The fight of women in combat | War in Ukraine

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The women's fight in combat | War in Ukraine

War is no longer just a men's affair in Ukraine. Thousands of professional female soldiers fight at the front lines and thousands more support them in various related tasks as volunteers. Sixth installment of our series “Everyday Ukraine”.

Kateryna Pryimak in a British Army vehicle adapted to the needs of the Ukrainian front.

kyiv , Ukraine – This is an important moment for the leaders of the Association of Veteran Women of Ukraine: this morning the armored vehicle they managed to buy thanks to donations goes to the front with all the equipment of necessary for the evacuation of war wounded.

This truck from another age, which once belonged to the British army, is a lifeline for rescuers. The vice-president of this organization, Kateryna Pryimak, knows something about it. She was at the front in Kherson last fall, at the worst of the fighting, as a first aider.

There are so few suitable vehicles to transport the wounded to hospitals that some soldiers die by the side of the road after three, four, five hours of waiting.

This frail but energetic young woman still seems shaken by her experience at the front. Some days the Russian air force could carry out up to 25 attacks against us. It was more dangerous to be on the road than to fight in the trenches, she points out. We had no armored vehicles!

An impression of living the Third World War with means of protection from the time of the First War.

Kateryna Pryimak is vice-president of the Association of Veteran Women of Ukraine.

Kateryna is one of the thousands of young activists in Maidan Square who demanded and obtained the departure of former pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. She had a very bad experience of the Russian invasion of Crimea in the following months. She therefore joined many other young people, including many girls, as a volunteer with the Ukrainian army.

Kateryna chose to follow a first aid training . She was at the forefront to observe the injustices done to women. The problem is not so much at the front, she points out, it is in the higher military that sexism is the worst.

Women who wanted to fight had to agree to sign a cook or cleaning lady contract. On paper, no other type of position for them. In fact, we accepted that they go to fight, but without honors and recognition.

“A man who wants to beating is normal and valued. But for a woman, it is suspicious.

— Kateryna Pryimak

The sewing workshop of the Association of Veteran Women of Ukraine. Here we make uniforms for women.

Kateryna formed an advocacy group, The Invisible Battalion, and succeeded in 2018, after years of effort, in getting the rules changed. Officially, Ukrainian women now have access to around 60 non-traditional job categories, including combat positions.

The association headed by Kateryna Pryimak also conducts other fights within the army: access to university education and leadership positions, among others.

More prosaically, the group also demands that women in combat be entitled to feminine hygiene products. Volunteer seamstresses from this association are currently busy making winter uniforms designed for female morphology, another request deemed inadmissible to date.

There are still many systemic misogyny in the army, says the seasoned activist.

Ksenia Draganiuk in her NGO's warehouse.

Imagine that Ukrainian female soldiers have to wear men's shoes and underwear! says Ksenia Draganiuk, 27, in a warehouse of the NGO Zemliachky (Compatriot, in French) which she founded with her husband, in kyiv.

Both hail from southern and eastern towns now ravaged by bombing. At the start of the Russian invasion, this young journalist decided to put her talent at the service of women on the battlefield: interact with them on the Internet and publish their testimonies on the Instagram network. His little idea snowballed. She is now in contact with 4000 fighters!

I quickly realized that they lacked a lot of things, especially feminine hygiene products, she says. They all told me about it.

With her husband Andrii Kolasnyk, she started her small business with the aim of collecting the required items. Ukrainian and foreign companies quickly responded to their call. With a group of eight volunteers, they prepare 30 to 40 parcels a day which are sent directly to those who request them.

“This war has the effect of changing the image of our national army. It's not just a men's business anymore.

—Andrii Kolasnyk

Andrii Kolasnyk wears a box intended for women on his forehead.

Ksenia continues to publish stories of female fighters. She sometimes receives videos. Some of them can be seen dancing in the trenches. And it's not just young people in their twenties, assures Ksenia. Some are in their fifties, she says.

She says many had no choice but to get involved as their villages were overrun.

Many do so out of maternal instinct, to protect their children, Ksenia adds. They tell him that they are generally very well accepted by their brothers in arms. When the time comes to fight, there is no longer any difference between men and women, assures us Ksenia, who carefully collects the confidences of these women.

A drawing of a female soldier made by children.

The Ukrainian army had 200,000 members at the start of the conflict, including 40,000 women. About 5,000 of them are on the front lines. The situation has evolved greatly since 2014.

There is still a lot of room for the advancement of women's rights in Ukrainian society, according to Kateryna Pryimak and her colleagues from the Association female veterans. But things are moving very quickly too, according to her. By necessity.

As for demands such as pay equity, for example, we will come to that later, assures Ksenia Draganiuk, for the moment, we must first win this war.

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