The sounds of war, the rumble of tanks, the sirens, the crash of artillery and the rattle of a sewing machine.
In a warehouse in Lviv, Ukraine, women who’ve fled the fighting — but not their country — are taking their posts at sewing machines. They’re creating ammunition vests for the front lines.
Sasha Glybina, 29, is among the more than 2 million people who’ve taken flight from the Russian missiles and artillery striking the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. She brought with her little more than her talents as a fashion designer, and she used those skills to design a prototype ammunition vest for Ukrainian fighters.
“We change it, change it, change it, and then find some [of the] best prototypes. And now, we produce,” Glybina said.
Before the war, the closest Glybina had come to battle-ready clothing were a few camo-inspired fashion pieces. She may be making utilitarian wear now, but for her, there’s still a beauty to it.
Her role is a combination of finding fabrics, figuring out how to pay for them and coordinating the improvised logistics of final product deliveries to the front lines.
“I want to invest this time for some real things I can produce right now. I want to become a little small piece of a big, big chain,” Glybina said. “I just hope that what we create here will really protect them … I pray every day. Also, my husband; he’s [in the] military. He’s in Kyiv right now.”
She asked reporters not to identify her husband for his own protection if the Russians win. But while fighting Russian invaders, he wears the vest Glybina helped design.
On the first morning of Russia’s invasion, Glybina’s husband told her to leave their home in Irpin, a suburb of Kyiv.
“He told me, ‘I will stay here. This is my land and my house, and you move,'” Glybina said.
Her husband is a former Ukrainian mixed martial arts champion. A month ago, he was training for a match. Now he’s on the front lines.
“Thank God he’s still alive because if something will happen, it’s unpredictable,” Glybina said. “I have no idea how I will live after that, but I hope everything will be okay. I hope and pray every day.”
Glybina says her husband often finds himself in danger.
“When it was an area near Kyiv a couple of days, I was nervous as (expletive). I’m sorry. … Probably because of that, I work like crazy for 15 hours per day, because I think it helps me to release the stress and the pressure and all this kind of feelings,” Glybina said. “That’s why probably I try to do at least something.”
Sourcing suitable materials is a constant battle, as is paying for them. Selection is limited. Glybina’s two main criteria are color and durability.
She says she can spend between $1,000 and $2,000 a day on fabrics. Those funds come from what she calls a “cryptocurrency foundation.” Before sending more money, the crypto donor needs receipts and photos that help prove their funds are being spent as promised.
So urgent is the need for the uniforms that women at the factory work two shifts. One is from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.; the other is from 4:00 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. That puts the women on the later shift out past curfew, and they have a special exemption that allows them to do that.
Glybina says she was offered the opportunity to leave Ukraine by a former professor at Cambridge University. She declined the offer.
“I do not want to be a refugee, really. I want to be Ukrainian,” she said. “I want to be here and try to do as much as I can. This is my honest position.”
It’s dangerous work. But it’s a price Glybina is willing to pay for freedom.
“I understand this is the high price,” she said. “We pay really for future, and this is dangerous, but this is how it is, unfortunately.”
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