Originally from the Ukrainian city of Donbass in New York, Kateryna, 44 – who asks that we only use her first name – has dreamed of joining the army since the age of 6. At the time, women had limited functions in the Soviet military, primarily focused on helping male soldiers and not fighting. In Ukraine, that has changed: Kateryna is one of many Ukrainian women who have joined the war effort – including on the front lines – to play various crucial roles in response to our country’s urgent situation.
In 2016, Ukraine expanded the list of posts of service women. Ukrainian women can now hold 63 other positions, including as snipers and snipers. The changes were the result of military experience: when Russia attacked Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region two years earlier, many military women working, for example, as cooks or liaison officers were actually performing military duties in battle positions. But their payments and titles did not match the fact that they were risking their lives. The rules have been modified to adapt to this new reality.
As soon as Ukrainian women were allowed to fight, Kateryna – a divorced mother of two children – joined the army. For her, the problem was personal: the Russians were attacking her native Donbass.
“In my philosophy, it’s normal, it doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman, you protect the future of your children,” she told me.
Kateryna is a champion kickboxer and has worked as a trainer for different forms of martial arts, including Hopak fighting, a Ukrainian national dance that has retained some fighting elements, she explains. She left the army after a year to take care of her children. But when Russia invaded this year, it returned to the front line – first as part of a self-formed military defense unit, then officially as part of the marine unit. She tells me that now “it’s good to be a warrior in Ukraine”.
There are 37,000 women in the Ukrainian army, and more than 1,000 have already become commanders, according to Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska.
Valeria Lira, 28, from the northern region of Sumy, also joined the army. She was previously a Japanese chef and journalist. In 2014, when Russia invaded Donbass, Valeriia first helped on the home front. She is now a press officer in a military unit in western Ukraine. She is responsible for the flow of information, takes journalists to the front line and provides Ukrainian soldiers with food and volunteer support.
“My daughter was 3 when I joined the army,” Valeriia told me. “His childhood started with his mother knitting (camouflaging) nets, collecting things and food.”
Valeriia tells me her breaking point was when she received a message that a soldier she knew from the front had tried to call her. when she called back, she learned that he had been killed in action.
“It was a turning point – I felt helping from behind wasn’t enough to make a difference,” she recalls.
Marharyta Ryvchashenko, 25, is from Kharkiv. She left her job as assistant to a deputy and public relations officer in Kyiv to join the military defense unit this year. After her hometown was heavily shelled and shelled, she felt the best thing to do was to devote herself to supporting the army. As Marharyta had a background in tactical medicine, she was recruited as a paramedic.
“I’m not allowed to shoot a bullet. But I can bandage a wound, stop the bleeding, give first aid,” Marharyta said. “There is a critical shortage of doctors. Every day, new doctors are sent to the front line. Every day, I can be among them.
At the start of the war, food being scarce, she was looking for medicine. Now they have everything they need, she tells me, pointing to large boxes behind her back during the video call.
I asked each woman if she wanted to continue serving in the army after the war. But everyone had their own project: train athletes, open a Japanese cuisine restaurant, write articles. They yearn for a peaceful life. But for now, they serve in the war, prepared for anything – and sacrificing themselves for their country.