MOSCOW (Reuters) – Natalia Yermakova’s husband, Alexander, has been fighting in Ukraine for more than a year after responding to President Vladimir Putin’s mobilization call as a volunteer. He was injured in his leg, underwent surgery, and was returned to the front.
A believer in what Russia calls its “special military operation” against Ukraine, Natalia works hard as a volunteer in a “family battalion” in Moscow.
She is one of a group of about 40 people, mostly female, relatives of enlisted men who string camouflage nets, mark minefields, collect candles to use in bunkers, and put food parcels together in their spare time.
As Putin prepares himself to win a fifth presidential term next March, presenting himself as the right man to lead a military campaign that the West says is a colonial-style war of aggression, it is people like Yermakova who Putin relies on to maintain his position. Support base together.
Its work takes place in an office of the ruling United Russia party, which is decorated with the red, blue and white flag of Russia and portraits of politicians such as Putin.
She said there were similar groups operating across Moscow.
Relatives take turns accompanying the deliveries they assemble – in a truck more than 30 years old – to the Russian army in what Yermakova calls “new territories” – Ukrainian territory annexed by Russia.
“We really want to support them (the soldiers) morally and emotionally and send them a message… that what they are doing there is needed by people here,” Yermakova told Reuters as she took a break from weaving a giant camouflage net.
Some wives of Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine are demanding that their husbands, who they say do not get enough breaks to spend time with their families, be discharged and that others take their place.
“The way it should be”
But Yermakova (37 years old) does not share this concern. She was able to stay with her husband for some time after he spent several months recovering in Moscow following surgery on his leg.
“If our government decides to act this way, it means this is the way things should be,” Yermakova said.
He added, “I think that Russia is waking up from its slumber and realizing that (war) does not happen without a reason and that there are compelling reasons for it.”
This is a reference to the Kremlin’s narrative that the conflict is part of a broader existential struggle for a more just global order against what Putin sees as a decadent West bent on containing Russia.
The West describes Russia’s actions in Ukraine as a brutal and unjustified seizure of territory, but this view finds little acceptance among Russians like Yermakova. They accuse Ukraine of mistreating Russian speakers in the east since 2014 when a Russian-backed uprising broke out there. Kyiv denies this charge.
Yermakova said that attaching camouflage nets to help hide trenches and putting them on soldiers’ helmets was the volunteers’ main task because they could help save their husbands’ lives by keeping them safe from enemy drones.
She and others also began sewing bandages and baking apple and cabbage pies to send to their men.
Yermakova said she had made several delivery trips, and described the area near the front line as “a different world.”
Despite the bleak nature of the war, she said she and her husband tried to bring a little normalcy back into their lives by practicing tango, something they loved, on the rare occasions they saw each other.
(Reporting by Reuters, Writing by Andrew Osborne, Editing by Gareth Jones and Leslie Adler)
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