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How Ukraine's businesses and citizens are pitching in to help in the war effort

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Russia's invasion has galvanized the population of Ukraine, and with sudden speed, the whole focus of Ukraine's economy has shifted. Business plans and profits are out the window. The only priority, Ukrainians say, is survival, and they hope victory against Russian forces. NPR's Tim Mak reports from western Ukraine about how the private sector is transitioning to a war economy.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Like thousands of other Ukrainians, Igor fled Kyiv when his country was invaded. He's normally in the business of building combines for agricultural use.

(SOUNDBITE OF WELDING)

MAK: As he left Kyiv, he traveled to the industrial zone in the city of Ternopil, where his company has warehouses.

IGOR: Here we have our own workshop, old equipment workshop with lasers, all kind of equipment.

MAK: Almost overnight, they started producing goods for the war effort. It was so sudden, he doesn't even know the English words for what he's building yet.

IGOR: I do not have a lot of words - military tanks.

MAK: I can describe it.

IGOR: Yeah.

MAK: Anti-tank devices...

The workshop is now mass-producing metal spikes to stop cars from advancing on roads and fusing old railroad tracks together to create hedgehogs, these giant Xs to stop tanks. The sudden transition expands beyond those with specialized skills.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHATTERING AMBIENCE)

MAK: In western Ukraine, more than a hundred volunteers gathered in what in normal times would be a school gymnasium. Now it's a place where civilians are creating camouflage nets for military checkpoints and vehicles. Oksana Pylypiv is one of the lead organizers.

OKSANA PYLYPIV: (Through translator) So basically, this was all made in two hours. And then a lot of people came and start just helping with what they can, you know, bringing stuff here and cutting it and making it happen.

MAK: But not every part of the war effort has a military use. Taras Demkura, a businessman, owns a mall and business center in Ternopil, and he's turning it into a refuge for internally displaced Ukrainians.

TARAS DEMKURA: (Through translator) I am a Ukrainian citizen. It's why we're doing this, because we have to help each other. So it's a responsibility of every citizen to help their country.

MAK: At the mall, they're preparing for children to arrive, building bunk beds to sleep up to 60, with the mattresses covered in cartoon figures and even the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Nearby, teenagers, not much older than the children who will sleep at that mall, are helping organize food stores for the army.

VOLODYMYR: My name is Volodymyr.

MAK: Volodymyr, just like the president.

VOLODYMYR: Yeah, but...

(LAUGHTER)

MAK: He's part of an all-volunteer rear detachment of a unit currently fighting in Kyiv. They're canning and preserving meats, collecting basic pantry items and organizing medications for the front lines. It's this moment of crisis and volunteerism that has business owners throwing out the playbook they had for before the war.

(SOUNDBITE OF FACTORY AMBIENCE)

MAK: At the milk production facility he co-owns in western Ukraine, Vitaliy Kovalchuk proudly inspects the lines where his company's milk is bottled. The bottles are coming straight off the line, right onto trucks that are headed to Kyiv. His company, Molokia, has instructed its drivers to distribute it to whoever needs it.

VITALIY KOVALCHUK: (Through translator) If you're asking about the business, currently there is no business. So the mission No. 1 is to save our country. And business, we'll figure it out later.

MAK: Here in western Ukraine, where major military skirmishes have yet to occur, the conversion of the civilian economy into a war economy is part of a general feeling that all Ukrainians need to pitch in.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Through translator) There is no combat - active combat yet, but everybody's in the war. People who are driving the trucks, people who are working, volunteers, everybody's involved.

MAK: Life will never quite be the same for the residents of Ukraine, but all over, people are learning things, doing things, building things, things they never imagined they'd do.

Tim Mak, NPR News, Ternopil Oblast. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.