Save everyone

In the spring of 2022, when the enemy, unaware of what lay ahead, pushed on into Ukraine, one could hear in small villages and large cities, especially near the frontline: “Are you going to weave nets?”

People would get together and start working. As it turned out, in the era of drones and space forces, no one has forgotten camouflage netting, and this seemingly museum item from World War II was needed in the battlefields.

Didn’t the Armed Forces of Ukraine have proper supplies, you might ask. Of course, they did, but who could have predicted that the frontline would be so huge. Besides, military camo netting is not a cheap product. And the army needs every penny. This is how a new volunteer movement was born in Ukraine – camouflage net weaving. The more we make, women said, the more men we will save.

Contrary to all prophecies

There is an army of volunteers throughout Ukraine. The lion’s share of them is women. Each of them has a passionate desire to help gain victory, and those with a little weaker spirit – to cope with the realities of war in which they have to live. Each comes to her choice in her own way. Some have a husband, son, father at the front, others are motivated by the example of like-minded people, and some just cannot do otherwise. Maria Mosia from Pekurivka, the Horodnya district, realized she couldn’t do otherwise on the first day of the ruscists’ full-scale invasion, when endless convoys of enemy vehicles began to move through the village.

Masha on the stage of the village club while weaving

She is 31 years old. Her parents moved to Pekurivka from Horodnya when the girl was five. A girl with a ringing voice and a fighting nature quickly became an active participant of amateur activities, which became an integral part of her life. However, the girl chose a career that was far from romantic. On finishing school, she went to the Chernihiv vocational lyceum to be trained as a seamstress-tailor. Now, she says, when she is the acting director of the Pekurivka club, the acquired skills are very helpful.

“The acquired knowledge helps, of course,” says the young woman. “But it isn’t my calling. It was a random choice. My husband Mykhailo and I started living together while we were final year students. In order to somehow provide for ourselves, we both had to work part-time. Misha was trained to be a builder, grabbed every opportunity to earn money, and did different part-time jobs. I didn’t sit back either – I worked as a cashier in stores, a promoter, but not with scissors and a needle.”

Masha had known Mykhailo for a long time – they lived in the same village, and fell for each other at the rehearsals in the village club. Before they decided to start a family, the couple had passed a difficult path. Mykhailo was born in Petrivka, the Snovsk district, was brought up in the Snovsk boarding school, and then came to Pekurivka. And Masha had a mischance very early, when she gave birth to her elder daughter at the age of 17, but her marriage did not work out. She says that when they decided to live together, they heard a lot of skeptical “prophecies”. People would say their marriage life was unpromising because he was an orphan, and Masha already had a baby and, moreover, she was three years older than her partner. It was a tangible difference at that age.

“But after so many years spent with Mykhailo, I feel like a small and weak woman,” says Masha. “I know what it means to feel safe. When we started living together, he was under 17. But he was already a real head of the family, who cherished and valued it very much.”

That was in another, peaceful life

Three years later, the couple returned to Pekurivka, because there was no chance to buy a home in Chernihiv. And in there was a prosperous agricultural enterprise Zorya in the village, where they could find a good salary and a permanent job. So, the two of them got a job there. They lived with Maria’s parents – Liubov Ivanivna and Vasyl Volodymyrovych. In 2016, Mykhailo decided to sign a military contract. Masha’s soul rebelled against her husband’s choice, but, she says, it was his decision, so she put up with it.

Mykhailo went to the army in October, signing the first contract. He was trained as a tank driver in Honcharivske. And already in February he was in the ATO. Of the four years of contract service, he spent more than two in the hot spots of Donbas.

“He didn’t say anything about the fighting either then or now,” says Maria. “You might think he had never been anywhere. However, the war changed him then. He gave in to my persuasion and did not sign another contract. But it lasted only six weeks. I saw him lose interest in everything. So, I did not object when he talked about signing another contract. From then on, Misha served in a military unit in Chernihiv. In 2017, we finally got married, officially registered our marriage, bought a house in the village, and began to renovate it. In 2019, our son Yaroslav was born, who is now three years old. The baby was not even a year old when I went to work at the club. I could not sit idle. Thanks to my parents, who took care of the baby, and looked after the older Khrystyna. Amateur art activity is my passion, my hobby. We had a group “Red Poppies”, which consisted of five people, three men and two women, and a duet with Oksana Trofymenko. We were often invited to perform at city festivals, various corporate events, celebrations, and in village clubs. During a year, we could tour the entire Horodnya district with concerts. But that was all in peacetime.”

