In Odessa, a strategically important port city on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast, civilians – computer programmers, computer scientists, ordinary workers – have taken up arms to defend themselves against the Russian invasion.
Zhena was a marketing manager for an IT company before joining the Ukrainian Armed Forces. He told CNN that two of his friends had already been killed in the war, both volunteers who had fought in the besieged city of Kherson.
“They have no military base. Both are programmers,” he said.
A 19-year-old volunteer, who previously worked as a nanny, says she once faced the Russian threat to her home. When she was 11, she fled Crimea, occupied by Russia in 2014 and annexed after a referendum widely seen as a sham.
“We are ready until the end to defend our land,” she told CNN. “The occupants came to my house before. My family is still there. I’m the only one who can leave because I don’t want to live in Russia.
Across the southern city, mothers in Odessa knit camouflage nets as they pray for the safety of their children on the front lines.
“We know the danger. We know it will come. But we didn’t know when it would happen,” 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 everyone loves our homeland”, she said before bursting into tears. “I pray every day, I pray every night, that they stay alive.”