Saunas on the front line may not sound like the typical rallying cry associated with war efforts. Yet, this is precisely what the Ukrainian military requested. The concept, proposed by Ilmar Raag, an Estonian filmmaker and humanitarian worker, includes crowd-funded mobile sauna units for serving Ukrainian soldiers.
These units are not just about providing a place of relaxation. They are equipped with showers and washing machines for cleaning uniforms and disguised to protect from Russian fire.
The rationale behind the sauna request hails from Estonia’s longstanding sauna culture. The mobile units are viewed as a tool for maintaining hygiene and boosting morale, particularly on cold wintry nights. This military tradition dates back nearly a century when during the fight against the Bolsheviks, the national railway stationed a sauna train near the front for troops to cleanse and disinfect after weeks in the trenches.
Raag was compelled to act when he learned of Ukrainian soldiers enduring days, even weeks without washing or removing their boots. This apparent need motivated Raag to construct the mobile saunas, which have been warmly received by the Ukrainian forces.
The humanitarian initiative is not limited to Raag alone. Citizens residing in EU and Nato countries bordering Russia, particularly Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, are going the extra mile to aid Ukraine. Their motivations are deeply personal, driven by shared experiences of occupation by the Soviet Union in the aftermath of World War Two. These countries understand Ukraine’s plight and have pledged significant short-term aid relative to their economies.
Individuals like Gediminas Ivanauskas, Lithuania’s national champion in ‘drifting,’ have mobilised their skills to assist. Ivanauskas used his driving prowess to evacuate civilians from the onset of Russia’s invasion. His frustration with the slow pace of international aid has led him to crowd-fund a fleet of vehicles, some of which he outfits as ambulances for the Ukrainian forces.
Another example is Mindaugas Lietuvninkas, a volunteer sniper from Lithuania’s International Brigade. He believes that by aiding Ukraine, he is indirectly protecting his homeland.
The invasion of Ukraine has had a ripple effect across Russia’s neighbouring nations. Finland, a country which had previously been apprehensive about joining NATO, changed its stance following the invasion. The threat has led to a rise in Finns seeking weapons training, an unprecedented change in a nation that prided itself on its cordial ties with Russia.
The war has also dealt a blow to Finland’s economy, particularly the tourism sector. But the Finns share a single sentiment – a desire to prevent Russia’s sphere of control from expanding further.
There are concerns that Putin’s ambitions might not limit themselves to military invasions. Baltic nations, especially those bordering Russia, are uneasy about potential disinformation campaigns or cyberattacks. These tensions and sensitivities are likely to persist long after the conflict ends.
Across Europe and Russia’s immediate neighbours, citizens are deeply embroiled in the impacts of this war. They contemplate what the future might entail– the relationship with Russia, potential alliances, and the possibility of trust. These questions demand the careful consideration of not just the countries sharing a border with Russia, but also every European country and each of Ukraine’s allies.