacation with Rosgvardia” in Cheboksary School No. 37
“Vacation with Rosgvardia” in Cheboksary School No. 37

Masha <name changed>, a native of Tambov, has been going to Camp Solnechny for three years and says that this summer was the first time that the Rosgvardiya officers visited the institution. She calls it “almost one of the best events of the first shift”: the children and counselors were invited to competitions and games, and the latter were given the opportunity to win a box of sweets for their charges. In addition to sweets, the security officers brought along with them equipment and weapons from the times of the Great Patriotic War and set up an exhibition - in Masha's words, “we could handle every exhibit.”

She adds that the children received “a lot of useful information”. They were taught the history of some of the exhibits and given a short lecture about the work in Rosgvardiya.

“Overall, I liked hearing about it, but I have different plans, I'm going to enroll in another field of studies. Yet many of the boys in our unit expressed a desire to become Rosgvardiya officers”.

A similar event, timed to the Day of Russia, was held in the Urals Birch camp in the Chelyabinsk region. Officers gave a lecture (this time on the history of the holiday) and showed children their gear which they then used for arranging a competition. As Nastya <name changed>, a visitor to the camp, said, the riot policemen gave the children “an opportunity to experience their work firsthand.”

Staged exercises and rallies

During the rest of the year the Rosgvardiya policemen are just as busy. In winter, for example, they play soccer with young people in valenki (felt boots) - this year such an event was held in schools of Novokuznetsk among high school students.

“Meetings with Rosgvadiya officers take place quite often, because our school is good friends with them,” says Maxim <name changed>, who attended the valenki soccer tournament in February. The event was timed to coincide with the Defenders of the Fatherland Day and was scheduled for a time after classes, so the attendance was optional. The policemen did not bring valenki with them - students who wanted to play soccer had to loan them from acquaintances and relatives. Otherwise, says Maxim, the tournament was “fine,” although the felt boots “aren't particularly comfortable for playing,” “They were slippery, and sometimes fell off when you kicked the ball.”

For the valenki soccer tournament the children had to loan valenki from their acquaintances; the National Guard did not bring them along

When Rosgvardiya officers do not visit schools and colleges, they invite young people over on a tour. A graduate of Moscow school #258 Kristof <name changed> studied in the cadet class, so he constantly attended meetings with the siloviki: “I needed to prepare for exams, but they took me everywhere: to the EMERCOM university at VDNKh, to Rosgvardiya's HQ”. On such tours, he recalled, they told him “how cool and funny their life is.”

Kristof says he was not interested in hearing about battles and operations, but some of his classmates seriously considered joining Rosgvardiya. He adds that show drills were part of the mandatory program on such tours.

“The Rosgvardiya officers would show themselves in action: a car would pull up, they'd start sort of “capturing” it, firing blanks at it. It all looked kind of epic from the outside, but we all know how it really works.”

Apparently, security services always use the same script for such “performances”. For example, at a meeting with Belgorod school kids, they also fired blanks into the air, surrounded a suspicious car and pulled out a “criminal” who was thrown on the ground face down. “You might think someone is filming a stunt, but in fact it's a well-rehearsed action by Rosgvardiya's SOBR (Special Rapid Response Unit),” the presenter of the World of Belgorod channel says off screen.

Dagestan school kids, who visited the OMON base in Kaspiysk, saw a more spectacular performance in August 2021. There, the siloviki, shouting belligerently to the Mortal Combat soundtrack, tried to immerse the students in their everyday work as much as possible: they practiced hand-to-hand combat techniques, wielded bayonets and jumped over burning pipes.

Siloviki, shouting belligerently to the Mortal Combat soundtrack, immersed the students in their everyday work

Catching criminals and participating in combat operations are but two items on the list of duties of Rosgvardiya. No anti-government rally can proceed without their presence, with the officers being eager to share subtleties of their work with the younger generation. In February 2021 the policemen and Rosgvardiya officers held “Lessons of Courage” at school № 42 and gymnasium № 1 in Nizhnevartovsk, which included mock rallies. Some students, armed with shields and truncheons, posed as Rosgvardiya officers, while others played the role of protesters and threw volleyballs at their “opponents.”

