About Ukrainian Women’s Struggle to Be Allowed to Fight

This article is not about the war, but about the women who happened to live in the war time. For nearly three years now, Ukrainian women have been playing an equally important role with men in the events, taking place in the country. Women have been carrying out their missions at the forefront as military nurses, intelligence officers, snipers, commanders of military hardware. Hundreds of women have been working as doctors, nurses, secretaries, accountants, cooks, or just helping the army as volunteers by collecting vital aid and delivering it to the front line. In all regions of the country, women work at production plants and at farms to produce the necessary supplies for the army.

ua_women-at-war According to data released by the Ministry of Defense in March 2016, there are 17,000 women soldiers in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, including 2,200 officers. Another 33,000 are working at positions of civil servants and employees of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. More than 1,500 were performing tasks in the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) Zone.

However, women’s tasks in the Ukrainian Army are not limited by what I have listed above. Quite often they perform the same duties as men, but do not receive the same rights and the same state support, including when they come back from war, because never before the Ukrainian legislators considered women as potential soldiers or fighters of any kind. Due to the legal shortcomings and oversights, Ukrainian women face a number of obstacles when they try to enter the army as volunteers. Which means that those who succeed are highly motivated to serve for Ukraine. Sometimes their motivation is much higher than men’s.

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Today, after some changes were made to the Ukrainian legislation in 2016, women soldiers are protected a bit better, but the optimism of the women’s rights fighters is a bit premature.

The female soldiers in Ukraine have the same rights which are foreseen by the legislation on the social protection for women, protection of maternity and childhood. In the case of a so-called mobilization, all women soldiers who have children under 18 can be out of soldiering if they will not want to continue it. If mobilization is announced, all women who want to continue their soldiering should sign a statement confirming their choice, by it stating that family becomes secondary for them.

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The first sociological study on women’s participation in the Donbas war – metaphorically named the “Invisible Battalion” (as women’s experience in the Ukrainian army is largely invisible to the public and legislation) – was presented in Kyiv in the end of 2015. The study was based on 50 interviews with men and women who have served in the combat zone. A separate section was devoted to women’s participation in Euromaidan and the Women’s Sotnya (meaning: Women’s Hundred) as shortly after the revolution many female activists set off to the eastern front.

Sociologists explained the motivation that drove Ukrainian female volunteers. They joined the fight for patriotic reasons and plan to remain until the end of the war. These women are usually much more motivated than men as they must overcome many stereotypes, prove their right to fight along with men and accept the fact that they cannot count on social protection.

And still, while the legislation is not adjusted to the current situation, women have to remind men about their rights. Some activists are strongly convinced that in modern society, women should have the right to choose whether they want to cook borshch or die on the barricades.

“Our government’s  paternalism is rather outdated. Many international documents declare that the role of women is slowly changing – not only are they viewed as victims of conflict, but as representatives in conflict resolution, together with men.” says sociologist and researcher Tamara Martsenyuk. She believes that women’s rights should be determined as part of labour legislation. Specific rules on women’s labour dates back to the Soviet era… for example, Ukrainian women are not allowed to lift heavy objects or drive certain vehicles.

However, many men (and some women, as well) do not think this list is discriminatory. Working as a chauffeur/driver in the army implies not only driving. “A driver is responsible for his vehicle, knows how to camouflage and repair it. With all due respect, women cannot always cope with these situations,” saysColonel Holota, the head of the military social division of the Personnel Department with the Armed Forces. 

There are currently 14,500 women serving in the army, almost 2,000 of them are officers, and 35 hold senior positions in the Ministry of Defence, the General Staff, and the different types of Armed Forces of Ukraine. 938 women are listed as active soldiers.

Still, even after the two world wars, a number of armed conflicts and a few revolutions which shook Ukraine during the 20-th century, the general approach to a woman, that sits deep in the minds of population, has never changed: a woman is a symbol of peaceful life and her best place is at work, at home, or with kids, but not in the front. It must be this general attitude that slows down the process of changes regarding the women-soldiers rights in Ukraine.

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5 Comments

  1. Oleksanr

     /  February 8, 2017

    I salute women in Ukraine for their bravery and courage. Just recently in US women were allowed to be accepted in combat MOS. Several complete ranger school. They should be allowed to serve if they qualify and fit.

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    Reply
  2. I’ve read that women often do the marksmanship training in the Israeli army, on the theory that the male soldiers consider it humiliating to take instructions from a man, but they will accept instructions from a woman.

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  3. vasia

     /  October 30, 2017

    on the photo Russian actress Yekaterina Aleksandrovna Klimova

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • Yep, but that photo was only put there as an illustration – I never had any betwee-the-lines thoughts when I was writing the article. Thank you for reading it, and for the comment!

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      Reply

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