In Russia at war, kids swap classroom for shooting range

VLADIKAVKAZ, Russia (Reuters) - Fourteen-year-old Russian schoolboy David learned something new this month: firing accurately with a Kalashnikov is trickier than with a pistol.

With other pupils, he got to try out the weapons as part of basic military training - a feature of the school programme that was dropped in the final years of the Soviet Union but has been reintroduced since the start of Russia's war in Ukraine.

In the southern city of Vladikavkaz this month teenage boys in camouflage uniform took turns at firing weapons and practising first aid under the eye of instructors.

"It's easier to fire a pistol. And it's more difficult to take aim with an assault rifle," said David, a lanky boy with black hair and glasses.

He said the firearms practice would "make life easier" for him in the future. Military service is compulsory for young men in Russia, whose war in Ukraine is now well into its third year.

Sergei Menyailo, a retired vice-admiral who is now the leader of Russia's North Ossetia region, referred to the conflict in remarks to the youngsters, telling them the training would help them "to fulfil your military duty within a team" if they had to fight one day.

The education ministry issued a decree in late 2022 introducing basic military training into the school curriculum as part of a subject called "basics of life safety". Critics see it as part of a growing militarisation of Russian society since the start of the war.

Boris Kantemirov, local head of a volunteer organisation that supports the armed forces, said the training delivered skills that any soldier would need.

"Everybody must be able to save lives, handle weapons and be physically fit," he told Reuters as gunshots from the training range rang out in the background.

(Reporting by Reuters, writing by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Gareth Jones)