In Odessa, a strategically important port city on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast, civilians – computer programmers, IT workers, everyday workers – have taken up arms to defend against Russia’s invasion.
Zhena was a chief marketing officer for an IT company before he joined Ukraine’s armed forces. He told CNN two of his friends had already been killed in the war, both volunteers who had been fighting in the besieged city of Kherson.
“They have no military grounding at all. Both of them are programmers,” he said.
One 19-year-old volunteer, who formerly worked as a nanny, says she faced the Russian threat to her home once before. When she was 11, she fled Crimea, which was occupied by Russia in 2014 and annexed after a referendum widely seen as a sham.
“We’re ready to the end to defend our land,” she told CNN. “The occupiers came to my home before. My family is still there. Only I could leave because I don’t want to live in Russia.”
On the other side of the southern city, Odessa’s mothers knit camouflage netting as they pray for their children’s safety on the front lines.
“We know the danger. We know it will come. But we didn’t know when it will come,” said one mother, Nellia Kononova.
She had asked her children to stay with her for their safety – but they were determined to fight and defend Ukraine “because everybody loves our motherland,” she said, before breaking into tears. “I pray every day, I pray every night, for them to stay alive.”