The photos show scenes from a youth paramilitary camp near Kyiv in 2015 and 2017
A series of photos of children wearing military fatigues and brandishing weapons is circulating in multiple posts online which claim they are Ukrainian children training to fight after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. In fact, the pictures were taken in 2015 and 2017 at a youth paramilitary camp on the outskirts of Ukraine's capital, Kyiv.
"War is a curse. Children take up arms to save their motherland. Child soldiers of Ukraine," reads a Sinhala-language Facebook post published on February 25.
The photos were shared in multiple Facebook posts alongside the same claim, as seen here and here as well as on news sites.
However, the photos have been shared in a misleading context.
Youth paramilitary camp
Reverse image searches of the photos led to image archives of The Associated Press (AP) news agency and the European Pressphoto Agency (EPA).
Two of the photos shared in the misleading posts were taken on July 14, 2017 by AP and featured in a photo essay titled "Ukraine Groomed to Fight", as seen here and here.
"Students at a paramilitary camp for children sing the Ukrainian national anthem before the start of exercises outside Kiev, Ukraine," the caption for the first photo reads in part.
"As the deadly conflict in eastern Ukraine entered its third year, some parents in Ukraine are anxious to make sure their children are ready to fight it, instead of swimming and playing volleyball," it added, referring to Moscow's annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014 and its support of separatist forces in the east of Ukraine.
The second photo caption reads: "A student at a paramilitary camp for children calls the rank to attention outside Kiev, Ukraine."
Below is a screenshot comparison of the photos from the misleading posts (left) and AP's archive (right):
A post published on the Associated Press Images blog on August 4, 2017 featured the identical collection of photos.
The blog text reads: "The Azov volunteer battalion’s members have been fighting on the eastern front, becoming notorious for their far-right views. It has set up a two-week paramilitary program for children, and as of early August, more than 850 children have received training at seven Azov camps across the country."
The Azov Battalion is a volunteer paramilitary group founded in 2014 that has been fighting Russian-backed rebel groups in eastern Ukraine. It set up a paramilitary training camp called 'Azovets', founded by a former Azov commander.
Reverse image searches of the remaining photos led to a series taken by the European Pressphoto Agency on August 12, 2015, as seen here, here, here, here, here and here.
Below are screenshot comparisons between the photo in misleading posts (left) and the EPA archives (right):
The captions say the photos were taken at an Azovets "youth military-patriotic summer camp" on the outskirts of Kyiv.
A news article on the camp by the Kyiv Post said children as young as seven attended the camp.
"Kids at this summer camp aren’t just playing soldiers – they’re getting actual military training from soldiers who have fought on the front line in Russia’s war against Ukraine," it said.
March 3, 2022 Fixed typo in lede