Karabakh capital mobilises discreetly to support soldiers
At first glance, the city seems almost deserted.
But underground, in basements, garages and depots that cannot be seen, Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, is fully mobilized to support troops fighting Azerbaijani forces on the front lines.
While air raid sirens sound for a few minutes, warning of the next volley of rockets or the imminent arrival of drones, a textile factory hidden in the mountains that dominate the city is quietly at work.
A few cars are nearby, indicating activity. Men in civilian clothes - sometimes with parkas or camouflage pants - and others in full uniform come and go as discreetly as possible.
To a casual observer, the building appears to be idle. But while the upper floors are empty, people work hard in the huge basement.
First aid workers and nurses are busy cleaning khaki stretchers, presumably to evacuate wounded fighters. The litters are stowed in four old Soviet-era UAZ delivery vans owned by the local emergency services, ready to go to the front.
Dozens of boxes are piled up in a storage room: coffee, chocolate bars, cigarettes and other supplies that have been collected in the Armenian capital Yerevan and other cities and are intended for frontline soldiers.
There are dozens of pickaxe handles on the floor, brand new shovels still in the box, essential tools for positions where sandbags need to be filled for protection.
Further inside, in a large, neon-lit hangar, about 10 people are employed behind two rows of sewing machines.
They used to work on the upper floors, says Sanasar Tevonyan. They drew a pattern on green camouflage fabric with a ruler and pencil.
"We came down to the basement a week ago to take shelter from the bombs that were starting to rain."
- 'For our boys' -
Sanasar, 62, said he came from Russia to fight but was considered too old. "Here I can make myself useful."
Before the conflict began, the factory produced yarn for carpets and jackets, which were exported to Italy.
It was converted to the production of uniforms, sleeping bags and ammunition belts, supported by volunteers who devoted themselves to the "Artsakh" cause, the Armenian name for Nagorno-Karabakh and the official name for the self-proclaimed breakaway republic that is not even recognized by any country Armenia.
After years of conflict, many people in this ethnic-Armenian region of Azerbaijan have joined the cause and are helping the fighters who are fighting against Azerbaijan as best they can.
Some factory workers preferred evacuating across the border into Yerevan with families. Bella Hayeapetyan chose to stay.
Wrapped in a wool jacket with glasses at the end of her nose, she has no regrets and says that she stayed "for our sons, our brothers, our husbands who fight on the front."
Some younger volunteers are doing their best on the sewing machines.
"Some of them didn't know anything," she says. "I taught them to sew."
One of them is Maria Miqayelyan, 36, who with her colorful leggings looks like she's more at home in a Zumba class. Today, however, she is busy embroidering the pockets of an ammunition jacket.
"This is a small country," she says. "Every family has someone at the front. Everything we do, we do for our people and our country."
"There is no family that does nothing for the war in one way or another," she adds. And fighting at the front is only 30 kilometers away.
They work all day, sometimes until midnight. Some sleep on camp beds on site. And every day vehicles come from the front to collect the material produced here.
"We all have a loved one at war and whoever defends our country at the front is our brother," says Bella defiantly.
Meanwhile, the sewing machine hums peacefully under her fingers.
hba / yy / wai
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