АвторAuthor: Iryna Hyliuk | Translation: Nataliia Zadorozhna
14 August 2022
People like Kateryna Hruzynenko are called “spiders”. Since the first days of the full-scale war, the woman has been volunteering at the Humanitarian Center in Cherkasy. Together with her team, she weaves “kikimora” camouflage suits for Ukrainian snipers and gives master classes to other volunteers. She told “Monologues of the War” about how the head of the vocal studio turned into the expert of creating specific clothes for the military.
I am the head of the exemplary vocal studio “Palette of Talents” and have been on stage since I was 5 years old. At the time when the full-scale war broke out, I was working at the Ivan Kulyk City Cultural Center of Cherkasy.
I remember the 24th of February very well. At midnight, my husband came in and said that a friend called us on the phone and said that tomorrow it will start … It was hard to believe in this, but when I saw the frightened eyes of my always even-tempered and calm husband, I realized that it was true. And at 5 o’clock in the morning, the sister who lives in Kyiv, with tears, told that they were being bombed.
I tried very hard not to cry, so that my child, who is not yet three years old, would not see my tears and would not be scared by it. We hastily packed our things and decided to go to my parents, who live out of the city.
“I remember that feeling when you pack your backpack and you can’t believe that all this is really happening to you, that this is not a dream.” We didn’t stay at my parents’ for a long time. I realized that if I continued to read the news all day long, I would go crazy.
In the very first days, the Humanitarian Center of the City Council started working in the Ivan Kulyk City Cultural Center of Cherkasy. The mayor announced its opening and asked for help. They spread the list of necessary items on social networks, so my husband and I did what most people did then – we went to the store to buy the needed products.
When we arrived at the supermarket, I had tears in my eyes: many, many people were walking around with this list on their phones and buying food for the center.
There were many cars near the Ivan Kulyk City Cultural Center! People took everything they had from them. I still get goosebumps when I think about it.
When we entered the hall, there was a lot of work! Here I met an acquaintance who asked me to disassemble the net. Thus, from February 25, I started volunteering and continue to do it until now. Before the afternoon I am a volunteer, in the afternoon I combine “kikimore” camouflage suit weaving with vocal coaching.
Our whole family volunteered. I took my mother, father, daughter Liza, and my husband for the first days, because no one was working at that time. At first, everyone together wove nets to camouflage the equipment, and within a month we started weaving “kikimora” camouflage suits for snipers, because it turned out that there was a greater need for this at that time. That’s how I became a part of the big process. Today, I coordinate exactly this direction at the Humanitarian Center.
During this time, I met an incredible number of people! Residents from different regions work here – from Kyiv, Mykolaiv, Mariupol, Luhansk, Donetsk region. There were a lot of them. Not all of them could withstand this for a long time, but there are those who have been with me since February 25 until now.
People were very active. For example, I didn’t notice how I carried all the towels from home! When the Humanitarian Center ran out of men’s shoes, I decided to see what my husband had. I found a pair of shoes, and he called after me: “Where are you going? I have never worn them before!”. “Do you understand there are people who need them more?” And he gave up (laughs – ed. note).
And once an elderly woman came and brought money and candies in a plastic bag. “This is all I can give, take it”, she said. We all burst into tears there and began to refuse her, but she said: “No, no, I want to give something.” There were many such cases. To be honest, I did not expect such activity.
There was another case when a man rode a bicycle 15 km in order to bring baked pies to the Humanitarian Center. When you hear such stories, you understand that our strength lies in the unity; we do not leave anyone in a difficult situation.
At the beginning, up to 50 people came to weave nets, now 15-20 people. And we already have such a well-established process that we manage to make one or two “kikimora” camouflage suits per day. “People from all over Ukraine approach us, because they know in case of urgency we can do the work quickly.”
For me, volunteers are very kind people who prioritize not their own interests, but those of others. They have a big heart and they are always 24/7 on the phone. I communicate with many volunteers, we help each other. “For the first two months after the start of a full-scale war, volunteering saved me, because I don’t know what would have happened to me.”
I would wake up every two hours and reach for my phone to read the news. And when I came to the Humanitarian Center, we supported each other there, and it was easier together. There I felt needed and useful.
Many people ask me why I am volunteering instead of being at home in the morning with my family? And I can’t do it otherwise. We lose someone there every day, so I want to help at least somehow.
Once a sniper approached me and asked me to make “kikimora” camouflage suits for him. We fulfilled the order, and later he wrote that he had a problem: he was in Kramatorsk and wanted to get married, but his future wife was in Zolotonosha. He asked to help hand over the documents, because they refuse to sign them without the originals.
“The guy was very worried that something might happen to him and he wouldn’t manage to marry his beloved.”
I used my connections, contacted my acquaintance, and together we approached the Cherkasy RATS. Then we called my colleagues in Zolotonosha and contacted the bride Victoria. The lovers got married on the same day!
Then it happened that Oleksandr had received an injury. They let him go for a couple of days in Cherkasy, and our entire team organizes a celebration for the newlyweds – with greetings from the mayor and a wedding gift.
You feel strong in such moments. I told my husband that I must have grown up to the point where I can even find a unicorn horn (laughs – editor’s note).
I have developed such abilities during this period. It seems you can do absolutely everything! There is simply nothing unreal. You can get everything from friends, dig something up somewhere, find out the needed information.
It is always very motivating when people come to me and express their gratitude for “kikimoras” when guys come for a couple of days they and say: “Thank you. It saved my life.” This is probably the best thing we can hear.
