АвторAuthor: Inna Molchanova | Translation: Hanna Dzhyhaliuk
27 July 2022
8 years ago Iryna Apilat, a volunteer from Cherkasy, started helping Ukrainian defenders, who went to the East of Ukraine. Since then she’s been staying up to date with their needs. While doing this, Iryna met her future husband, and volunteering became a choice for both of them. Why the woman devoted her life to volunteering, how a theater in Cherkasy helps them, and what is the technology of making sniper camouflage suits, Iryna has told about it all in her story for “Monologues of the War”.
Back in 2014 I understood that our defenders needed help, and in 2015 I was looking for ways to join the volunteer movement. At that time I was working full-time and I couldn’t volunteer during the days, so I looked for ways to help in the evenings and at the weekends.
This way I found where I could make camouflage nets – it was a Non-governmental organization “Our Battalion”, founded in 2015 by Viacheslav Skichko. His co-worker also went to fight in the East as a volunteer, so he decided to help find things that were needed.
They started by weaving camouflage nets with a volunteer Kateryna Dubrava in the yard of the private sector. When I found them, they were already in the building of the “TianDe ” salon, which was provided to them for free by its owner. They had a warehouse there too. There were a lot of people who wanted to participate, so they started opening branch offices around the city. There were eight of them in Cherkasy, and the ninth in Dahnivskiy micro-district.
So I took part in weaving camouflage nets and later became a coordinator in one of the branch offices, and after that – a head coordinator of net weaving, sniper suit making and assisting families of the deceased.
During volunteering I met my future husband, Vitalii Hulyi, and we started a family together. When I introduced him to my friends, they all told him: “We’re sorry for you, because she’s crazy”.
The thing was, that I constantly was asking my friends to go somewhere, move something, ship something off. There were times when we were delivering gifts to children of deceased defenders. So my friends also had busy weekends. During 2015-2018 we held many flashmobs, on which we taught people to weave nets, and organized master-classes, fairs and festivals.
We started providing aid as a family. Before volunteering I worked as an accountant, then I took maternity leave, and then I quit. This March I was supposed to have an internship, as I planned to change my profession and try myself in a different sphere, but because of the full-scale invasion I decided to postpone this until Victory.
My husband and I made a decision to devote ourselves completely to volunteering. He’s a programmer and tries to work whenever he can, even at night. And I’m only working as a volunteer.
Being a camouflage suit coordinator, Iryna Senchenko and I went to Kyiv to see how they are made, and made some designs together. Now we are continuing to weave suits and nets, but using a different design, because the previous one was complicated and expensive. We’ve found a simpler and cheaper option. We buy supplies by ourselves, sometimes people bring us fabrics, which we sort and use in sawing. In making suits we are assisted by Cherkasy region music and drama theater. They make the sniper’s suit bases and also take part in the weaving process. Meanwhile they go on with their rehearsals.
This time we were designing and experimenting with the suit bases together with the theater workers. Sometimes there are requests for boleros, suits, raincoats, but mainly for tailcoats. So we decided to take a tailcoat as a basis, because it had already been tested. You wear it over the head, it has a hood, it’s comfortable and inconspicuous. We’re trying to make it as comfortable as possible: there are elastic bands in the sleeves, the sleeves are long, and a hood comes with a face mesh.
Last week a sniper came to us, after a medical treatment. He tried the suit on and noted that the face mesh is very useful, and the suit itself is very comfortable.
You can use the mesh to cover the gun sight too. Although the thermal imager reacts to heat, it will help to make the image of the soldier not clear, but blurred.
The enemy has many quadcopters, a lot of other equipment, and they do not spare them. The intelligence guys told us how the enemy quadcopter spotted a car with two or three people in it, and fired two volleys of “Grads” at them, that is, 80 rounds per single car. They were lucky, because our scouts noticed it in time, and they left the car, buried themselves in a nearby trench and thus survived.
So far we have sent 107 sniper suits. It takes 4-5 days to weave a suit, when the base and cut material are already made. It has to be woven by three people from morning till night. We cut the fabric for weaving with a special knife, and small scraps are cut by hand by volunteers. We have a long-time volunteer who managed to take her mother out of Severodonetsk, so her mother is involved too, she cuts the fabric very quickly and neatly into even strips.
We currently have three branches in Cherkasy, and the fourth is in the music and drama theater. In Canada, the community of the Ukrainian diaspora helps us a lot. They raise funds, send quadcopters, tourniquets, first-aid kits, tactical medicine, and cars. All this is shipped by Vyacheslav Skichko, and also by the military correspondent Stanislav Kuharchuk, through the Army Assistance Center.
In general, “Our Battalion” has various directions of assistance. When none of our people had yet gone to the front, several times we handed over camouflage nets and everything we managed to get, buy and collect through Lviv volunteers: thermal underwear, underwear, socks, hats. Everything was closed, and markets did not work. That’s why we looked for the owners’ contacts and made agreements with them to take the goods from the warehouses, houses, and garages. Volunteer Victoria Hamaza then helped to collect necessary things: tea, coffee, chocolate, cigarettes, medicines. People brought it all from home, because pharmacies did not have supplies at first, everything was blocked in warehouses in Kyiv.
We carry on weaving nets, although it’s hard to order bases for them. We cooperate with Kharkiv, but because of constant shelling they couldn’t receive materials on time, so they can’t keep up with the orders.
For me, the most difficult thing is to decide who to help first: to assist everyone a little at a time, or to provide one unit completely, and only then start helping another. When there are so many requests, it is very difficult to find the right solution. So we made a decision to first cover anti-aircraft defense, artillery, and tanks with camouflage nets. That is, first of all, all the equipment, and only then the dugouts, because they can be covered in some other way. People often ask if I help my Cherkasy people first. But for me, in eight years, everyone became my family. It doesn’t matter where they are from – if they are fighting and defending the country, then they are our people.
Once we handed over the cargo to scouts. After that, they did not get in touch for two weeks and I was very worried. Then a certain amount appears on my account, with a message “thank you for the shipment”. When someone responds after a long silence, it inspires, it is a driving force to work further.
The most terrible news for me is that people are in captivity. For relatives, this is the hope that their loved one is alive, but I realize how scary it can be.
So in order not to worry, I always try to be busy. In the first days of the full-scale war, my phone was bursting with calls. I had to charge it two or three times a day. Sometimes they asked for elementary things: clothes, food, hygiene products.
The fact that people have returned to peaceful life and work is a good thing, because you cannot live in constant stress, people also need to make ends meet and pay taxes. But it would be nice if they could find a couple of hours a day, at least a few days a week, to help! It is infuriating that sometimes when asked to help, people answer: “Get the displaced people to help.” But they do help. It seems to me that, in percentage terms, the displaced help even more than locals.
Even eight years ago, it was clear to us that the war would continue, because if it was possible to solve it diplomatically, then everything would have been solved long ago. Therefore, we are grateful to everyone who volunteers! There are not that many of them, but they are worth their weight in gold!
We really need the fabric for camouflage nets. We are currently collecting white bed linen and dyeing it, the main thing is that the fabric is natural. Therefore, we will be very grateful for your help and support. We will continue to do our work until Victory comes and are grateful to the Armed Forces of Ukraine for their courage, professionalism, and resilience. I wish they knew that we will always stand behind them and help in everything we can.
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: Inna Molchanova | Translation: Hanna Dzhyhaliuk