Live updates: Russia’s war in Ukraine

Halyna Kutsenko helps other volunteers to make camouflage nets for the Ukrainian military on February 25, 2023 in Sukhyi Yar, Ukraine. (Brendan Hoffman)

Halyna Kutsenko’s legs hurt after hours of kneeling on the floor, skillfully wrapping brown and green fabric through the holes of a net that’s stretched on huge wooden frames.

She’s making camouflage nets, the one thing she feels she can do to help Ukraine’s war effort.

I have to weave. My son is on frontlines. He was drafted in July. He is near Bakhmut now,” Kutsenko told CNN.

“We only talk in messages. We try to exchange texts every day and it’s terrifying when I don’t get a response. Sometimes he wouldn’t reply for five days,” she said, tears rolling down her cheeks. 

Since Russia invaded Ukraine last February, volunteers from Stryzhavka, Sukhyi Yar and Torchytsia, three tiny villages about two hours south of Kyiv, have made 15,000 square meters (161,400 square feet) of camouflage nets. 

They also knitted 200 pairs of socks and made hundreds of trench candles using more than 200 kilograms (440 lbs) of paraffin.

The brain behind the mammoth operation is Sasha Vdovichenko, an IT specialist who lives with his elderly mother in a small house.

Vdovichenko spends hours of his free time coordinating volunteers, sourcing materials, organizing events and making sure help is sent where it’s needed the most.

He has been working with Olesia Koriagina, a Kyiv-based HR specialist and volunteer coordinator, since 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea. 

They’ve organized countless initiatives over the years, but never met in person. Every time Koriagina invited Vdovichenko to attend an event, he refused. It wasn’t until recently that she found out why: Vdovichenko uses a wheelchair, which makes any trip outside his house difficult. 

In late February, Koriagina traveled to Stryzhavka, where Vdovichenko lives, to meet the man she says is her hero.

“None of this would happen without you,” she told him. But Vdovichenko is adamant that it’s the volunteers that deserve the thanks. 

“This is all is thanks to active people, Ukrainian citizens. They are like ants, each pulling a straw as heavy as they can,” he said.

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