Ukraine: The war changed their lives: from running a school to cooking for soldiers | International

None of them intuited that a decision made 888 kilometers away, those that separate Moscow from kyiv, would alter their lives so much. It is not about a rise in gasoline, the closing of supermarkets or a couple of destroyed bridges. Without a job and with a heavy heart because of the news that comes from the war front in Ukraine and because of the fear they spent in a shelter, a canoe maker, a theater actor, a school principal and a children’s teacher have radically changed his job since the beginning of the invasion. Focused on helping their Army, they are now dedicated to making military vests, organizing donations, cooking for soldiers or making camouflage fabrics to try to equip hundreds of thousands of soldiers and volunteers.

Theirs are stories like those of almost 44 million Ukrainians, whose lives changed radically on February 24, when Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the attack on Ukraine. Pending the news, social networks or the application on your phone that warns about the beginning of the anti-aircraft alert, a phrase from Napoleon seems to infect the life of the country among those who see the front on television, but feel part of the rear : “Whoever does not feed his Army will feed his enemy.” All of them have left their professions with no return date, a sign that the war has come to Ukraine to stay for a long time.

Konstantin Abramov (44 years old), who was a canoe maker and organizer of adventure trips, on April 28 at the factory where he now manufactures military equipment.
Konstantin Abramov (44 years old), who was a canoe maker and organizer of adventure trips, on April 28 at the factory where he now manufactures military equipment.Oleksandr Ratushniak

Konstantin Abramov, from canoes to vests for soldiers: “My father told me that I was more useful in the factory than on the front”

Until the first days of April, Konstantin Abramov (44 years old) organized adventure trips around the world and was a successful manufacturer of kayaks. He had gotten a patent for something new, a dismountable canoe and fits in a sports bag. Thanks to his profession, he organized trips on rivers and glaciers through Chile or Greenland with clients from all over Europe. Until the war came and the shells began to fall near his factory. At that time he had 20 workers, but little by little they stopped going to work. “Some left the country, others had no way to get there, and still others had too many problems in their lives to get to the factory,” he explains. His darkest memory of him is from when he had to move the machinery out of the factory while the shells and the anti-aircraft alert sounded. It was the day he said “enough is enough” and he stopped the production of it.

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Like many Ukrainian men, the first thing he did was put his two daughters and his wife on a train. He later called a friend in the army and asked, “What can I do?” Many Ukrainians quietly acknowledge that he had to clothe an ill-equipped army and the 200,000 men who voluntarily joined. “We need bulletproof vests and vests to carry ammunition, weapons, walkie talkies…” replied his friend. Abramov then obtained the model used by NATO and drew the pattern. He posted an ad on Facebook and quickly dozens of women joined who, in a matter of days, started working in a borrowed place where the model that fills him with pride today is made.

Did you think about enlisting? “Yes, but I am the son and grandson of soldiers. My father took me by the arm and told me: war is a very serious thing and you won’t last more than five minutes. You’ll be more useful elsewhere,” replies the man who helps dress an army with more enthusiasm than means.

Baitler Yujim (37 years old), theater actor, on April 27 at the NGO he has joined to channel aid to the Ukrainian army.
Baitler Yujim (37 years old), theater actor, on April 27 at the NGO he has joined to channel aid to the Ukrainian army.Oleksandr Ratushniak

Baitler Yukhym, from theater actor to organizing aid: “War is cathartic. Mobilize people”

Until February 24, Baitler Yukhym, 37, was one of the actors of the alternative scene that animated the intense cultural life of kyiv, a capital with more than 60 theaters. But the day the missiles began to sound, everything stopped: art, culture, actors, stagehands, lighting… Everything. Yujim then approached the organization The packfounded by some of the young people who starred in the 2014 Euromaidan, the movement suffocated by shots from power and demanding a more European and less Russian Ukraine in the streets.

That exciting movement, which ended with the death of more than a hundred people, continued to channel aid from civil society to its army, which from that year began to fight against the pro-Russian separatists in the eastern region of Donbas. . Until the end of February, Ukrainians in the big cities saw the war as taking place in remote regions amid fairly general apathy. An entrenched problem that no one knew how to solve. All that changed when Putin decided to go a step further and extend the conflict to the entire country. Even in the capital the impact of the missiles was felt, the last two last Thursday against a residential area.

Since then, Yujim spends ten hours a day in a warehouse in Lukianivka, a neighborhood in kyiv close to the cultural and alternative avant-garde in Ukraine. His group of volunteers includes musicians, actors, graphic designers, computer scientists or Anastasia, a promising film director who has interrupted the recording of her latest film. All of them spend many hours a day receiving, sorting and sending boxes of clothing, medicine or food to the front. “War has something of a cathartic, it moves a lot of people who had not mobilized for anything,” he says among young people who come and go without rest.

