Women volunteers make camouflage blankets for the Ukrainian army


KYIV, Ukraine — Oksana Mushketyk reached a breaking point about two weeks ago.

After watching the constant reports of Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders and worrying about the threat of another military attack on her country, she finally thought: “Rather than staying at home being afraid, better do something, right?

So Mushketyk found a refuge for her nerves, in the basement of a Kiev museum, in the company of other women who wanted to do something – anything – to support the Ukrainian army.

There, several times a week, they stand, and sometimes squat, in front of fishing nets stretched over a wooden frame. Strips of camouflage fabric lie in boxes and garbage bags on the ground. The women methodically weave these ribbons in a zigzag pattern across the net.

When a cover is complete, it is shipped to where military units are stationed in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region – locked in an eight-year conflict with Russian-backed separatists cowering on the other side of what we call the line of contact.

Nets are used to hide military equipment from satellite images and other enemy surveillance. They line the trenches. A group of women specialize in making “kikimora” sniper blankets – a fuzzy green suit that helps snipers blend into the ground.

A version of a sewing circle or a knitting club, the volunteer groups weaving camouflage nets are just one example of how Ukrainians across the country have stepped up in a wave of fervor patriotic to support the armed forces.

Learn more about the Russia-Ukraine situation

Eight years ago, Ukraine was a divided country torn between historical and family ties to Russia and keen to chart its own course outside of Moscow’s orbit. The bitter war in the Donbass – which claimed 14,000 lives – turned many more people to the West.

This is why some in Ukraine are skeptical that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces will launch a new invasion and try to occupy this country now: the push would likely be met with too much resistance.

“Putin probably helped us,” said Natalia Utkina, who has been helping make camouflage blankets since 2014. “We now definitely understand that we don’t want to be in the Soviet Union or any part of Russia. We are a nation distinct and we want to develop our own path.

Volunteers who work directly with military units in the east often contact Facebook weaving groups across the country with specific information about the size and color of netting needed. Sometimes a white blanket is requested to blend in with the snow in winter. For other seasons, the military might need something brown or green, depending on how the soldiers plan to use it.

Threads are easily burned or torn. This means that they are constantly in demand. When the war between Kyiv forces and separatists began in 2014, the waiting list could be two months.

Turnaround time is faster now, around a week or two. The packages with the nets also include sweet baked goods and ground coffee beans for the troops. In return, the women receive photos of smiling soldiers holding up their handmade blankets. A Ukrainian flag signed with messages of thanks hangs in their basement workspace.

“Ukrainians have a special trait. When they are scared, they get together,” said Nadiia Lystopad, 67, one of the group’s members.

“Ukrainians, active citizens of Ukraine, will not let anyone destroy what is already created here,” she added. “What is crucial for us is freedom.”


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