by Kristin Frauenhoffer
Vilni means „free“ in Ukrainian. A word that has become a foreign word for Ukrainians nowadays. At the same time it is a word that means everything. That is why Anastasiia Bytko choose this word for the project she created about 8 months ago. It aims to support Ukrainian women who are refugees or internally displaced by creating knitting jobs for them. The products – hats, scarves, socks – are sold online throughout Europe and the proceeds go directly to the women.
„This morning divided my life into before and after.“
One of these women is Nataliia Krylova. Nine months ago she was living a happy life. Her lifestyle was not much different to the ones we all have in Western industrialized countries. She has not one but two degrees: one as a pharmacist and one as an upbringer pedagogue. That made it possible for her to choose the profession that gave her more pleasure, which was educating young children. She loved practising yoga, reading books and enjoyed the silence during her morning runs in the woods.
And then suddenly, on 24th February bombs started falling on her hometown and her life changed from one second to the other. „The war literally broke into my house, because I woke up to the sound of explosions. […] This morning divided my life into before and after“, she says. Many Ukrainian women feel the same way as Nataliia. They are displaced from their homes, have lost their jobs, worry about their husbands, who had to stay to fight in the war and try to keep their children safe.
Anastasiia had just become a mother when the war started
Some people develop almost superhuman faculties in times of danger and some become very creative. So was Anastasiia Bytko. The young woman from Kyiv had just become a mother and was on maternity leave when the war started, her daughter was 6 months old. She fled to Western Ukraine together with her husband, her mother and sister. There she was called by her former English colleague Andrew Paterson who picked her up at the border to Estonia. It was then that they together developed a first idea of the project. „I asked him for a job and then we had the idea to help other fugitive women to get to a safe place and then support them by providing them with jobs“, Anastasiia recalls. The VILNI project was born.
VILNI has now 43 women working as knitters all over Ukraine
They quickly decided that the jobs they wanted to create should be as simple as possible and should not involve any digital material as it would have been difficult to organise the hardware. There is also another reason, as Anastasiia explains: „50 % of the more that 8 million women who were displaced do not have proper digital skills. So we focused on these women, that means moms on maternity leave, women on pension and so on.“ At the beginning it was just Andrew, Anastasiia and her mother who created the knitting schemes. But very quickly they managed to find other volunteers who could help with setting up the online platform, creating video tutorials, starting the sales process. Now more or less 20 people are involved in VILNI and 43 women all over Ukraine and Estonia are employed as knitters. They get paid right after they have finished their products.
Each product has a QR code that leads to the story of the woman who made it
The scarves, hats and socks made by the women of the VILNI project have simple unicolored designs. Among the bright yellow and blue – the colours of the Ukrainian flag. They have names like „Freedom“ or „Glory“ and fit both men and women. They can be ordered conviniently from home from anywhere in Europe. So anyone looking for a Christmas present that is not only pretty but has a positive charitable impact will find it here. Each product had a QR code that leads to the story of the women who made it. This is what Anastasiia finds most important about VILNI: „When you buy the product you are supporting a concrete person and giving this woman an opportunity to feed her family after they are left with nothing because of war.“
The VILNI community offers mental and emotional support – and short distraction periods
But Anastasiija Bytko´s project does not stop there. She also created the VILNI-community – a safe online space for business women, craft workers and all those women who need support. They find mental and emotional support, exchange with other women or educational courses on how to sell craft products for example. They can join meeting with psychologists, yoga teachers or art therapists. It is also the short distraction from their everyday life in Ukraine that makes the community an invaluable element of the whole project. 200 women already joined the community and many more are there to come.
„During the first year we want to support 100 craftswomen with jobs, 1000 via the VILNI Women Community and get 3-5 paid team mates as well as be able to produce 500 pieces a month and sell them“, outlines Anastasiia the future perspective. At the moment they are looking for orders from charity funds or companies so that they can establish a functioning sales system.
Anastasiia is now back in Kyiv and working from there. „The situation is quite difficult, on 10th October the Russians were bombing a lot. Now it has become quieter, but we have electricity only a few hours a day “, she says. Nevertheless she keeps on working on her project hoping to support many more women. And at the end, of course, is the hope for an early end to the war and a positive outcome: „I hope and believe that we will win.“
You can support the VILNI project by buying their craft products here.
You can also send a donation:
For Payments in Dollars:
Company Name: NGO OSE Ukraine
You will find VILNI on social media aswell:
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