War in Ukraine: Donbas, a 'consolation prize' for Putin?

Russian President Vladimir Putin is building a "child army" of teenagers to fight in Ukraine because of the massive losses suffered by Russian troops, officials have claimed.

Russia has struggled to break down the resilience of the Ukrainians who have fought for the land and subjected Putin's forces to more losses than anticipated.

Following the withdrawal from the north of Ukraine, Russian troops are believed to be starting a new offensive in the east, dubbed the "Battle of Donbas."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the following in a video: "A very large part of the entire Russian army is now focused on this offensive." No matter how many Russian troops they send there, we will fight. We will defend ourselves."

Putin has also reportedly been targeting youth clubs and enlisting 16-year-olds to join the invasion while working to replace the 30,000 soldiers wounded, captured or killed so far.

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In a report from the Daily Star, Ukrainian officials have also called upon the United Nations to investigate Putin's alleged illegal deployment of child soldiers.

Human rights organisations also claim that the youth are being recruited from patriotic clubs that sprang up in the Russian-occupied parts of eastern Ukraine following the 2014 invasion as part of a campaign to promote the country's culture in Luhansk and Donetsk.

The children are said to be in military training and could be sent to the front lines of the war against their wishes. Some have even already been put into action and died.

Lyudmyla Denisova, the Ukrainian parliament commissioner on human rights, said children who were involved in "patriotic clubs" are being put into illegal weapons formations.

"They have been doing military training and there have been deaths among these teenagers. Now they are promoting the entry into the army of civilians, including children in the temporarily occupied territories," she said.

She also noted that the Russian Federation violated the "laws and customs of war" that were instituted by the 1949 Geneva Convention, which was based on children's rights and the protection of civilians.

Russian commanders have also shown little regard for international laws amid the Ukraine conflict.

British-born Aiden Aslin, a former care worker from Nottinghamshire who was captured while fighting to help defend Ukraine, has been harshly paraded on a Russian TV propaganda broadcast.

Aiden's MP, Robert Jenrick, said that he was "very concerned" for his constituent's safety.

Elsewhere, the 1949 Geneva Convention further specifies that the exploitation of prisoners of war for the use of propaganda via television, social media, or political rallies is against international law.

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The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015. Now, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, we are calling on the government to go further and faster to ensure help is delivered. To find out more about our Refugees Welcome campaign, click here. To sign the petition click here. If you would like to donate then please click here for our GoFundMe page.

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