Does this video really show children on the front lines of the war in Ukraine?
Is Ukraine sending children to fight on the front lines of the war? That’s what some people on social media are claiming. As proof, they cite a video showing three very young-looking soldiers, which has been circulating online since November 8. It turns out, however, that we could identify two of the three people pictured in the footage and they are young adults – 23 and 25 years old. Furthermore, our team spoke to the NGO Amnesty International, which said that it had no knowledge of documented cases of child soldiers in the Ukrainian Army.
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Some say that a video that has been circulating online offers proof that Ukraine is using child soldiers. The video was first posted online in November 2022 and started circulating again on January 7.
Russian media outlet Ura.ru used the same footage in a report featuring a Russian soldier who claimed that there were teenagers between the ages of 14 and 16 in the Ukrainian armed forces.
We were able to identify two of the three people who appear in the video. One is a 23-year-old ambulance driver. Another is a 25-year-old soldier. Both volunteered for the army. In Ukraine, the minimum age of conscription is 18.
Our team spoke to Amnesty International. They weren’t aware of any documented cases of child soldiers in the Ukrainian army.
The fact-check, in detail
The video that has been circulating online shows three people who look extremely young wearing military uniforms, bullet-proof vests and helmets.
"Here are the 'soldiers' that Zelensky sent to the front lines. Children. And Europe and the United States support this,” reads this tweet in French posted on January 7, 2023. It was shared more than 350 times.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child "denounces the involvement” of children in armed conflict, said this other Twitter user.
A tweet in English featuring the video that was posted on November 8, 2022 has already been retweeted nearly 1,300 times. "This [sic] are just kids! #Ukraine why you are doing this to your ppl. These #kids should be in highschool or college! Get them off the front lines!” the user wrote.
Footage used in a report by a Russian media outlet
Ukrainian fact-checking project Stopfake.org discovered that these videos were actually broadcast as part of a report by Russian media outlet Ura.ru. This video is no longer available on the Russian media’s website, but you can see it on an archived edition of the site from November 15.
The report broadcast by Ura.ru features an interview with a Russian soldier from the 3rd Brigade of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, who said: "We are noticing that youths have appeared. They are between the ages of 14 and 16 [...]. The young people appeared two months ago, I think, because 14-year-olds can be easily brainwashed. And judging by the way that we were fighting at the time, they were under the influence of drugs.”
However, are the three soldiers who appear in this video really “children” or “teenagers”, as these posts claim?
A 23-year-old ambulance driver
To figure out how old these soldiers actually are, we first needed to discover the origin of these videos.
When contacted by the Ukrainian TV channel STB, the soldier in question, Elizabeth, said that she was an ambulance driver with the International Legion and that she is "23 years old and not 14".
Journalists also interviewed Elizabeth’s parents, who explained that she obtained two degrees in higher education before the start of the war. They also said that she had volunteered to fight when the war broke out.
A 25-year-old soldier in the second video
We found the origins of the second video in the compilation by typing the keyword "#ЗСУ" into TikTok’s search engine ("#ЗСУ" is an abbreviation used for the Ukrainian Armed Forces.) The hashtag is common among Ukrainian soldiers.
Our team contacted the person behind the account, Andrew Sidis. He told us that he was 25 when he posted the video. He explained that he volunteered for the Ukrainian Armed Forces on February 24, 2022, the day that Russia invaded Ukraine.
It’s true that in other videos where you can see his full face, Andrew doesn’t look as young as he does in the video that has been circulating online.
The FRANCE 24 Observers team hasn’t been able to identify the person in the final video.
We were able to tell, however, that the video isn’t recent. We found out that it was published on May 25, 2022 on the YouTube channel DailyUkraine. Because of the date, this doesn’t support the thesis that there has been a recent mobilisation of children in the Ukrainian conflict.
No knowledge of documented cases of child soldiers in the Ukrainian Army
Having children in the armed forces is against the law in Ukraine.
Article 15 of the law on military service states that the only people this applies to are "Ukrainian citizens whose sex is male who are healthy, who have reached the age of 18 years old the day they begin their service and people who are not yet 27 and who don’t have right to an exemption or deferral.”
There are no studies that have documented or even supported allegations that there are Ukrainian children serving on the front lines.
Our team spoke to Denis Krivosheev, the Deputy Regional Director in charge of research for Eastern Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International.
"Amnesty International has no knowledge of documented cases of child soldiers in the Ukrainian Army,” he said.
An oft-repeated narrative based on unsourced allegations
Pro-Russian social media accounts often spread rumours that Ukraine is sending children to the front line.
These claims were given airtime when Andrew Peter Napolitano, a former analyst for American conservative TV channel Fox News, interviewed Douglas Macgregor, a former American soldier and frequent Fox contributor.
Macgregor claimed on the programme that young Ukrainians were picked up at nightclubs to go to fight. He doesn’t offer proof for his allegations, however.
In April, people started circulating a screengrab of what looked like a tweet by American media outlet CNN. It turns out, however, that the image was doctored.
"As fighting intensifies in Eastern Ukraine, brave children sign up to fight the Russian invaders,” the fake tweet says.
It turns out the American TV channel didn’t share this tweet, reported our colleagues at Reuters Fact-check.