According to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, Russian forces are concentrating on encircling Kyiv

Residents of Odessa prepare to defend the city, Odessa, Ukraine, on March 3rd. (Gilles Bader/Le Pictorium/Cover Images/Reuters)

In Odessa, a strategic port city on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast, civilians – computer programmers, IT staff, day workers – have taken up arms to defend themselves against the Russian invasion.

Zhena was chief marketing officer 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 fought in the besieged city of Kherson.

“They have no military training at all. Both are programmers,” he said.

A 19-year-old volunteer who used to work as a nanny said she had previously faced Russian threats to her home. When she was 11 She fled Crimea, which was occupied by Russia in 2014 and annexed after what was widely seen as a sham referendum.

“We are ready to defend our country to the end,” she told CNN. “The occupiers came to my house before. My family is still there. Only I could go because I don’t want to live in Russia.”

Across the southern city, Odessa’s mothers knit camouflage nets while praying for their children’s safety at the front lines.

“We know the danger. We know she will come. But we didn’t know when she was coming,” said one mother, Nellia Kononova.

She had asked her children to stay with her for her safety – but they were determined to fight and defend Ukraine “because everyone loves our motherland,” she said, before breaking down in tears. “I pray every day, I pray every night that they stay alive.”

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