At the Lviv Polytechnic, students and volunteers make camouflage cloths for the army

At the Lviv Polytechnic, students and volunteers make camouflage cloths for the army

At the Lviv Polytechnic

Lviv - There is something tender, and perhaps slightly melancholy, about these bright-eyed students in Ukraine who are convinced that their hand-made nets can hold back the Russian army, which albeit amid sudden setbacks and copious losses is making way for the cities. But perhaps the networks that arise from their hands are just a detail. What is woven at the National Polytechnic in Lviv (Lviv), a Ukrainian city 70 kilometers from Poland, for now spared from bombs even if the anti-aircraft alarm goes off every day, is the new skin of the nation, proud of its resistance against a car that only three weeks seemed unstoppable.

We are in one of the most important universities in the country, with over 30 thousand students and two thousand teachers, where an entire four-storey departmental complex has been reused to produce the sheets they serve to camouflage soldiers and military posts. Our guide is Iryna Voytovych, 25, with a small body, blond hair and a hat with the colors of the Ukrainian flag. At the Polytechnic she graduated in computer engineering and before the conflict she worked remotely for a foreign company. The institute had been open in fits and starts for two years, due to Covid-19. Then the blow on February 24, after Russia launched a large-scale attack, bombing cities well outside the breakaway areas of Donetsk and Luhansk. Students and staff from leading Ukrainian universities were advised to stay home. After the first two or three days, those of shock and confusion, Iryna was seized by a movement of restlessness: she couldn't make it past her old institute and see it closed and empty, and so she decided to reopen it.

In Lviv, the temporary capital of Ukraine, with bombs getting closer and closer Let's go back to the city 60 kilometers from Poland which is the starting point for thousands of displaced people. Kilometers at the station to catch the last train available, journalists from all over the world and thousands of volunteers. Daily life between glimpses of normality and the Russian invader Read the article Iryna mobilized former bewildered classmates and professors who fled out of town, she convinced them to ask the authorities for permission, who immediately said yes. “Everyone in Ukraine has to do their part, and I couldn't sit idly by,” says she, who is one of the coordinators of this vast factory with dozens of participants open at least ten hours every day.

Factories that produce camouflage cloths have become a classic, it can be said, of Ukraine at war. They had already appeared like mushrooms in 2014, with the annexation of Crimea by Russia and the outbreak of civil war in the Donbas regions. Towels are popular because they are relatively simple to make, require no electricity or running water, and can employ a population of any age and physical structure. Now there are at least a dozen of these factories in Lviv: present in government offices, schools, cinemas, private apartments and even strip clubs such as Split, in the historic center. But no one is as big and coordinated as this one at the Politecnico.

Intertwined knots, memorabilia and pop music We cross the open gate of the campus together with Tatiana, 26 years old who met Iryna thanks to an Instagram page where they talk about the various activities of the Politecnico, in which the displaced persons are also welcomed and basic necessities are collected and sorted. We made our way among the brutalist Soviet buildings on a sunny day, while Lviv brings together twentieth-century war scenes such as the station packed with refugees queuing to escape and sushi bars that reopen even without alcohol, public pillories for those who steal in aid humanitarians and street artists playing the guitar among foreign journalists and families from Kharkiv or Kyiv.

In the foyer of the Polytechnic, dimly lit by neon, Stepan's marble bas-relief busts are on display Bandera and Roman Shukhevych, two famous exponents of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, a nationalist political party founded in 1929 by anti-Communist and anti-Russian Ukrainian exiles. Few figures in Ukrainian history are so controversial, capable of influencing the current debate even six decades after their death.

On the ground floor we find two 18-year-old girls, sitting at a desk while other students write theirs names on a form to join the volunteers. On a column there is a colored sheet of paper, on which the number of units completed each day is marked: on average between 60 and 70 sheets, but sometimes it reaches over 80 sheets.

Russia has lost more than 1400 military vehicles since the invasion The numbers collected by Onyx show that the losses of tanks, artillery pieces and means of transport in Moscow are three times those in Kiev Read the article A short distance away, a wall is covered with photos of the famous "celestial 100" (Nebesna sotnya) that is the pro-European martyrs who fell during the violent protests in Kyiv in 2014. The difficult construction of the Ukrainian identity, sometimes not easy to digest for the observer, he also passes by this one.

