What is the problem?
The project, which takes care of defenders, was created by a journalist from Kyiv, Ksenia Drahanyuk. At first, she wanted to talk about Ukrainian women's struggling on social networks. But soon, she realized: they needed help. There is always a shortage of feminine hygiene products, clothing, and equipment on the front lines. This is how the initiative turned from an informational to a humanitarian one. Since spring, "Zemliachky" has processed 2,500 requests from defenders.
What women ask from volunteers, how much it costs to dress a woman in a uniform according to size, and how "Zemliachky" became military cupids — read in Rubryka's text.
How did the solution appear?
"I have never been so scared": February 24
On February 23, Ksenia Drahanyuk met her girlfriends in Vyshgorod; at 3 a.m. on the 24th, they were still sitting and drinking wine by the fireplace. It was such a cozy bachelorette party, says Ksenia. But as soon as they went to bed, rockets flew over the Kyiv region. Air defense forces shot them down, and the remains fell somewhere very close.
"I have never been so scared. You feel as if your body is turning into stones. There is a lot of noise nearby, but you don't understand where the missile has arrived and where the air defense is working. I stood up and covered my eyes and face with my hands. I understood: it was now blowing up and could fall on us," Ksenia Drahanyuk recalls.
Until February 24, the girl lived a full and fulfilling life. She worked as a presenter, held events, took people on group tours abroad, and was engaged in her own travel project, "Zemliachky" — she created materials about Ukrainian women.
"I was in love with the image of a Ukrainian woman. She is incredible. Imagine a 60-year-old lady; she milked a cow, came and cooked lunch, then went for a walk with her grandchildren, sang, cooked dinner, drank three glasses with me, and left to make love with her husband. We are used to such women living somewhere in the Carpathians, but no. They are all over Ukraine."
Together with the project team, Ksenia traveled to the regions of Ukraine, showing women's lives in such atypical professions as a pilot, a blacksmith, and a soccer player. "I was constantly tired but happy," says Ksenia. But that night, the night of the full-scale invasion, she felt completely unprotected and weak. The only thing she could do was ask her husband to pick her up from Vyshgorod.
Already at home, Ksenia rushed to wash her hair. "It was some kind of girly thing. I understood that now is the war, we would go to the basement, and I have dirty hair. Everyone was gathering at our place, and I was already sitting with a wet head and a fleece suit."
The man's sister was also at home, who at some point said: "We are leaving." "Where?" — asked a frightened Ksenia, who could not recover from what was happening around her. "To join the Territorial Defense." "Where?!" asked the girl.
"She was an e-mail marketer, and her husband worked in IT. To this day, the two of them are serving; they were in many frontline positions," Ksenia says.
This story, in fact, begins not just the story of "Zemliachky" but "Zemliachky. Ukrainian Front". Ksenia was so impressed by the fact that Ukrainian women joined the army on their own initiative that her project got a new life — already in wartime.
"How can I be useful during the war? I thought: I can tell about our heroines. For this, I created an Instagram page. Together with her husband, she wanted to cover the life of her sister, but it turned out that there were a lot of such girls. She started writing about her comrades and then about other soldiers."
How does it work?
"You don't even need to size it?": the first reaction to the form that fits
The initiative began with small interviews and small boxes with women's humanitarian aid delivered to the front. At some point, Ksenia realized that defenders have needs that cannot be met because the state physically does not have time to take care of all the little things and details.
"One girl from the air defense said that it costs a million dollars to launch ammunition once. State funds go specifically to purchase shells and other important things, without which we cannot cope. But underwear, small items for hygiene — these are things that we as volunteers can cover."
The first boxes were collected in a small village in the Carpathian region — that's where Ksenia's family was evacuated from Kyiv. But then it became clear that the girls have more serious needs — a military uniform that fits. Not male, but female. Ksenia already helped with this, having returned to the capital.
"At first, all this was bought point by point in stores. Then we went to the Turks. But they buy a uniform for 1,500 hryvnias, and they sell it to us for 3,500. We still had to buy some things from them because the goal was to dress the girls quickly. Although the Turkish uniform is of poor quality, it fits the size. There was no choice, so they turned a blind eye to it," says Kseniya Drahanyuk.
"Навіть підшивати не потрібно?"
"І без пояска для підв'язування можна носити?"
"You don't even need to size it?"
"And it can be worn without a tie belt?"
These were the words the volunteer from "Zemliachky" heard from women who first put on a women's uniform. It fits perfectly, repeating all the anatomical features of the body. So it was more convenient to fight.
Registered as a public organization, "Zemliachky" collected donations from people and helped on a point-by-point basis. Thanks to the Oleksiy Stavnitser Charitable Foundation, we were able to purchase more items. Together they created the project "Try walking in her shoes." They bought things necessary for women.
"Later, we went to direct sellers from Turkey. But you can order things from them in bulk and then wait a long time for delivery. Now, 700 pairs of women's shoes, which were ordered more than two months ago, have not yet arrived," says Ksenia. But she dreamed of dressing female defenders in Ukrainian clothes because then the quality is good, and the money stays in our country.
