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 Yelyzaveta Kaidash from Ukraine with the mentorship of Anne Chen from the United States.
“Holos” is the Ukrainian word for “Voice”.
**This article mentions acts of sexual violence and rape. Reader discretion is advised.**
Have you ever thought about what it’s like to be a woman during war? Ukrainian women do not need to imagine this, because this is their reality. The most terrible reality that can be imagined.
On February 24, 2022, the Russian Federation launched a full-scale war against Ukraine. The war started in 2014. Russian soldiers killed and raped thousands of Ukrainian women, many of whom had not even reached adulthood. These women are my sisters just as much as they are to the next person. They are part of our Ukrainian family. Russia stole their whole lives and has been doing so for nine years. Thousands of women are losing their families. They are losing their homes. They are forced to flee with their children, leaving behind their husbands in Ukraine. Everything that was most valuable to them was completely destroyed. However, Ukrainian women do not give up. My sisters in war continue to fight, rising from the ashes like a phoenix. Each of us has our own stories. Each of us holds our own front, because there is no gender in war.
From the very beginning of the invasion, thousands of women throughout Ukraine joined the ranks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Currently, statistics show that the number of female military personnel is constantly increasing. As the Minister of Defense of Ukraine Oleksiy Reznikov reported in November 2022, there are currently 59,786 women serving in the Armed Forces. Among them, 41,000 are military personnel and 19,000 are civilian workers (doctors, etc.).
These are not just numbers. Behind these numbers are souls and minds, real human beings, who left their families, careers, and dreams behind to protect what’s important— their home. Many of the military women are volunteers, which makes them even more heroes to me.
One of the brightest examples is Kateryna Polishchuk. Her nickname is Ptashka, which means “Birdie” in English. Her nickname originates from a drawing she submitted for an art competition. She drew a bird, the Ukrainian trident, and viburnum.
Beyond her love for drawing, Kateryna has loved to sing since childhood, which led her to pursue acting and singing. During her studies, she also decided to take medical courses. As a paramedic, she went to the occupied Donetsk region to help military personnel and civilians. When the full-scale invasion began, Kateryna continued her mission in a hospital in Mariupol. However, the Russian military destroyed this hospital, as well as the entire city of Mariupol. As a result, Kateryna and the other paramedics ended up at the Azovstal plant.
Following the order of President Zelensky on May 19, Kateryna and other doctors and military personnel left the Azovstal plant after the Azovstal defenders were captured by the Russians. On September 21, Kateryna was exchanged among other prisoners at Azovstal, a steel factory. Yet, Kateryna and the other heroes showed that they were the ones made of steel. They did not break, even after going through hell from blockades and captivity.
Despite being on the verge of life and death, Kateryna had the will to sing. While she was stuck in Azovstal, Kateryna posted a video in which she sings in the basement of the factory, which was under blockade and constant shelling. Kateryna sang the song of the Ukrainian insurgents from the Second World War, the song of heroes. And she became one of them. She is the voice of Ukraine.
While the women on the frontlines are significant, we should not forget about the women who remain behind-the-scenes. These are volunteers who perform arduous work to provide the army and victims with everything they need. In addition, they heroically take people out of occupation, bravely risking their lives and health.
One of these behind-the-scenes women is Evgenia Talinovska, the founder of one of the biggest volunteer organizations in Kyiv. The organization, Zhraia, which means “Flock”, created headquarters to help the military, procure and transport generators, equipment, machinery, food, and medicine. They provide civilians, hospitals, territorial defense, and the Armed Forces with medicine, equipment, and food. Talinovska has over 15 years of work experience with orphanages. She is integral to the coordination of fund-raising projects of the international charity fund, “Everybody Can”.
Photo: Danylo Pavlov
“There were several departures from which we might not return,” Evgenia said for the magazine “The Ukrainians”.
Talinovska is just one woman powering the frontlines from within. There are many more women just like her.
Thus far, I mentioned only a small percentage of everything that Ukrainian women have done and continue to do. I am incredibly grateful to everyone who protects my life and our country.
I live in a region that has been under occupation for a month. Fortunately, my city was not occupied. Because of this threat, my family was forced to leave home and go West of Ukraine. At that time, we knew very little about what was happening in the occupied territories. Still, the crimes of the Russians have not all been exposed. The horrors they committed are hard to even imagine. I sympathize with every family, with every person who suffered.
The Ukrainian people are strong. The women of Ukraine are indomitable. They deserve the highest respect. I wholly believe in our victory. From one global citizen to another, I thank our invincible people and foreign support. We will stand, and we will stand strong. Slava Ukraini!