Ukrainian women on the front line struggle to find uniforms that fit. One couple aims to fix that | CNN


Kyiv, Ukraine
CNN

Andriy Kolesnyk and Ksenia Drahanyuk both beam with excitement as they lean on a box.

They will be unpacking Ukraine’s first military uniforms for pregnant women, which they launched recently after coming into contact with a pregnant sniper.

The young couple, both TV journalists before the start of the war, are now fully devoted to their independent NGO, “Zhemlyachki,” or “Patriot,” which buys them necessities. Women in Armed Forces.

The initiative started when Andri’s sister was sent to the march that day on February 24 Russia invaded Ukraine.

“She got men’s uniforms, men’s underwear,” he says. “All that [was] Designed for men.

It soon became clear that serving women needed much more than a uniform. Everything from small boots to light plates to hygiene products are in demand for bulletproof vests.

So, the couple turned to private company donations, charitable funds, and crowdfunding to purchase items independently of the military. Some customized gear such as women’s wear is produced under their own brand by a factory in Kharkiv in the east of the country – along with new maternity uniforms.

Other items, including body armor plates, helmets and boots, come from companies as far away as Sweden, Macedonia and Turkey. But Kolesniek and Drahanyuk say they’re struggling to buy winter items like sleeping bags and thermal clothing that will be crucial for comfort as winter sets in.

Kolesniek says they’ve distributed $1 million worth of equipment so far and helped at least 3,000 women. If they’re on the front-line shooting rockets, they can do that too “at least comfortably,” he tells CNN.

Currently there are about 38,000 Women in Armed ForcesAccording to the country’s Ministry of Defense.

“We’re doing this to help our government,” says Kolesnik, not to compete with it. Their center is filled with cardboard boxes full of kits, all paid for through crowdfunding and grants.

A physical disability prevents Kolesnik from leading his sister, father and brother-in-law, 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 am doing my best here to help not only my family, but the entire army,” he says.

Twenty-one-year-old Roksolana, who gave her first name for security reasons, goes inside to pick up a uniform and other gear before heading to her next assignment. An art school graduate, she joined the army in March and is now part of an intelligence unit.

“Having these people who understand that we’re tired of wearing three sizes is so valuable,” she says. “We didn’t have helmets, we had old flak jackets, tracksuits and sneakers. Now we feel like humans.”

She smiles as she ties her new shoes with flawless long nails. Before saying their goodbyes, Drahanyuk gave Roksolana a copy of “The Choice,” the best-selling memoir by Holocaust survivor and psychologist Edith Egger. The purpose is that it can be a tool to help the trauma process. Zemlyachki has also partnered with military psychologists that women in combat can reach out to.

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 notorious Olenivka prison in Russian-controlled Donetsk region after leaving the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol.

She was finally released on October 17 as part of an all-female prisoner exchange with Russia and underwent mandatory rehabilitation at a military hospital, under whose care she remains.

Twenty-one-year-old Roksolana, left, tries on her new shoes while Zemlyachki NGO co-founder Ksenia Drahanyuk helps her fill a suitcase with all sorts of goodies.

Ukraine recently demanded that the International Committee of the Red Cross send a delegation to the Russian war camp.

“I wasn’t ready [for captivity]And we talked a lot with the other female prisoners about how life didn’t prepare us for this [an] Ordeal,” says Panina at a veteran-run pizza bar in downtown Kyiv.

She says prison guards were “unpredictable people” who sometimes verbally abused inmates, but she was spared any physical harm.

Now her partner’s fate is up in the air. He is also a border guard who is still in captivity. “I know he’s alive but don’t know which prison he’s in,” Panina says sadly, scrolling through his picture.

When asked what gives her hope, she simply says, “Our people, our people.”

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