I was very surprised when the military called me and asked me to give them through the volunteers’ children’s drawings. Children’s drawings? Why? Maybe you want some candy or cookies? But no, they wanted children’s drawings in particilar.
The guys told me that they put them in their pocket closer to their heart. It is like their amulet. Recently I received a photo of children’s drawings that were hanging on clothespins in the dugout. When I saw it, I realized that for our defenders it was like a connection with a peaceful life, with those who remained behind. Because there, at the front, is a completely different reality.
Children from Mariupol, Sievierodonetsk, Sloviansk, Kyiv, and Kharkiv paint in the hallway of the Humanitarian Center while parents receive consultations and register for settlement. Often, when you look at their works, you cannot believe that they were created by children’s hands.
One of our volunteers, Olena Lystopad-Kononenko, offered to show the children’s works to the world. It’s one thing when you see the war on the screen while watching news, but another thing when a child draws a picture of the war.
The children’s works from the families evacuated to Cherkasy were formed into the exhibition “Pain and Faith”. They visited Italy, Poland, Lithuania, Turkey, reminding the world WHAT is happening in Ukraine now. The most important thing in our life is peace. I am very sorry that our children are going through all this.
“I don’t know at what point children started asking to sing adult songs during vocal lessons. Not about the sun, not about the childhood, but “I don’t have a home.”
Or during classes, children get to know each other: “Hello, Gabriela, where are you from?”. “I am from Kharkiv. I came there in order to survive…”
For me, this is just a shock… How could this happen in 2022?! My child, who is 3 years old, when she sees men in military uniform on the street, says: “These are supermen, they will save us!”. My daughter, who hasn’t heard from us about the horrors that are going on in our country, already knows this!
“Children’s drawings show Europe what is going on in their souls” It was a great idea. Maybe adults don’t believe adults, but they will definitely believe children.
I keep in touch with Alyona, a volunteer from Kyiv. She visits the villages near Bucha, Irpen, which suffered the same horrors. If you could see the conditions in which people live there: in cellars, garages… Well, there are people from Kyiv who are building them small houses at their own expense! Can you imagine?
Alyona told me about a woman who used to live somewhere in the occupied territory. She came from the DPR to Kyiv region, bought a house, her son went to fight and died, and a shell hit her house. And now she has neither a son nor a house.
If everyone else somehow survives, then she is completely alone. This woman is such a good person. We found builders who are building her a house. Moreover, we are collecting money for a washing machine for her now, because she lives in terrible conditions…
I got to know a cool family from Kramatorsk through Instagram. They sat there until the last and were going to leave by train. And then there was an acquaintance who was going to Cherkasy, he offered to join them. “When the family got into the car, 7 minutes later a missile hit the Kramatorsk station…”
When Lida told me about it, her hands were shaking. A successful designer before full-scale war, she couldn’t come to terms with what she had to ask for… a pillow. She was used to always earning a living by hard work, but here she felt complete helplessness. She was too embarrassed to ask for something. Then this family rented a one-room apartment, ten of them lived there and got a job. We reassured them, encouraged them, but to be honest, I don’t know how I would feel if I were them…
A 15-year-old boy from Berdiansk comes to me for vocal lessons. Now he lives with his family in our city. They did not leave, until a shell hit the house. Everyone miraculously survived, because they were in the other half of the house at that time. These are stories of people who lost everything…
Or here is another case. A woman named Tamara used to come to us to weave “kikmoras”. Once she asked where she could get food, because the Humanitarian Center gives out food kits only once. And then I found out that she simply has no money for food. So, the girls and I chipped in, bought her groceries, and my husband and I took them to her. Tamara burst into tears.
We found out that she has cancer and needs constant treatment. We were able to send her to Poland. Now she is being treated for free and she even got a job.
I could never even imagine that with my creative profession I would ever weave kikimora, that I would understand the intricacies, which net to cover the tank with, which materials and base are suitable for that and which are not.
If at the beginning we wasted a lot of time, now we have gotten so used to it that we weave up to 3 “kikimoras” a day. They go to all points of the front. The defenders highly appreciated the quality of the work of our volunteers, so the orders are only increasing. Once we calculated that we had woven 72 camouflage suits for our snipers in 2 months!
I want my child to grow up in Ukraine. At the age of 3, she sings “Chervona Ruta” (“Red Flower”) and shouts “The enemy’s equipment is crashing and burning” to the whole store. And she knows that Ukraine is the most beautiful country.
And I will always tell her that. When she grows up, I will tell her about the war and from whom exactly we defended ourselves.
And after the victory, I will gather our whole family and we will go to the Ukrainian sea, even if it is winter. But I believe it will happen in the summer.
Everything will be fine. I believe in our army, in our people. We are a nation that collects funds for four “bayraktars” in three days!
“In 2011, I could not explain where I was from abroad. We gave concerts there, sold out, but people did not know where this country was. But now the whole world knows about us. Unfortunately at such a big price.”
Why was it so painful for me when they hit Kremenchuk? Because it seemed to me that the whole world was watching the events in Ukraine, like some kind of TV series. And what else happened there? It hurts so much that no one can stop it… That hit me the hardest and still bothers me.
Чому важливо поширити цю історію?
Якщо українці не розповідатимуть свій погляд на війну в Україні, світ поступово забуватиме про нас. Натомість цим обов’язково скористаються росіяни. Тому не даймо їм жодного шансу.
Why is it important to share this story?
If Ukrainians do not share their views on the war in Ukraine, the world will gradually forget about us. Instead, the Russians will definitely take advantage of this. So let's not give them a chance.
АвторAuthor: Iryna Hyliuk | Translation: Nataliia Zadorozhna