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Iranian Shahed drones assembled by college students in Tatarstan, minors also involved, Protocol reports

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Students, including minors, are assembling Iranian kamikaze drones for the Russian Defense Ministry in the Alabuga special economic zone (SEZ) in the Republic of Tatarstan, as revealed in an investigation by the media outlet Protocol.

The publication revealed that students from Alabuga Polytechnic College, enrolled in a «dual program,» are participating in drone assembly. Under this program, they can work and earn up to 70,000 roubles ($780) per month from the first year of enrolment.

Around a thousand students attend the educational institution, which can be entered after the ninth grade. Investigators discovered that several hundred of them are involved in assembling Iranian Shahed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), using components supplied from Iran. Students claim they sometimes work for days without sleep and adequate food, while the college administration reportedly intimidates and silences them. Parents of enrolled students also reportedly sign papers stating that dropouts have to pay hefty fines to the college.

The investigation also revealed the involvement of young African women in drone production. The college allegedly attracts the women through Tinder and similar dating apps, offering them a chance to study in Tatarstan. Last fall, the college managed to attract dozens of African female students who were housed separately and taught in English, with the intention of involving them in less skilled jobs, such as cleaning and other simple tasks. The scheme to attract African students was supposedly devised by Timur Shagivaleev, the general director of the Alabuga SEZ and a deputy of Tatarstan's State Council.

As Alexander Savelyev, one of the authors of the investigation, noted in a conversation with The Insider, the Russian government and the Russian Ministry of Defense, which buys the drones, are the main beneficiaries of the production organized at the college in Alabuga.

“They use the drones assembled by students to attack peaceful cities in Ukraine. The ones benefiting from this are the leadership of Tatarstan, particularly the head of the republic Rustam Minnikhanov and the management of the special economic zone, including top managers like general director Timur Shagivaleev and his deputy Sergey Alekseev.
Initially, Alabuga sought a small defense order to avoid mobilizing its employees. However, it escalated into a full-scale production of Iranian kamikaze drones, and now they seem unable to halt the operation.”

According to the college students interviewed for the investigation, they work from early morning until late evening, leaving no time for rest or managing their daily lives. They can only go to the supermarket once a week.

Protocol's investigation further revealed that students are compelled to play paintball — not for leisure, but to “weed out the wimps and weaklings.” The losing teams face punishments, such as being forced to dig trenches. A former student of Alabuga Polytechnic remarked: “They could have just shot them with the same balls. It's very painful.”

In early July, Protocol published the first part of its investigation, which revealed that the Iranian Shahed drones, named Geran (“Geranium”) in Russia, were being assembled in Tatarstan.

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