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Ukrainian Women at War

Photo by William Larsen via Pexels

Last updated on May 24, 2023

Editor’s Note: This article is a part of the Holos Project, a four-way partnership (ENGin, The Los Angeles Times Insider, Published Points of View, The Outspoken) established to empower the voices of Ukrainian students across the world through one-on-one journalism mentorship. This article was written by Sofiia Halushka from Ukraine with the mentorship of Sophia Tripathi from the United States. “Holos” is the Ukrainian word for “Voice”. 

Not every woman will take up a gun, be a doctor, driver, journalist, or volunteer on the battlefield and fight for freedom, but we will do everything possible to help the army.

If you searched “Ukrainian woman” in Google a little more than a year ago, what would you have found? I am convinced: a fair-haired girl, wearing a traditional embroidered shirt and skirt with a wreath of flowers on her head. Nevertheless, what will you see nowadays? Photos of fighters, volunteers, and refugees. Currently, their reality is a nonstop fight for existence and to live on their land.

Women have become an omnipresent force in the Russian-Ukrainian war as they confront long-held stereotypes about their role in the country’s post-Soviet society.

They are increasingly joining the military, including in combat positions. After the full-scale invasion, almost 60,000 women are now in the Ukrainian armed forces. Also, women are doctors and journalists in hot spots, as well as spearheading volunteer and fund-raising efforts. And with men still making up a majority of combatants, women are taking on extra roles in civilian life; running businesses and working twice as much, in addition to looking after their families and helping others on the front line.

According to The Guardian, as the First Lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska once said, “Our resistance, as our future victory, has taken on a particularly feminine face. Women are fighting in the army, they have signed up to territorial defense [units], they are the foundation of a powerful volunteer movement to supply, deliver, feed … they give birth in shelters, save their children and look after others’ children, they keep the economy going, they go abroad to seek help. Others are simply doing their jobs, in hospitals, pharmacies, shops, transport, public services … so that life continues.”

The Invisible Battalion is a global advocacy project which is doing research and documenting the participation of Ukrainian women in the war against the Russian army of occupants. On their site it was mentioned, “I know a girl who carried wounded people to safety during a shelling in Ilovaisk (a city in the eastern part of Ukraine) while most men were sitting in the basement. If a woman, mother, sister, or daughter is willing to defend our values and our territory, no one can forbid her to do so.” 

In November, the Ukrainian government published statistics: 101 female soldiers have been killed and 50 are missing so far. About 350 have received awards such as “Hero of Ukraine”.

“I was the leader of our four-member medical team: medic, paramedic, fire support, and the driver. I was the one making decisions,” said Katia Pryimak. She was 21 when she first entered the war in 2014.

Volunteers, influencers, and creators are collecting millions of dollars every month for the Ukrainian army forces, buying weapons, medicine, clothes, and other materials, as well as making camouflage nets and trench candles. Everyone is doing unbelievable amounts of work, including leading the “online war”.

Besides Ukrainian women fighting at the front, they are also fighting in the rear. According to statistics, almost half of all new businesses since the full-scale invasion were started by women.

Whilst, not only are older women fighting for independence but little girls and teenagers are also standing against the Russian army forces. Girls, as boys, are helping and volunteering in the temporarily occupied territories on free lands and they are sending their pocket money to the Ukrainian Army Forces. Likewise, they are making and selling handmade crafts, as well as singing or dancing on the streets to collect as much money as they can. Such girls as, “Valeriia. 10 years old. Played checkers on the street with people. If a person lost, he paid for the game. Everyone who played with Valeria lost. Valeria is a world champion in checkers. And a sponsor of our fund. +$600 in the piggy bank. It is impossible to win against our people with such children!” – Serhiy Prytula.

The involvement of women is a reminder that half the human resources in any society are female, even if countries don’t always appreciate that. Harness the unfulfilled potential of half the population, and any nation will gain an edge. Ukrainian women’s contribution to the war against Russia will change the role of women in society; not only in Ukraine, but all over the world.

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