'Checking for Russians': Children play war on Ukraine's roads
Ukrainian Children (AFP)

Yaroslav and Nazar, both 11 years old, are standing firm under the Ukrainian flag at a pretend checkpoint on the outskirts of their village in eastern Ukraine.

Wearing camouflage coats and holding wooden rifles and plastic machine guns, the two kids have turned a bus stop into their playground.

It's a game many children have been playing throughout the summer on roads throughout the war-torn Donbas and Kharkiv regions.

"We stand here and stop cars to check if the people are Russian," says Nazar, conjuring a menacing look.

"We stop them and say: 'the 93rd brigade salutes you'" he says, referring to a unit fighting in the northeast Kharkiv region near Russia.

"The 93rd brigade is really legendary. They are defending us so we can have a peaceful life," he adds.

Schools reopened in Ukraine in September. For students near the frontlines, classes are online. And when the final bell rings, it's back to their roadside posts.

Some also collect funds for the army by giving military salutes to cars passing just dozens of kilometers away from the front lines.

Others are on the look out for sweets or fruit.

- 'Glory to the heroes!' -

The would-be soldiers stop a driver. The children explain that the driver must give a password to guarantee he is Ukrainian.

"Glory to Ukraine! Nazar says.

"Glory to the heroes," the driver, 39-year-old Oleksandr Yvanik, says, playing along.

"Glory to the nation," Nazar says in turn.

"And death to the enemy," Yvanik replies.

A few other popular "passwords" are exchanged -- including an insult to Vladimir Putin.

Nazar and Yaroslav then explain that they hope to join the army when they are older, to "support the Ukrainian armed forces".

Yvanik says he is proud of this new "patriotic" generation.

"They understand that the enemy came to kill us," he told AFP.

On the other side of the village, 15-year-old Arten and his three friends Pavlo, Ivan and Andriy are waving a big Ukrainian flag in front of their hut on the side of the road.

They are stopping cars too, but offer tea and coffee.

"We check their documents and car registration papers," says Arten. "We are here all day every weekend."

Asked if they consider themselves to be "patriots," they answer "yes" in unison.

A few dozen kilometers away, 10-year-old Maskym is wearing a military coat covered in badges and a plastic helmet.

Carrying a wooden rifle, he waves to passing Ukrainian soldiers.

"I gave the army 15,000 hryvnias ($400 USD)" he proudly tells AFP journalists.

"I like to help people and make them laugh," he says before heading back to his post next to a pretend artillery unit and rocket and a Ukrainian flag.