Photographs by Alex Masi / Story by Michiel Driebergen for Foreign Policy.
The Azov Battalion is a Ukrainian nationalist volunteer regiment that has helped in the fight against pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine. Its members aren’t just fighters, however — some of them are also parents, whose children, when school isn’t in session, need somewhere to go. The solution? Azov Battalion summer camp.
Tarkan, a lean 13-year-old girl from Kiev, only needed 36 seconds to complete maintenance procedures on her weapon. It’s simple, she later explained: “Remove the magazine and cocking lever; release the gas cylinder. Then you put it back together again.” But she warned, “Be careful — never aim the barrel at a person. Unless you know for sure that you want to shoot.”
For the past two consecutive summers, 50 children between the ages of 8 and 16 have gathered in woodlands near Kiev to train to become elite patriots over the course of 12 days. Many, but not all, are the children of Azov fighters. And under the watch of instructors-cum-counselors like Gold — they all go by pseudonyms and have had combat experience — these children learn how to conduct themselves in combat-like scenarios, how to handle and maintain basic weaponry, and how to love Ukraine.
Alex Masi is an award-winning photojournalist and one of the leaders of our individual documentary photography workshops. Investigating social and environmental injustice has brought him to many countries all around the world already. Although, his special concern, being also a distinctive mark of his work, remains issues where children rights are or might be violated. During one of his recent reporting trips to Ukraine, Alex teamed up with Dutch journalist Michiel Driebergen to take a closer look at local military camps that prepare children for combat.