Both women and men should be comfortable: how does the "Zemliachky" project help Ukrainian women at the front?

Both women and men should be comfortable: how does the "Zemliachky" project help Ukrainian women at the front?

Since the start of the full-scale war, Kseniia Drahaniuk, together with a team of volunteers, has been providing humanitarian aid to servicewomen. Until February 24, she worked as a TV presenter and travel guide. Now, the initiator of the "Zemliachky" project makes sure that Ukrainian female defenders have comfortable uniforms, shoes, necessary ammunition, and humanitarian aid. Thanks to the project, about 4,000 women have already received the necessary items for the front, and about 100 more are in the queue.

Kseniia Drahaniuk told Svidomi about the change in the course of activity, development and tailoring of military uniforms for women, and the adaptation of the Ukrainian army to the needs of female soldiers.

It’s the first part of text. Read the second-one in the next post. 

Women-to-women support

We enter the volunteer headquarters located in one of Kyiv's residential areas. Here are dozens of boxes filled with clothes, hygiene products, and medicines, as well as boxes with ammunition that will go to the east of Ukraine to the military women. Already in the morning, several volunteers are packing boxes to send aid today.

In 2019, Kseniia Drahaniuk worked on the television project "Zemliachky": she traveled to the regions of Ukraine and talked about women in various professions — for example, a soccer player, a blacksmith, or a pilot. The project has ended, but the topic has become more relevant. With the start of a full-scale war, Kseniia and her family realized that it was necessary to help and support women at the front.

"The subject of women and, especially, women's professions has always been important to me. In my life, I repeatedly faced situations where I was not hired for certain positions just because I am a woman. I understand from my experience that sexism is present both in the army and civilian life. It was fundamental for me to show that women can do any job professionally," says Kseniia Drahaniuk.

On February 24, the sister of Kseniia's husband decided to join the army. It was a push that reminded her that, despite everything, the conversation about women must not stop.

"We collected the kits at our own expense and sent them to where it was most needed. Over time, other volunteer hubs started helping us. Then we found that the army was not prepared for the physiological needs of women. And this is what really bothers me — I want women to feel comfortable," the volunteer says.

"Zemliachky" is a support platform from women to women. The main areas of the project are small interviews with female volunteers and military personnel; psychological support for women in war; assistance to defenders with the necessary military ammunition, uniforms, and women's humanitarian aid.

"When carrying out high-quality tasks on the front line, you don't think about other things like uncomfortable clothes, although this is a basic thing. That's why other people should think about these things, like a mother who asks if you have a hat on," the girl smiles. "You don't think about this hat, but mom knows it will keep you healthy. These are the little things that I can call support and care."

"We do not owe anyone anything — this is completely our volunteer initiative"

Nine people work in the "Zemliachky" foundation, most of whom are in Kyiv. These are the volunteers who pack the boxes and the people involved in the work on social media. In addition, the foundation has a PR team of two people who are engaged in communication with the media, partner businesses, and foundations.

"With the increase in the number of requests, the number of partnerships and resources has increased. I cannot say that at some point it became more difficult for us. It was difficult to close 10 requests at the beginning, now it is equally difficult to close a thousand. However, we do not perceive these difficulties as an obstacle. We do everything one step at a time," says Kseniia Drahaniuk.

The Fund responds to all requests, each of them is individual. Priority is given to the primary comfort of servicewomen on the front lines. However, when necessary things are available in large quantities, they are sent both to the hot spot and to the rear.

"We should have a minimum amount of things in the hub. Everything that appears must quickly go to where it is needed. The directions are also expanding. We once bought our first drone, although we didn't plan to. Later, we were able to fulfill a request for a night vision device and a thermal imager. Thanks to our partners, soon for the first time we will be collecting money for an evacuation vehicle for one of our defenders," says Drahaniuk.

Each contribution has its own story

Thanks to social networks, there have been connections with large foundations and organizations that independently seek funding for the needs of women on the front lines. In addition, the project actively cooperates with Ukrainian brands that help raise funds through charity runs, auctions, promotions, and percentages of sales.

