Ukraine, the women's front: in battle against the enemy and prejudices

There are 41,000 of them, 9 percent of the army. There are those who enlist to honor their fallen boyfriend, those chasing an ideal. And they all show how the defense of freedom is not exclusively for men

  ukraine-today-3 In Ukraine, the role of women on the front lines is also important

When Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov communicated the latest data on the presence of women in the army on December 27, many thought so. This war is changing Ukrainian society, including the army. While registration for military service is mandatory for men, women can choose to enlist voluntarily. After the invasion, many of them did and nearly 41,000 women are now registered in the armed forces, 5,000 of them in combat roles. They represent 9 percent of the total army.

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Some of them – 350 according to Kiev – have been decorated as heroines. More than 150 fell on the field. Among these, last in chronological order, is Vlada Chernykh, a doctoral student of the National Pharmaceutical Academy in Kharkiv, killed in battle on December 27 while she was helping her wounded comrades to evacuate. 'At a certain point I realized that I had to be there,' she said in an interview with Euromaidan Press a few months before her death.
Such a large female presence in the Ukrainian army is a novelty, so much so that before February 24, the departments did not have women's uniforms or separate dormitories. But many have protested and slowly things are starting to change. “The first batch of women's uniforms has arrived,” Minister Reznikov announced after Christmas. «And we are also thinking about introducing a new model of boot».

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Helmet on his head, the flag of Ukraine tied behind his back and a watermelon in his hand – the watermelon is the symbol of the Kherson region – Anastasia Blyshchyk, 26, worked as a journalist before the war for an important TV channel, Ukraine 24 Engaged to a famous journalist, Oleksandr Makhov, and after seeing her boyfriend die in the war in May, she too chose to enlist and is now part of the Ong Arm Women Now which supports female recruitment.
Other military women have also founded organizations. One of them is Zemliachky, led by Ksenya Draganuk, which has received a veritable flood of donations to purchase uniforms, bulletproof vests, thermal underwear and other equipment for female soldiers. The NGO has a warehouse in Kiev with clothing and equipment to supply women free of charge. Many militaries, however, have come up against widespread male bias even from some top commanders.

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THEY ALSO FIGHT AGAINST SEXISM - From this conflict the NGO was born Ucraina Women Veteran Movement (uwvm). In an interview with NV Radio, the co-founder of Uwvm, Kateryna Pryimak, explained: «Even before February 24 we had started fighting for the rights of women in the army against sexism. In these days we are working to carry out psychological assistance and training projects, helping our companions to face the oppressive stress'.
Among the women deployed in the army, there are also members of the LGBT community. One of them is Eva Planochka, 22, a paramedic in a volunteer battalion. “I am bisexual. In civilian life, I am an artist – before the invasion I worked as a game developer and studied art. This spring I quit my job and volunteered to join a medical battalion. I think it was the best decision I could have made. I did my first rotation in November, so I don't have much combat experience yet. Still, for me, working side by side with the best sons and daughters of Ukraine is an honor and a great personal achievement that I am proud of. And I hope that all this will also serve to change the perception of the LGBT world in our country », she says.
According to Odessa helmsman Eugenia Bakay, first lady of the Ukrainian Navy, it was not always so easy to get into the ranks. “Before 2014 and Maidan Square it wasn't like this, Ukraine was much more conservative and we weren't allowed to fight,” she says. 'But then, in the end, we convinced them that we were also indispensable in the field.'
A context that, for Bakay, can be explained very simply because stereotypes about 'non-female' professions are timeless, especially in the military field. And because «now the question is not whether you are a man or a woman. But whether or not you are able to defend your country».