In the four floors that normally house the departments of economics, languages ​​and applied mathematics, the sheet assembly line is set up in an admirable order. The ground floor is the reception area but also where long ropes, curled up in skeins, are cut and stretched to be usable. Going up to the first floor you get to the heart, and you can admire a great collective synchronized movement: standing near the light of the windows, groups of two or three students - but there is no lack of males and the elderly - weave threads hanging from a rudimentary wooden frame, about three meters wide and two meters high. The rigid rope is refined and transformed into a tightly meshed base net. This is then passed on to the second-floor workgroups, who crouch on the floor add green and brown strips of plastic.

Entering the side rooms other students - we count at least sixty in all - do the exact same thing: they make knots, wrap ropes around each other; they repeat the process again and again. A whole faculty of Ukrainians creating cloths awaiting the arrival of the curfew. To keep the atmosphere alive there is, in each classroom, a bluetooth speaker that sends pop songs alternating with patriotic and Ukrainian folk ones. Volunteers are sometimes concentrated in smug and happy silence, sometimes hopping to the beat of the music. It seems to see the classes of an art institute at work engaged in a project at the end of the course.

Volunteers are instructed on how to network only a few hours before. “It's easy - says Tatiana -. Even I, who am very clumsy, have succeeded ”. Everyone here has heard about the initiative through social media, on Instagram or in a group on Telegram. And when hundreds of students - mostly very young girls - are willing to take turns here, spending their nights making thousands of knots and moving boxes in unheated classrooms, for having rough news on the real course of the conflict, then it is clear that the determination of a community cannot be measured only in Kalashnikovs and drones.

Courses and appeals The construction of the Ukrainian identity, however, is not all roses. For ten years in Galicia - a traditionally conservative Ukrainian region of Catholic faith, linked to Polish and Lithuanian culture, where Russian is very reluctantly used as a second language - right-wing politics has been lobbying to re-evaluate figures such as Bandera, Shukhevych and other trained patriots by the Nazis, responsible - directly or indirectly - for the massacre of tens of thousands of Jews and Poles during the Second World War.

For the Polytechnic students with whom we speak, the fact that Bandera fought to prevent the Soviet occupation of Ukraine (and that it was poisoned for this) is more significant than its collaboration with the SS. “The main thing for the people who follow Bandera today is that he fought for an independent Ukraine. They ignore that his organization collaborated with the Nazi regime, that Bandera was also anti-Polish and think that his anti-Semitism is just a distorted interpretation of foreign scholars, ”says Tatiana. This instrumental reading of the past was reinforced by the Euromaidan revolution of 2014, and especially after the Russian annexation of Crimea, when even many pro-European liberals tried to re-evaluate the figure of Bandera in an ante litteram anti-Putinian bulwark.

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Ivan, one of the few males present at the Polytechnic, 25, works from home as a computer engineer two or three hours every morning, then he joins this rear army to defend a state that according to Vladimir Putin should hardly even exist. Outside, hundreds of volunteers man the Red Cross tents at the train station, transform the National Gallery into a large humanitarian aid hub and assist journalists. Armed soldiers, in groups of three, patrol the streets of the center night and day.

“These sheets are the only thing I feel I can do. Elsewhere they overflow with volunteers and there is no room left, "says Yarina, a 21-year-old economics student. She, originally from Kharkiv, had been living in Lviv for a year and a half. Her brother is drafted into the army in the eastern regions. “This is a war that we did not start-she says-she. Too bad for the Russians, they will find out what we are made of ”. If in 2014 Ukraine hardly reacted to the first attempted conquest by the Russian side, they all repeat, now things have changed: the country has the support, ammunition and moral support of the whole world. And it will not give an inch.

Perhaps camouflage sheets alone do not make much of a difference, although they have helped to hide the positions from which Ukrainian rockets and bullets have slowed down the Russian advance, astounding the same international observers. Their weaving is the lay rosary that these children recite to show the world that they are there.

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