Later, in an interview with Current Time, a school student, who asked to be called Valeria, spoke in detail about the staged exercises. She said that the law enforcers avoided using the word “rally” and said they were holding a lesson in vocational guidance for students. The students who posed as Rosgvardiya officers were encouraged to “feel like a Rosgvardiya officer” and were offered advice. “Those who pretended to be policemen had truncheons in their hands, and the instructors were telling them to go ahead and hit them [the protesters] on the legs, to defend themselves.

Campaigning for enrollment in universities linked to law enforcement

Meetings between students and security and law enforcement officers are also used for agitation among young people. Kristof, who was in a cadet class, explains that such classes are usually created with the expectation that the graduates will be enrolling in universities linked to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Rosgvardiya, while events held by law enforcement officers should encourage them to make the right choice.

According to a Yekaterinburg college graduate who wished to remain anonymous, students from ordinary schools and colleges without a military bias are being subjected to agitation by the security services.

“They came to us to promote a Rosgvardiya university in Perm. They made a list of guys they were expecting to enroll. They also said that even if you don't do well in school (and get only Cs) they'd still pay a stipend of 20,000 rubles or more.”

The university in question is the Perm Military Institute of the National Guard troops (PVIVNG), one of four Russian universities where future Rosgvardiya officers are trained today. Agitation takes place not only during personal meetings, but also online: the employees of the Institute run a YouTube channel where they publish videos and TV reports about the university. Usually, they cover events in which cadets are involved, and show how students train and go about their everyday routine. For example, a Vetta TV channel report shows a journalist describe “rather comfortable” conditions in the dorms and the menu at the local canteen, where “there is not much pampering, but sometimes real delicacies are served.” Comments under the videos on the channel are tentatively closed, but you can find reviews online - you can tell from them that not many people share the enthusiasm concerning the PVIVNG.

“The meals they offer to the cadets are very difficult to call a “balanced diet”, the kids live in barracks for 70 people each, they sleep in old bunks with “very comfortable mattresses”, which hurt their backs,” says a user under the nickname Eva Moree. A certain Anton S. is more expressive. He compares the college with a penal colony: “It's the 21st century, and there is not even a shower! The food is horrible! It's called an elite institution, but in fact it's trash”. There are plenty of positive reviews on the site, too. For example, Ruslan Alikberov says the institute's students and faculty are “real men,” and user Andrey adds: “You can get admitted without bribes! Based on the USE results, using your own brain! I recommend it!”

It is noteworthy that in 2022 a Rosgvardiya major general and the former head of the PVIVNG Vladimir Kupavsky was accused of taking bribes totaling 1.9 million rubles and abusing his authority. According to the Prosecutor of the Central Military District, Kupavsky promised admission to the Perm Military Institute for bribes.

In one proven case in 2018, he demanded that a candidate who had undergone a psychological examination be transferred from eligibility category three to category four. Being in that category meant that the applicant was not recommended for admission to the military institute because he did not meet the requirements. Afterwards, Kupavsky contacted the candidate's mother through intermediaries and demanded a bribe of 500,000 rubles for reinstating the candidate as eligible for entrance exams. Following the trial, the former head of the PVIVNG was placed under house arrest, but he did not plead guilty and stated that “the investigation was conducted in a biased manner.”

Patriots with Guns

The other side of meetings with Rosgvardiya is teaching patriotism to the younger generation. All events, from “Vacation with Rosgvardiya” to all kinds of “Lessons of Courage,” law enforcement officers regard as their contribution to the patriotic education of youth. According to Ruben P., a Rosgvardiya officer, who met with students in Gorno-Altaisk, “such meetings create a good legal awareness and culture basis for schoolchildren and students, and also instill in them respect and love for their Motherland.”

Russia aet course on patriotic education in 2001 when the first program “Patriotic education of citizens of the Russian Federation” was launched. Its implementation required 130.78 million rubles from the federal budget. At this time, educational institutions across the country began introducing initiatives and activities to teach young people love and respect for their homeland.

Yulia Shvartzberg, who graduated from the V.F. Orlov School in Moscow in 2012, says that every Monday at school began with the anthem.

“You couldn't move during it, even if you were late for class. You had to freeze wherever you were standing, the officer on duty would check on you. And during the safety lessons, the pupils disassembled and assembled automatic rifles and practiced shooting - the shooting range was on the first floor of the school. The bullets weren't dangerous, but the sight on the school's Kalashnikov automatic rifle was always off.”

