A Google search of ‘children’s military-patriotic camps’ in Russian brings up hundreds of hits. Maksim, 12, spent a week of the school holidays at one of these camps near Yekaterinburg, and wrote a diary of his activities there.
Today was my first day at the military camp. When we arrived, we were allocated our tents. The youngest boys, the 10 year olds, slept with the group leaders, the rest of us slept in another tent.
At supper, we got to choose our codenames: my name is ‘Cat’, and my new friend Max is called ‘Hamster’. I don’t know whether we have anything in common, there wasn’t any time to figure it out. It was late and we had to turn in. The hard training starts tomorrow morning.
We woke up two hours before reveille. We chatted. After reveille, we had PE and then practised how to punch properly. We were taught methods of self-defence, then drill. It was serious stuff – everybody had to march just right, and it was all to army standards. I wouldn’t say it was that interesting. The other lads said afterwards that it was boring.
At school during PE if we were ordered to ‘dress right’ we just had to turn our heads towards the person on our right, but here we also had to bend our upper bodies forwards, raise our chins, drop our left arms and look forwards. It was really strict – any mistake and you were given press-ups as a punishment.
It was really strict – any mistake and you were given press-ups as a punishment.
We also learned about tactics: we were shown how to assemble a Kalashnikov and take it to pieces again.
Then we played a game. We were divided into four groups of four. One group had to split up and hide around the camp, while the other three had to find them, using radio communication. The game was supposed to help us develop intuition and concentration, to learn how to conceal ourselves, which I think it did. But everybody liked the bit with the Kalashnikovs best.
We have two instructors – they’re about 14 – and two senior leaders, and we had to obey them, which I think is right. They told us that if anybody disobeyed a single order, we would all have to do 50 press-ups. But nobody dared. In the evening we had some free time; I read a book and was so into it that I didn’t even hear what the others were talking about, but when the leaders call you, you’d better hear them – otherwise it would be more press-ups. But I’m so tired. And everything hurts.
We also had fitness tests, doing as many press-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups as we could in one minute – I did 38 press-ups, 42 sit-ups and five pull-ups. I think military training is hard for some of the 10 year olds, but it’s their choice to come here.
The camp leaders say it’s not too young to start, and better than sitting at home playing computer games – here you get to do the same stuff for real! Everything we do here will be useful in a war, and prepares us for our military service.
The day started with drill and self defence again, then after breakfast we played strike-ball [Ed. a war simulation activity using replica guns that fire non-metallic pellets]. It was just like a computer game where I had to disarm terrorists and free hostages – but in real life.
After strike-ball, we had a rock-climbing exercise. We were shown how to put on a safety harness and karabiner, so I knew that if I slipped I’d be OK. We did tree climbing too, also with a harness. That was much easier – I climb trees all the time in the yard at home.
Then we played ‘Two survivors’ in a cellar - one person has an AK-47 and the other one has a torch, and everybody else is a zombie. The survivors have to find a box in one of the rooms. The zombies have three lives and the survivors, just one. The best bit was when we switched off the lights and played in complete darkness.
Every evening two campers, armed with blocked up Kalashnikovs, ‘defend the camp’ till midnight
Now it’s 10pm and I’m on watch duty – every evening two of us are on watch till midnight, to defend the camp from the enemy. We were each given a Kalashnikov with a sealed up muzzle, put on our bandanas with the camp emblem and went on patrol. If someone approaches, you have to say, ‘Halt! Who goes there?’
This evening two adult strangers came into the camp. I wasn’t scared: I automatically trained my gun on them and asked their names. Then I used my walkie-talkie to get them checked out and only then did I let them go. When this kind of thing happens, I feel like a real soldier.
Today, after the usual morning drill, we were taken to a big old quarry full of water.
While one group trained on a catamaran the other practised taking a Kalashnikov apart and re-assembling it, then we swopped activities. Rowing was difficult – we had to do it for 20 minutes at a time. I tried to row in time – when there are four of you in a catamaran you all have to be in synch. I also tried to beat the other crew – not because I wanted to be first, but just to make it a bit more interesting.
