Andrii Kolesnyk and Kseniia Drahanyuk smile excitedly as they crouch over a box. They are about to unpack Ukraine’s first military uniform for pregnant women, which they recently ordered after a pregnant female sniper got in touch.
The young couple, both TV journalists before the start of the war, are now fully dedicated to their independent NGO, “Zemlyachki”, or “Compatriots”, which purchases vital items for women in the military. The initiative began when Andrii’s sister was sent to the front on 24 February, the day Russia invaded Ukraine.
“She received a men’s uniform, men’s underwear”, he says. “Everything that [foi] designed for men.” It soon became clear that the military needed much more than uniforms. Everything from smaller boots to lighter plates to bulletproof vests and hygiene products is in demand.
So the couple turned to donations from private companies, charitable funds and crowdfunding to buy goods independently from the military. Some custom equipment, such as women’s uniforms, are produced under their own brand by a factory in Kharkiv, in the east of the country – including the new maternity uniform.
Other items, including armor plates, helmets and boots, come from companies as far away as Sweden, Macedonia and Turkey. But Kolesnyk and Drahanyuk say they are struggling with purchasing winter items like sleeping bags and thermal clothing that will be important for comfort when winter comes.
Kolesnyk says they have distributed equipment worth $1 million so far and helped at least 3,000 women. If they are on the front lines firing rockets, they can do so “with minimal comfort,” he tells CNN 🇧🇷
There are currently around 38,000 women in the armed forces, according to the country’s Defense Ministry.
“We are doing this to help our government,” says Kolesnyk, not to compete with it. His hub is overflowing with cardboard boxes full of kits, all paid for with crowdfunding and donations. A physical disability prevents Kolesnyk from joining his sister, father and brother-in-law on the front lines, a fact that saddens him.
“For a man, it’s hard to understand that you can’t go there, and your sister is there. So I’m trying to do my best here to help not only my family but the entire army,” he says.
Roksolana, 21, who has given only his first name for security reasons, goes inside to grab a uniform and other gear before heading out on his next mission. A graduate of an art school, she joined the army in March and is now part of an intelligence unit.
“It’s really valuable to have these people who understand that we’re tired of wearing clothes three sizes too big,” she says. “We didn’t have helmets, we had bulletproof vests, we wore tracksuits and sneakers. Now we feel that we are human.”
She laughs as she laces up her new boots with long, flawless nails. Before saying goodbye, Drahanyuk hands Roksolana a copy of “The Choice,” the best-selling memoir by Holocaust survivor and psychologist Edith Eger. The goal is that this can be a tool to help process the trauma. Zemlyachki has also formed partnerships with military psychologists whom women in combat can contact.
Other women, like 25-year-old Alina Panina, are receiving psychological support from the Ukrainian military. A border guard with a canine unit, Panina spent five months in captivity at the infamous Olenivka prison in the Russian-controlled Donetsk region after leaving the besieged Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol.
She was finally released on October 17 as part of an exchange of female prisoners with Russia and entered mandatory rehabilitation at a military hospital, under whose care she remains.
Recently, Ukraine demanded that the International Committee of the Red Cross send a delegation to the Russian POW camp.
“I was not prepared [para o cativeiro]and we discussed this a lot with other prisoners that life has not prepared us for such an ordeal,” says Panina at a veteran-run pizzeria in central Kyiv.
She says the prison guards “were unpredictable people” who sometimes verbally abused prisoners, but that she was spared any physical harm.
Now your partner’s fate is in the air. He is also a border guard who is still in captivity. “I know he’s alive, but I don’t know what prison he’s in,” Panina says sadly as she flips through his photos.
When asked what gives her hope, she simply says: “our men, our people”.
Source: CNN Brasil