Uniform for female defenders, made in Ukraine
Once, Ksenia Drahanyuk interviewed the director of a sewing factory from Uzhgorod for a project. She said they are currently working on uniforms for female defenders, but there is not enough physical time for it. Then Ksenia asked the woman to help develop the patterns. And the girls from the "Sewing Company" sewed the first test copy for them — Dnipro volunteers periodically send home-made items for "Zemliachky."
At the same time, women's uniforms were sewn according to their separate patterns back in Kharkiv. Then these two options were combined — and something different, but very cool, came out, says Ksenia. Now such copies of clothes are sewn for several thousand girls who are currently serving.
"Now we will send the autumn batch. But the print will no longer be suitable for cold weather. Even now, the summer uniform is already bright. Clothes should be seasonal, so we are also preparing for winter. The girls are sleeping in trenches and broken buildings; we must keep them warm."
Nowadays, women in the Armed Forces often write to "Zemliachky," saying that it is "cold" and asking for "anything" to warm them up. According to Ksenia, a minimum of 2,000 winter uniforms is needed, but if it is possible to make 3-4k, it will, of course, be much better. Tailored clothes will be given point by point "in hand" to be absolutely sure that a specific girl has been dressed.
Will it definitely work?
At "Zemliachky," they try to work with the girls directly: they clarify the callsigns and hand over the humanitarian worker according to the act of "acceptance and transfer":
"I want to understand that the girl received things — that the clothes are not lying somewhere in a warehouse, or they have not been handed over to someone because we work with defenders in frontline positions."
Recently, 91 boxes of aid were collected in "Zemliachky" — a military unit asked for humanitarian aid for women. "This was probably the most difficult request in terms of the work of our hub. It was necessary to suspend any activity for two days. We found all the sizes, assembled the boxes, and signed them by hand."
Still, it is better when a military woman either writes on Instagram herself with a request for what she needs or applies on behalf of several comrades.
"It happened when we received messages: "There are five of us, can we do this, this and that?" and after a few days: "There are already two of us, this and this — we don't need it anymore." When I hear that, I understand that I need to work much faster to provide help sooner."
Volunteers try to help with any request. Sometimes the girls ask to put Ukrainian books in the box. Or they write: "I'm an XS, and I wear an E-cup. I need a plate carrier to fit on the bottom and not crack on the top."
"For one of these girls, we found people who sew plate carriers for unique physiology. Because ordinary male ones are not suitable, they should be fitted in different places," Ksenia recalls an interesting request.
Ksenia says that now the volunteers in "Zemliachky" are like blind kittens, just looking for all the ways to help. But when they are found, it will be easier for defenders to serve.
"We want you to feel: you have a back": supporting defenders
At "Zemliachky," they say that they support female soldiers not because they feel sorry for them and not because they would not be able to work without female volunteers. No, these women will handle everything, Ksenia is convinced. "If we don't help, they'll still kill the orcs. But we support them because we respect, love, and value them. And we express it not in words, but in deeds."
Sometimes the girls say that they want to pay for the uniform purchased for them because, they say, there is money. "Then we say: we help you not because you have no money. We want you to feel that you have a back."
Ksenia says that many women leave their children with relatives or abroad and go to the front themselves. "There are not enough good doctors — she leaves the baby for care and goes to war herself. She doesn't eat for several days, doesn't go to the toilet normally, drags out big men under fire… And when she comes to me for humanitarian assistance, it is a little girl. 1.60 m. And you can feel such strength of spirit from her. It often gives me goosebumps."
There are also pregnant women among the defenders who turn to "Zemliachky." One girl, who is now pregnant, met her husband thanks to the project. Her story was published on his pages, and a soldier from another battalion saw the post and fell in love. The couple got married, and now they are expecting a baby. "And we are creating a military uniform for her to fit her pregnant belly," Ksenia adds.
Ksenia Drahanyuk tells another romantic story: "The paramedic was on the front with her beloved husband. Together they lay in the trench, the girl holding the defender's ass. An enemy bullet passed through her hand; one hit two. The female fighter said to her lover: "That's all, now you have to marry me."
Even more helpful solutions!
"Penny to penny!": help "Zemliachky"
Currently, a team of eight volunteers works in "Zemliachky." You can support them in three ways.
The first is to support informationally. When people learn about a community organization, they want to help it somehow.
The second is to address the community's Instagram with the question, "What do you need?". Now it's thermal underwear, socks, sleeping bags, and insulating pads — everything that will keep you warm in the cold.
You can also send some nice things for defenders, even made with your own hands. Ksenia Draganyuk says: "The girls are embroidering something, knitting socks. Recently, Ukrainian production sent Carpathian teas. We put them in boxes with humanitarian aid."
The third way is financial.
"We sew the form, but no one gives us the fabric for free; we still have to pay the seamstresses. And to buy two thousand female uniforms, thermal clothing, insulating pads, sleeping bags, and shoes, at least a million dollars is needed. Therefore, sending even 50, 100, or 200 hryvnias is very important for us. Because penny by penny, the amount to buy one set of clothes comes out little by little. And one uniform is one warm and healthy defender. Maybe she will shoot down that damn rocket that is flying towards Kyiv?".
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