ODESA, UKRAINE — There’s not much difference between designing a dress and designing a bulletproof vest, says Ivan Fotesko, a fashion designer turned army outfitter in Odesa.
Fotesko and his friends still can’t believe their lives have changed. In the morning they sit in an outdoor cafe and talk to an American journalist visiting from The Hill. Across the street is the municipal food distribution center for Ukrainians fleeing their homeland, now under Russian occupation.
Fotesko and his two friends, Arthur Petrosjan and Michael Mirkovich, are preparing to leave for Mykoliav the next day. They’re donating bottled water — the city has been cut off from running water — and providing military supplies, including bulletproof vests, boots, and other tactical accessories to soldiers fighting on the front lines of that city. brings you the latest batch of fatigue.
The three have been working together since March to restock Ukrainian soldiers with needed uniforms and supplies.Military aid from the United States and other Western countries has focused on big-budget items such as heavy artillery. However, volunteer initiatives and NGOs have stepped in to fill smaller but important gaps.
In the early days of the Russian invasion, our friends went from storing Molotov cocktails to providing uniforms when needed.
Fotesko is considered a famous fashion designer in Ukraine. He turned an Odesa storefront that sold custom-made women’s designs into a factory that manufactured bulletproof vests, uniforms, boots, medical bags, and other utility his textiles.
His metal security gate features a graffiti cartoon of a cat, the symbol of Odessa, dressed in military uniform with a flak jacket and the Ukrainian flag. Inside the “Ukrainian concept his store” are piles of boots wrapped in plastic wrap. On the shelves and desks are piles of camouflage pants, utility his belt, medical kit his bag, and camouflage his net.
A female mannequin is discarded in the corner.
Arrange the camouflage fabrics on the drafting table in the back, and measure, cut, and sew all in the same place.
When asked if the shift was a big change, Fotesco shrugged and said he was able to produce at least six dresses in the past six months. I would like to design it, but I would like to help in any way I can.
Supplying frontline fighters requires Fotesco and his two friends nearly all the time.
Mirkovich and Petrosjan primarily help with funding and production. According to them, much of it is self-financed and production needs are so high that they have little time to raise money.
They do a little bit of advertising on their social media, but are mostly on the front lines fulfilling requests for needed items.
“On any Instagram you can find information that says, ‘militaries need everything from shoes to bulletproof vests.’ So we decided to start making vests. That was our decision in early March. It was,” Milkovich said.
They have moved from procuring full body armor, including bulletproof vests, to offering only jackets, with the body armor itself handled by the Ukrainian military.
It said it had delivered about 750 bulletproof vests from March to this Wednesday.
“It was crazy at first, everyone needed it. Now it’s a little better because the government is helping meet needs,” explained Milkovich.
Still, men spend most of their time filling orders or raising funds to produce more. They created a social media page promoting their work just a few days ago.
“All the money we get is fundraising, it’s our own money, and it’s getting harder every day. We want to do more because we have too many orders,” he said. .
Area Manager of Guess Stores in Ukraine, Mirkovich continues to work full time.
Petrojan, a professional architect, said he works on military uniform projects “almost all day, every day.” In the first days of the Russian invasion, he said he began volunteering at humanitarian centers overwhelmed by thousands of refugees fleeing the onslaught in Mariupol and Kharkov.
“It was hell,” each said, “with their own history, their own tragedy – it was hard work.”
Petrojan said that making clothes for soldiers is hard work, but they are proud of it.
Fotesko agreed that he is doing his best to help people on the front lines.
“The main thing is to stand up and help us now,” Fotesco says of what his message to the United States is. It added that “every cent” of donations and aid would be used.
“Each coin is very important to us.”
The Hill’s Laura Kelly is on duty in Ukraine.