Masha with her husband and children

“We have to do something, because they have come to destroy us”

On February 24, when the big war began, Mykhailo was off duty and stayed at home, in Pekurivka, sick with coronavirus. On the 25th, he had to close his sick leave and go on duty. But at dawn, Masha’s mother called her, as their kids Khrystyna and Yaroslav were at her mother’s, and asked: “Masha, do you hear those clattering sounds?”

“I opened the window,” says Maria, “and I really heard explosions.” I began to wake up Mykhailo. I say: “I think the war has started” And he said to me: “Are you kidding?” But he got ready quickly, and we went to my parents’ to pick up the kids. Only later did I realize that he was just trying to reassure me, because on taking me to my parents, he said that he had forgotten his mobile at home and had to go back and take it. The next time I saw him was only in April… He ran from the house straight to the highway, a fellow villager gave him a lift, and thus Mykhailo caught the last bus from Horodnya. After that there were no buses because the bridge in Politrudnya was blown up. He called me while running and said that a combat alert had been announced and he had to be on the ground, in Chernihiv, in his unit. And I asked him that stupid question: “Will you be home in the evening?” Only later I realized how meaningless my words were…”

After speaking to her husband, Masha realized that something strange and frightening was going on and ran home again to get the documents. When she was in the center of the village, she heard a loud explosion – the bridge in Politrudnya was blown up. A dreadful thought crossed her mind: “They will start bombing now. I’m here, and my children are with my parents.” With a bewildered look, the woman watched an endless convoy of foreign vehicles, which brazenly rattled down the streets of her native village. The first impulsive horror began to recede, and she thought: “It shouldn’t be like this. Something must be done, because they came to destroy us.”

“Ruscists were afraid even of simple village women”

Masha took her first volunteering steps together with her father, Vasyl Volodymyrovych. They began bringing bread from Horodnya to the villagers. On the first day, the bakery van was able to deliver bread to the destroyed bridge. Then it was loaded into another vehicle and taken to the village. When it became clear that the bakery would not be able to deliver bread to the villages, Maria’s father began taking regular trips to Horodnya, passing through enemy checkpoints that were near the bridge partially restored by ruscists. Sometimes he was accompanied by a saleswoman from a local store, sometimes by the village head Nadiya Pyatkovska, but mostly by his daughter.

“I will never forget my first trip,” says Masha. “We were already perfectly aware of what was happening, and filled with fierce hatred for the strangers who had come to our land to kill. Severe fighting broke out all over Chernihiv, and we heard hellish cannonades in the village. In front of the checkpoint, Dad just looked at me and said very quietly: “Masha, just keep silence. Don’t argue, do as you’re told.” We got out of the car for inspection. The machine gunner immediately told me: “Unfasten your jacket!” I say: “It’s cold.” He: “You may have something hidden under your jacket!” How hard it was to keep quiet when those hands were patting my jacket down: the pockets, lining, seams – probably looking for bombs. They were afraid even of simple village women. They understood that they were not welcome here.”

When they were able to establish the production and supply of flour to the bakery in occupied Horodnya, the acute “bread” problem disappeared. Sometimes we could even bring cookies for kids – the bakers of Horodnya did their best to sweeten the childhood stolen by the ruscists.

But then another problem arose: people were running out of medicine supplies, because no one stocked up on drugs for a long period of time. And then Masha and her father found their way to the volunteer center located in the premises of the music school. Volunteers did their best to collect and deliver the most necessary things to the occupied territory.

“They helped people with medicines, baby food, hygiene products, etc.,” Maria says excitedly.  “Doctors Vasya, Yana and Ihor even taught me about medicines, how to substitute one drug for another in case of urgent need. We started bringing various things to the village for those who needed them the most. For example, even two or three bars of soap were priceless at that time. The villagers also shared what they could, especially vegetables and milk. We collected some products and took them to Horodnya. It was my first school of volunteering.”