Today was really hot, and we even got to wear shorts instead of the usual camouflage gear. And apart from the heat we were also stressed out because we’d been threatened with the ‘Circle of Hell’, when you all have to hold the plank position, leaning on your elbows, for 10 minutes, which is really hard. It’s used as a punishment if you screw up, so we were all really good all day.
We had to go to bed early today – there’s a bus coming for us first thing tomorrow. They didn’t tell us where we were going.
The bus didn’t come in the morning. At midnight we heard some explosions and there was commotion in the camp – people were shouting ‘We’ve been attacked! Two people have been abducted!’ Everybody threw their clothes on, grabbed their Kalashnikovs and fell in.
We were given masks and told that a bandit gang was prowling around the camp and we had to repel the attack. Nobody knew what was going on – we were all half asleep.
Our group went out on the road. A stranger was coming towards us with a torch. We crouched down and continued after he passed. After that there was an exchange of fire with the enemy, and then we found a hostage tied to a tree, shouting: ‘Help! I’ve been captured!’ Mind you, his shouts weren’t convincing, and we decided it was a trap but it turned out he was just bored.
We untied him and went on to the strike-ball field, where we had another face-off with the enemy, and then two lads came out of the bushes and we recognised them as our instructors, who hadn’t been able to keep in touch with us as their radios were on the blink.
There was some more ‘serious’ fighting on the way back, and I realised that I was really thinking like a soldier, trying to remember what we’d been taught about dodging bullets and moving in the open. An instructor sprained his ankle, so there was one casualty.
After breakfast, we had concealment. We were taught how to hide: it’s easier in grass, trickier on hillsides. Then our group took air rifles and went to the strike-ball field, where we looked for the best sniping positions, while the other group tried to conceal themselves from us. Then we changed roles. With an airgun in my hands, I felt like a real sniper!
With an airgun in my hands, I felt like a real sniper!
After lunch, we practised throwing knives, ninja stars and tomahawks, and in the evening we discussed the day’s activities around a campfire. Today I felt the recoil of a rifle, and learned how to use one.
Today, we continued our concealment and shooting training in the forest. We had to hide from the instructors, but only two out of the eight of us weren’t discovered by them. We were told how important learning how to hide in trees was in military training: a soldier is safer among the leaves than on the ground.
After lunch we had training in packing and unpacking magazines. But it was all more relaxed – nobody was forced to do it, and we chatted with the instructors as we did it. Afterwards we had free time and started knocking the instructors down and they ran away from us into their tent, where we weren’t allowed because it had a laminate floor and you had to be barefoot.
Then we made another campfire, but as soon as it was lit the rain came down and we had to go back to our tents. It should soon be bedtime, but I don’t know what time it is – my phone battery gave up days ago. I also realised today that I want to go home. Just one more day to go.
We were allowed to sleep for an extra hour today, and had meat to eat.
After breakfast they checked our fitness again, and my score had improved over the week: I did 42 press-ups, 45 sit-ups and six pull-ups. Then we practiced archery with longbows and crossbows and had target practice with air rifles. There was another campfire in the evening and were able to stay up as long as we liked. Some lads are planning to go around smearing people with camouflage paste, so I’m not planning to sleep.
The training will come in handy when the time comes to serve my country
After a week in camp I feel stronger and I’ve learned a lot of fighting strategies. I’d like to have this military camp in my life every day – I still don’t know if I want to go to university after school or straight into the army.
But in any case the training I’ve had here will come in handy when the time comes to serve my country. And if I have to defend her from her enemies, I shall be glad to be of use. It will also make me physically stronger and more experienced. After all, anything might happen – including war.
Editor's note: This article first appeared in Russian on TakieDela.ru, a site devoted to covering social issues and encouraging volunteer activity in Russia. We are grateful to TakieDela for their permission to translate and re-publish this article here.
Standfirst image: Dalnevostochnaya zastava patriotic camp, Primorsky krai. (c) Vitaly Ankov / VisualRIAN.