“Life-saving” camouflage nets made by Ukrainian refugees in Scotland are playing a starring role in a special nativity display.
Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine last year, St Cuthbert’s Church of Scotland in Edinburgh hosted the Edinburgh Spiders, a team of volunteers who make camouflage nets that are sent to Ukraine to help protect Ukrainian soldiers.
Despite limited numbers and resources, the group has now created more than 100 nets.
And this year, St Cuthbert’s nativity scene is centred around the plight of Ukrainians who have been affected by the war.
The nativity scene is shrouded with camouflage netting created by the spiders, and Hanna Tekliuk, co-organiser for the Edinburgh Spiders, encouraged people of all faiths and none to visit the display as a reminder that, like many Ukrainians today, Jesus, Mary and Joseph were also displaced and persecuted during their lives.
She said: “When people celebrate Christmas they remember Jesus and his mother, how they were travelling and that they themselves were refugees and needed shelter.
“So when people come and see the nativity covered with camouflage nets, it symbolises shelter.”
The Spiders also operate from the Morningside United Church and the Heart of Newhaven Community, both of which are also in Edinburgh.
Ms Tekliuk says the idea to make the nets came from her daughter, Sofia.
Having fled Ukraine themselves following the invasion, the pair and the team of dedicated volunteers wanted to do anything they could to help Ukraine in any way possible.
The nets provide cover from planes, drones, and infantry, and are often used to cover vehicles, people, medical shelters and more.
Ms Tekliuk said: “Even civilians are using them now because they’re often targeted, so they use the nets for camouflage and they are saving a lot of lives.
“It’s a very important thing for us to make them, and we are taking orders from lots of different people.”
She added: “We are looking for more volunteers. We are more or less fine at the Morningside location, but we need more people at the other locations and need some more funding to buy materials to make the netting.”
The Spiders have members from many countries, Ms Tekliuk said, including Poland, Georgia, the UK, America and more.
She encouraged anyone who wants to help to get involved, stating they are now receiving so many orders they cannot fulfil them all as they need more bodies on board.
She also said the situation in Ukraine, from what she has seen, is worsening.
“It’s definitely not getting any better because hundreds of people are being killed every day,” she said.
“Unfortunately we lack weapons and people, and Russia is way too powerful to be defeated quickly and easily because it’s one of the biggest countries in the world.
“They have limitless resources and over 140 million people so they have many soldiers and could continue this war forever.
“If people don’t help us around the world, I don’t think Ukrainians will cope.”
Ms Tekluik also helps run a Saturday school for Ukrainian children who have fled with their families to Scotland.
Held at George Heriot’s School in Edinburgh, it offers the children a place “not to feel isolated and to remember their language, traditions, culture and heritage”, she said.
Reverend Peter Sutton, parish minister for St Cuthbert’s, is no stranger to the horrors of war.
Before serving as a clergyman in the Church of Scotland, the reverend was in the Black Watch in the British Army.
He has worked closely with Edinburgh’s community of Ukrainians who have fled the war since they first began coming to the city.
Reverend Sutton is to host a service at 10.30am on Christmas Eve at St Cuthbert’s, centred on the plight of the Ukrainians who have suffered due to the war.
He said: “What they are doing is unreal and they also have a deep appreciation for this time of year.
“If you want to see Christmas from the perspective of vulnerable people, this service allows us to come together around the Holy Family.
“Ukrainian people need protecting and this service will talk about protecting them.”
People of all faiths and none are welcome to attend the service or view the nativity display.
To donate or volunteer for the Edinburgh Spiders, contact St Cuthbert’s on 0131 229 1142.
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