Even children weave “blankets” for the military

Masha admits that when the ruscists began to retreat from Chernihiv, they did not leave their homes for three days, because the russian military who were defeated near the regional center, which they had failed to capture, looked too aggressive. And then the first Ukrainian tanks went through the village clearing the liberated territory. It was then that she unexpectedly met her family’s friend Maksym among the Ukrainian military. At first, she couldn’t believe her eyes – there was a small chance that his unit would go exactly to Pekurivka. Tears, laughter, hugs. Then the busy days began, filled with pleasant commotion – to feed the tired soldiers. At the same time, she had to catch rides to Horodnya almost daily, because her father worked at the Burivka agricultural enterprise from morning to night. In the Horodnya volunteer center, the “Skrynia” and “DyakuYu” stores, they packaged and distributed aid, which little by little began to arrive in the de-occupied city.

“Soon, Maksym called me,” Maria recalls. “His unit stayed in our village for several days, and they were moved to the east, where fierce battles were raging. He said: ‘Masha, we urgently need camouflage nets. Help us if you can.’ I saw such nets brought from Lutsk by our volunteer, the head of the culture, family, youth and sports department of the Horodnya city council, Olena Yatskova. I looked at them again: an interesting thing. So I sought the Internet for information on how to make them and immediately understood: we can! I called my husband and said: ‘I need money.’ He laughed, ‘Finally!’ Because no matter how many times he offered to transfer funds to my card, I refused: ‘Why would I need money? All the same, I won’t buy anything except bread here. You need the money more.’ I know that they bought generators, including for Chernihiv hospitals.” So Misha transferred the money for me to purchase the base for the first net. It cost 5,000 hryvnias. I ordered it via the Internet. And we had to wait two or three weeks, because the logistics was not very good yet. Then Olena Yuriivna told me another nuance of volunteering: “You cannot buy much at your own expense. Learn to write posts on Facebook, call people to unite, help. If you don’t raise the amount of money needed within two weeks, then you will contribute to it. I couldn’t bring myself to start fundraising for a week. I was embarrassed to ask for money. I had never asked anyone for anything in my life. And then I forced myself, realizing that I would not afford to buy a lot of nets at my own expense. My first post resulted in raising 3,600 hryvnias. Mykhailo commended me: “Well done. You will succeed!”

The first camouflage net was 15 meters long. The fabric for the gray-green ribbons was provided by the DakuYu store. Her first teacher Zhanna Yuriivna Hrebin and local resident Olha Induchna came to help Masha. The three of them wove eleven large nets for special types of military equipment. The librarians of the central library system from Horodnya helped to weave three more nets; the staff of nursery-kindergarten No.1, the Volya volunteer center, and residents of Burivka (Tupychiv community) wove one net each. It should be noted that in Burivka, this work was done by children. Even preschoolers tried to weave ribbons as tightly as possible into a “blanket” for the military.

in Burivka, children wove a net for our defenders

And there will be peace, and there will be a song

Currently, the Pekurivka club is bustling with activity. The girls are completing an urgent order for another camouflage net. There are brand new fire extinguishers on the floor.

“This is also an order. For the 1st tank division, Masha explains.” “They will come and pick it up, because it is expensive to send them by post, they are very heavy. Can you imagine, we wanted to collect 9,000 hryvnias for purchasing these cylinders, but managed to collect twice as much! Amateurs from nearby Velykyi Lystven held a charity concert and gave us all the proceeds from it – 14,000 hryvnias! And then they gave us more money. We also managed to purchase a tool for repairing machinery at the request of the military. And now we plan to send them antiviral, anti-flu, antipyretic medicines. Our defenders have no time to be sick there.”

together with tools, children’s amulet drawings  went to the war zone

I don’t know how she does it. She has two kids (her mother helps to take care of them), a large household, like everyone else in the village – half a hectare of potatoes, three pigs, etc. Masha waves her hand at the strange question: “if there is a will, there is a way.” And at work, she distracts herself from anxious thoughts. Masha is waiting for her Mykhailo, who got home after the liberation at the end of April. And he ordered his favorite dish – his mother-in-law’s pies with cabbage. How happy they were to meet! Today, he continues his service, and his wife and children are waiting for him home – alive, healthy and with victory.

the sizes of some nets are impressive

Volunteer work in the club is in full swing along with rehearsals. Masha is now passionate about a new activity – kikimora weaving. There are already orders for such camouflage suits. In addition, a new duet is being born in the village – Maria is learning the repertoire with Angela Moskalenko. A song comes from their hearts while they are weaving. The girls believe that victory is just around the corner. And then, they will let their hands, tired from weaving, rest and will take the stage with new songs – melodious, clear and free, like our Ukraine.

Svitlana Tomash