Irina Sydorenko and her team spend their days in a dusty basement, making camouflage for those on the frontline of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. They are settling in for a long warby Robert Seely / October 23, 2017 / Leave a comment
I’m sitting in a dusty basement in Kramatorsk and Irina Sydorenko is fretting. Her volunteers are making camouflage nets for Ukrainian soldiers serving along the Contact Line between Ukrainian and Russian-held territory, some 30 miles south-west of this provincial city in eastern Ukraine. Irina is working to fulfill an order from the Ukrainian army for a job-lot of green camouflague nets, but she hasn’t even begun a request from Oleg, a tank commander who badly needs 45 white nets to cover his T-74 tanks for the winter snows expected soon.
“Our volunteers produce about 1,200 square metres a month, but we can’t keep up. We don’t know when the snow will start, but we’re getting ready,” she said pointing to a pile of white camouflage nets already produced. “When it falls, it’ll already be too late to hide our lads’ positions.”
I’m here preparing a report for the Royal United Services Institute on aspects of modern war. I‘ve dropped into a voluntary centre run by Irina, a dark-haired and dynamic 61-year-old former machine engineer. Irina is part of Ukraine’s volunteer war effort. Unpaid, as well as making camouflage netting for Ukraine’s frontline positions, she and her team collect clothes, food and other resources. The war is now in its fourth year, and although officially it is described as an anti-terror operation, most in Ukraine are in little doubt that this is a war against Russia and its proxies.
When the Kremlin’s putsches struck home, Ukraine’s military and security services all but collapsed. For years they had been hollowed out not only by ubiquitous post-Soviet corruption, but also by Russia’s attempts to rot the Ukrainian state from within. This subversion was part of an extensive set of overt and covert tools of political/military influence which the Kremlin has used here and elsewhere—elements of its so-called “hybrid war.”
By the winter of 2013 Russia had come close to its goal: Ukraine’s rejection of the EU Association Agreement and its re-admittance into a Russian-led customs union, paving the way for Ukraine’s reabsorption into Russian’s sphere of influence and the gradual death of Ukrainian statehood. It was this situation that prompted the desperate winter uprising of 2014 in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev which overthrew Russia’s man here, Viktor Yanukovich.