"Most of the time, partners come to us themselves. We do everything to be seen by promoting our work as much as we can. Charity cannot be forced," says the founder of "Zemliachky."

The Foundation collects money not only through large fundraisers, but also small donations. "Millions are made of 20 and 50 hryvnias. If everyone donates 5 hryvnias, we will collect another 100 additional sets of forms. The amount of help is not always as important as the support itself. Besides, each contribution has its own story: money is raised for birthdays and weddings instead of gifts; displaced persons from Germany send knitted socks, and children give cookies and drawings," says Drahaniuk.

Need for comfort and safety

The women's uniform is not approved at the legislative level, but there is a need for it. First, women's physiology needs more careful consideration: "Women have breasts and they are of different sizes — this affects outerwear. A girl may have a size XS, but she has a C cup, for example. Accordingly, it will no longer be XS, but M. Or, men's trousers of size S will be slightly larger in the waist, and on the contrary, they will be too tight in the thighs. This is one of the most important points. Even if a man's uniform is the size as a woman's, it will be uncomfortable."

The female uniform is also about safety. "For example, a paramedic falls while rescuing her fellow combatant because she has to run in boots two sizes too big. To survive and continue to do her job effectively, she needs comfortable clothes. Thanks to this, she will save not only her life, but also that of her brother- or sister-in-arms," says the volunteer.

At first, "Zemliachky" ordered men's uniforms of the smallest sizes from Türkiye. However, the team was dissatisfied with both the quality and the delivery time. In September 2022, they began to develop patterns independently: they relied on individual needs and not what is required by the statute. Regarding every detail, Kseniia communicated with the Ukrainian defenders personally.

The patterns were developed for more than two months together with the Uzhhorod sewing factory. The first 300 sets of autumn uniforms were ready in October. Now, the sewing of winter uniforms has started — the team has purchased fabric and fittings for the first 1,000 sets.

"The winter uniform that we are producing will be made of synthetic and fleece. If in summer you could walk around wearing, let's say, simple cloth, then in winter, if it is low-quality synthetic fluff or fleece, a non-windbreaker or cloth without moisture wicking agent, wearing it will pose a health threat. Plus we made cuffs on jackets and pants similar to those on ski suits. This will keep your feet from getting wet, even if you are sitting in the dirt in the trench. By creating a uniform on our own, we can follow every nuance and be convinced that it is warm and comfortable," emphasizes the volunteer.

Two factories are involved in sewing winter uniforms: the main one in the Kharkiv region and another one in the Kyiv region. "Each seamstress in one of the villages near Kharkiv works separately in her own home. There is a person who supervises the work. This was done for the sake of safety — if a missile hits the factory, the consequences will be tragic," Kseniia Drahaniuk clarifies.

Bring victory to the finish line

The project will work as long as necessary — until victory.

"After victory, the war will not end, especially our internal war. I'm talking now about our psychological problems and traumas. The psychological support that we are launching is the project that will remain with us and be the most necessary," says Drahaniuk.

"This war has no male or female face"

The Ukrainian army is adapting to the needs of military women, and the culture of female defenders is developing. Until 2016, the law forbade servicewomen to hold combat positions. Today, there are more than 50,000 women in the Armed Forces.

"The fact that we have so many women in the army is an experience for the whole world. This war has no male or female face. A combat unit is a combat unit. The main thing is that a person performs their work professionally and qualitatively, regardless of gender. It's a culture that does not develop in a year or ten. However, due to the full-scale war, all processes accelerated," says Kseniia.

During the conversation, Ksenia recalls the dialogue that a National Guard officer Khrystyna Boichuk, call sign "Kudriava", told her:

"You have nowhere to live while away. The men will stay in tents," says the commander to Kudriava.

"So, I will also live in tents," answers the servicewoman.

"With men?"

"No! I will live with officers, because I am an officer."

"For me, this is an indicator of cultural development. A woman understands that, first and foremost, she is an officer. At the same time, both women and men should be comfortable — this is what equality is all about," the volunteer concludes.

You can support military women on Instagram — @zemliachky.ukrainian_front.