Image credited to author
Since August of this year, the skies above Kharkiv, like other parts of Ukraine, have been patrolled by Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones.
The drones are the loitering munition type, which means that they hover over a target until it is located, after which they fire a 200-kilo warhead at a ground object.
In Kharkiv, as in other parts of Ukraine, drones like these have reduced to rubble not only anti-aircraft defences, as they were designed to do, but also pillars of public life like hospitals and schools. Sometimes they are successful, fully expended in their single attack, and other times they hover endlessly in the sky, unable to locate their targets in time to strike.
One of the reasons they often fail can be found, perhaps much to the surprise of many readers, right here in Morningside, Edinburgh.
Every Friday and Saturday, a group of volunteers meet in Morningside United Church to weave camouflage nets that are then shipped to Ukraine to protect field hospitals, safety structures, and sometimes Ukrainian soldiers from aerial attacks hiding them from Russian reconnaissance missions.
The group calls itself the Edinburgh Camouflage Nets for Ukraine Society, but less of a mouthful is its informal name—the Edinburgh Spiders.
Sofia Tekliuk, one of the organisers of the society, spoke to The Student about starting the initiative.
“We started at the end of July. It was probably four of us then: just me, my mum, and two other volunteers, and we made our first net.”
“To make a camouflage net, you need to have a base, the mesh itself, and then you put in small pieces of fabric, and at that time, I couldn’t find the right mesh that we needed, with the right-sized holes, so we made it by hand using twine. So it was probably two weeks of work just to make the mesh for the first net.”
Since then, however, things have picked up as more volunteers have joined the society to contribute to the Ukrainian cause. Sofia said that the majority of volunteers are Ukrainians, mainly those who have recently come to Scotland from Ukraine, but there are others.
“We have a couple of [Ukrainian] families who come here regularly who have been here for eight years. About 30% of volunteers are British, and usually, they are elderly people.”
So far, eight nets have been sent to Ukraine via other volunteer organisations like Sunflower Scotland, which sends a large amount of aid to the country, or through the contacts of volunteers themselves. The nets reach locations in the east of Ukraine, including Kharkiv and Izyum.
However, Sofia mentions that it is difficult to keep track of where they are put to use. “I don’t even know where some of them are because it is kept secret.”
Weaving camouflage nets, however, is not something that Sofia or many of the other volunteers had to learn from scratch.
“There are lots of voluntary sports in Ukraine, even in schools. The war has been going on for the past eight years and has mainly affected the eastern parts of Ukraine, but even in schools elsewhere, we had voluntary events where we could make camouflage nets,” Sofia told The Student.
According to the BBC, more than 20,000 Ukrainians have come to Scotland under the government’s Super Sponsor scheme. While governments and armies are certainly integral in countering Russia’s invasion and providing aid to Ukrainians both inside and outside the country, Edinburgh Camouflage Nets for Ukraine shows that even individuals can participate in defence of Ukraine in a way that builds community and impacts – even saves – the lives of innocent civilians.
“It’s like a community that supports each other,” Sofia said. “It makes me very happy and warms my heart because I know that everyone is so eager to help my country.”
The society and its organisers are looking for volunteers to join them on Fridays and Saturdays. They can be found on both Facebook and Instagram. With enough volunteers, their nets could save countless lives in the war. All from a small room on the second floor of a church in Morningside.