Since the war began, Yukhym has left the stage. He now sorts gloves, orders balaclavas, buys hiking boots, or completes first aid kits. “Chinese tourniquets don’t work,” he says by the warehouse shelves as he packs medicine with everything a soldier should have on the front lines. Of the 2,500 volunteers, there are more than 300 drivers who have put their cars at the service of the association to bring new boxes of material to hot spots in the country every day.

Why are you doing this? “For patriotism.” Do you hate the Russians? “Nothing done with hate comes out right,” she replies.

Kristina Bessolova (37 years old), director of a school in Vyshgoro (outskirts of kyiv), in a classroom that now serves as a warehouse.
Kristina Bessolova (37 years old), director of a school in Vyshgoro (outskirts of kyiv), in a classroom that now serves as a warehouse.Oleksandr Ratushniak

Kristina Bessolova, from school principal to cook for the front: “Now, the classrooms serve to store food”

Kristina Bessolova never thought that in just two months she would stop feeding her students to feed the soldiers of her army. Until two months ago, this 37-year-old woman ran a school with more than 150 children in Vishgoro, an hour from kyiv. She now prepares 600 rations a day for the front. Today there is soup and pork in sauce.

The school breathes silence since 90% of the children stopped coming and only seven maintain the routine of going to the classroom. “The rest went to their town or the country. There are even four students who are in Spain with their families”, says Bessolova. The same thing happens with teachers. Of the 35 there were, there are only two left who arrive regularly. “Now the classrooms are used to store food. And the gym is the potato warehouse, because it is the coolest area, ”she says dejectedly as she opens doors to empty classrooms or a desolate dining room where only the cooks come.

“The children are nervous and sad. They know that their companions are missing, and although we try not to talk too much about what is happening, they are the ones who ask us about the war or want to sing the patriotic songs they hear at home and on television, ”he explains. “The pandemic helped us to be prepared and we have been able to continue classes remotely,” he says in an echoing building where the only students are his children. “All this has created a new generation with a different consciousness. Before, everything seemed given and inherited. That we deserved it for being born here. But now they will come out knowing that we have to fight for everything we have, ”he explains in a cold and silent office where children’s drawings are combined with blue and yellow flags.

“I did not imagine three months ago that I would be making meals for soldiers and not for children, but it is what those of us who are here have to do,” he concludes.

Olena Rohovenko (63 years old), a teacher in a kindergarten, in the garage on the outskirts of kyiv where camouflage nets for tanks and military installations are woven.
Olena Rohovenko (63 years old), a teacher in a kindergarten, in the garage on the outskirts of kyiv where camouflage nets for tanks and military installations are woven.Oleksandr Ratushniak

Olena Rohovenko, from a children’s teacher to weaving camouflage nets: “Napoleon already said that whoever does not feed his army will feed his enemy”

It’s rare to stand by one of the hundreds of checkpoints in the Ukrainian capital and not come across a tank or a trench covered in the nets of Olena Rohovenko and her friends. And she couldn’t be more proud. Until February 24, this 63-year-old woman worked as a kindergarten teacher in kyiv. She had a habit of reading poetry to the children, taking them to unusual museums or telling them fables that left the little ones speechless. But the day everything changed, it became urgent to hide the artillery, the official buildings and the barricades that the Russian projectiles were destroying in a matter of hours.

A group of women who had created the Bereginia (protection) association, to support the military in the Donbas war, then began tirelessly weaving camouflage nets in a garage on the outskirts of the capital. Fishermen’s wives, displaced people from punished areas or mothers of soldiers, since then they have made almost 200 camouflage nets made up of hundreds of small pieces of cloth that serve to hide any object seen from above. Between laughter, chants, some prayers and good humor, the women of Vishgoro share a very demanding job.

The assembly line has been distributed in such a way that a group receives the fabrics and clothes from the donations. After separating them, they place the lining on one side, the zippers on another, the synthetic fur trim on another, and beyond that, those with colors that are discarded. Immediately afterwards, another group, scissors in hand, cuts the fabrics into small rectangles. And a third group, with great patience, ties them one by one in the holes of the nylon. “We have patented technologies,” Rohovenko jokes about the type of knot or color that each canvas wears: “So when I go around town I know exactly when it has left this workshop.” “For camouflage meshes, non-flammable material and ocher, brown or black colors are used, but for cold and snowy areas they are made in white,” he clarifies.

“This time we realized that there was a real war. Luckily the Russians did not enter kyiv, but we have to be organized”. “Whoever does not feed his army, he will feed his enemy,” Napoleon said and Olena repeats it with her glasses halfway down her nose and a handful of scraps in her hand.

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