The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Sewing camouflage in Kyiv: Women volunteers craft cover for Ukraine’s military

In the basement of a Kyiv museum, volunteers are hard at work sewing together strips of camouflage, which are used to disguise military hardware from the enemy. (Video: Whitney Shefte, Jorge Ribas/The Washington Post, Photo: Michael Robinson Chávez/The Washington Post)

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

After monitoring the constant reports of Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders and worrying about the threat of a renewed military attack on her country, she finally thought: “Rather than sitting at home being scared, it’s better to do something, right?”

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

There, several times a week, they stand, and sometimes crouch, in front of fishing net strung up on a wooden frame. Strips of camouflage cloth sit in boxes and trash bags on the floor. The women methodically weave those slivers in zigzag patterns through the netting.

When one cover is done, it gets shipped to where military units are posted in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region — locked in an eight-year conflict with Russian-backed separatists hunkered down on the other side of what’s referred to as the contact line.

The nets are used to mask military hardware from satellite imagery and other enemy surveillance. They line trenches. One group of women specializes in making “kikimora” covers for snipers — a fuzzy green costume that helps the sharpshooters blend into the ground.

A take on a sewing circle or knitting club, the volunteer groups that weave camouflage nets are just one example of how Ukrainians across the country have mobilized in a wave of patriotic fervor to support the armed forces.

Eight years ago, Ukraine was a divided country pulled between historical and familial ties to Russia and wanting to forge its own path out of Moscow’s orbit. The grinding war in Donbas — which has claimed 14,000 lives — has turned many people more to the West.

It’s why some in Ukraine are skeptical that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces will launch a fresh invasion and try to occupy this country now: The push would probably face too much resistance.

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

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

The nets are easily burned or torn. That means they’re constantly in demand. When the war between Kyiv’s forces and the separatists started in 2014, the waiting list could be two months.

The turnaround is faster now, about a week or two. The packages with the nets also include some sweet baked goods and coffee grounds for troops. In return, the women receive photos of smiling soldiers holding up their handmade covers. 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 67-year-old Nadiia Lystopad, one of the members of the group,

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