With each new state program, the goals of patriotic education grew in sync with the amount of money allocated from the federal budget. Funding one of them, under implementation from 2016 to 2020, required an estimated 1.7 billion rubles. The authors of the program set several objectives for themselves. Firstly, they wagered on the development of the younger generation's “sense of pride” for the country, honoring its history and symbols. Second, they planned to “enhance the prestige of service” in the Russian Armed Forces and law enforcement agencies with the help of the program. The resolution says that one of its goals is to “instill in young people the moral, psychological and physical preparedness to defend the homeland, loyalty to the constitutional and military duty during peacetime and wartime.”

With each new program the goals of patriotic education grew in sync with the amount of money allocated from the federal budget

Rosgvardia, which was formed in April 2016, is among the participants in the program. Kristof, a graduate of Moscow School № 258, recalls that Rosgvardiya officers constantly talked about patriotism: “They said that you have to do your duty for the motherland, because you are a Russian and a patriot. That you must be proud of your country, serve it and defend it.”

According to Sergei Chernyshov, director of Novocollege in Novosibirsk, patriotism in Russia has taken on a militaristic tint because of the peculiarities of Russian society:

“Our humanitarian values are underdeveloped. No one is interested in creative work, but if you throw yourself on top of a grenade, you are a hero. The fashion of dressing children in military uniforms for May 9 is a prime example. I've been told it's nothing to worry about, just children in uniforms with wooden assault rifles running around and laughing. I think that February 24 showed it's no joke. When we think that it's normal for children to wear uniform, it's just an inch away from justifying the murder of citizens of a neighboring country.”

Lectures on the “special operation”

Military action in Ukraine has led to some adjustments to the program of patriotic education for young people. In early March, Russian schools were required to hold lessons on the “special operation” in order for students to form an “adequate position” on “the special peacekeeping operation to protect the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics.” For this purpose, teachers were provided with guidelines carefully outlining the scenario for such lessons. There are several possible answers to the question “Why did Russia decide to start a special operation”, which are being broadcast on the federal channels. Those include Ukraine's alleged development of nuclear weapons and biolaboratories, anti-Russian policy, and outlawing of the Russian language.

Russian schools were required to hold lessons devoted to the “special operation” in order for students to form an “adequate position”

In some schools, the responsibility of telling children about the purpose of, and reasons for, the “special operation” has been taken on by Rosgvardiya officers. In May, law enforcement officers from Tomsk held an event called “St. George Ribbon” in the Seversk Cadet Corps and at school #197, during which they explained that Russia was conducting “a special operation to liberate peaceful residents of Ukraine from nationalists.” At school No. 196 in Tomsk students were also told about the meaning of the symbols “V” and “Z,” and the “the importance of supporting our fighters who are taking part in the special operation.” Support could be expressed in drawings and letters - over 100 parcels were received in May from Kuban school kids alone. In one of the letters, a fifth-grader by the name of Masha addresses a Rosgvardiya officer: “My classmates and I are proud that such brave people as you are standing guard over our safety.”

Kristof shares neither the patriotic mood of the authorities nor their stance on the “special operation.” He has friends and acquaintances from Ukraine who, he says, “do not deserve what is happening now.”

“I don't understand why I have to be a patriot, why I have to serve from birth. I was born under Putin, my child may be born under Putin - is that normal? Russia is now turning into North Korea. Even if the “special operation” stops in the near future, we will be feeling its consequences for a long time, but I want to have a life.”

He’s turned 18 this year, and he is under threat of being drafted into the army during the fall conscription, whereafter, he fears, he may be sent to Ukraine. He is now working three jobs in order to save 250,000 rubles for his military ID card.

Sergei Chernyshov says a significant number of Russian teenagers share this position.

“Many have friends and acquaintances in Ukraine - after February 24, they started sending photos from basements and shelters, the consequences of bombing. Telling young people in patriotic education classes how great everything has been is ridiculous. It is also impossible to explain to 8-10-year-olds without deceiving them the lofty reasons why one person has to kill another. They are humanists by nature. No reasons exist that can justify and explain it, and children understand that very well.”

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