Ukraine keeps army going with knitting

Ukrainians are knitting socks, donating scrap metal and even crowdfunding a tank to keep their army going as its stand-off with pro-Russian rebels in the east drags on towards the new year.

Petro Poroshenko has hailed the effort put in by volunteers. Picture: Getty

Since separatists took up arms in April, the struggle to equip the army has grown ever more acute as the country teeters on the edge of bankruptcy.

Ukrainians have stepped in, donating time or money to help the soldiers in a conflict with a death toll of more than 4,700.

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“Our army doesn’t have enough of anything, from socks to heavy weapons,” said Yuliana Lytvynenko, a full-time volunteer who runs a group that makes camouflage suits for snipers and army scouts.

Up to 12 volunteers gather daily in a cramped room inside a refugee centre in Kiev to rip old cocoa bean sacks into threads and knot them one by one on to fishing nets to make the suits.

Called kikimora, after a hairy bog-dwelling spirit of Slavic mythology, each takes seven days to complete, but costs around 150 hryvnia (£6) compared with the 2,000 hryvnia the army would have to pay for a manufactured suit, Ms Lytvynenko said.

Nearly a quarter of the population volunteer, according to a survey by GfK research group, which found that 9 per cent started in the past 12 months – a period of revolution and war that has seen many rally behind a new pro-European sense of identity.

“The response is amazing. We needed lots of white fabric to make kikimora suits for the winter. I posted on Facebook and was instantly inundated with donations of sheets and cloth,” Ms Lytvynenko said.

President Petro Poroshenko has repeatedly hailed Ukrainian citizens’ contribution to the war effort.

He said earlier this year: “The army wins when it has high fighting spirits and extremely high support in society. The volunteers have become symbols of this support.”

A ceasefire has been repeatedly flouted by both sides and although violence has lessened in recent weeks fuelling hopes of de-escalation, Kiev has said it will not withdraw its troops in the near future.

On the other side of enemy lines, fighting has left many without enough supplies to get through the winter. The self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic said volunteer groups have sprung up there too, providing hot meals for those in need and repairing infrastructure damaged by shelling.

Meanwhile, in Ukraine a crowdfunding website called The People’s Project encourages people to chip in as much as they can afford to buy equipment, including a tank, spare parts for damaged combat vehicles, dogtags and body armour.