'Rearguard soldiers': Women sew for Russian victory

The Kremlin has cast its soldiers as heroes battling for Russia's very existence (Natalia KOLESNIKOVA)
The Kremlin has cast its soldiers as heroes battling for Russia's very existence (Natalia KOLESNIKOVA)

In the cluttered basement of a residential building outside Moscow, 81-year-old Raisa carefully attached plastic strips to a camouflage net stretched over a wooden stand in front of her.

"It's for our boys who are over there," Raisa told AFP, with a hint of sadness in her voice.

"We are worried for them, of course," she sighed. "We are ready to do everything to provide moral and material help."

As Russia's assault on Ukraine takes a heavy toll on the army and economy, the Kremlin has cast its soldiers as heroes battling for Russia's very existence in the face of Western aggression and "Nazism".

Raisa is one of a dozen mostly elderly women who make everything from camouflage nets to underwear in a workshop in the town of Zhukovsky, around 25 kilometres (16 miles) southeast of the Russian capital.

The volunteers say they were inspired by the Soviet Union's historic mobilisation against Nazi Germany during World War II.

The seamstresses work in quiet concentration, surrounded by sacks and boxes destined for the front. A portrait of President Vladimir Putin is pinned to a wall. One of the posters says "From home with love."

Manager Elena Poteryaeva proudly presented one of their latest creations -- a green fabric stretcher with padded handles.

"That way the soldier won't hurt his hands while pulling his wounded comrade," the 50-year-old said.

The workshop is part of a network of about 10 in the regions of Moscow and Tver that produce up to 300 camouflage nets a month.

The nets then get delivered to Ukraine by volunteers or picked up by soldiers before joining the front.

Initially, several local grandmothers started sewing socks for soldiers last year, Poteryaeva said.

- Passionate support -

As the fighting continued, their efforts received official support, with the mayor's office in Zhukovsky providing the women with a place to work.

While many Russians prefer to keep their distance from the conflict, the women volunteers make no secret of their passionate support for the Kremlin's offensive.

"We support our guys and we believe that what they are doing is right," said Poteryaeva.

"We already feel like soldiers, rearguard soldiers," added the woman, an aeronautical engineer by training.

"I really hope that we will celebrate the victory together with our warriors."

Her comrade Natalia Shalygina said the conflict divided Russians and that patriots like them continued "the work of their grandfathers".

"In times of war there are those who help, those who wait and those who do harm," said the 52-year-old philologist.

"So we need to reach out to the guys and tell them loud and clear that we are waiting for them here, helping and supporting them," she added.

The women showed AFP a video of Russian soldiers thanking them for their support.

The workshop buys the necessary materials including fabrics and fishing nets from several companies across Russia and said it keeps going thanks to private donations.

Shalygina said she was already working on the new season as she pointed to a spool of white and green fabric for snow camouflage.

"Winter is coming soon," she said.