Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted Ukrainian citizens to take up arms and fight for their country, creating emotive images and stories, and captivating global audiences. Ukrainian women too, have joined the fight of good versus evil. This International Women’s Day, we are celebrating, as always, women around the world, but today we are choosing to put the spotlight onto Ukrainian women.
Ukrainian women on the frontline
One year ago today, Ukrainian women peacefully marched through their capital, demanding progress in gender equality. This year, their political action has taken a different turn. The Telegraph declared that ‘Ukraine’s women are showing the world what real bravery looks like’.
A video has been shared by Internews Ukraine, of an elderly woman, determined to stand against Putin’s aggression, asking Russian soldiers, “what the f*** are you doing here?” She proceeded to hand them sunflower seeds, telling them that the national flower of the country that she is so proud of, will blossom “when you all lie down (die) here”.
Other elderly women in Ukraine are working together to weave camouflage nets for the country’s military. They sing patriotic songs as they work, and they weave not only patriotism, but love and ‘protection’ into the netting. One weaver told the Washington Post:
“Rather than sitting at home being scared, it’s better to do something, right?”
One woman on CNN has been hailed for her creation of Molotov cocktails (which she learnt to make via a tutorial on Google); she declared: “Let these Russian shits come here… we are ready to greet them”.
Military women in Ukraine
It was only in 2016 that Ukrainian women were granted the right to serve in combat positions; they currently make up 15 percent of the nation’s armed forces (30,000 female personnel). It wasn’t until December 2021 that women in professions such as journalism, music and veterinary, were allowed to enlist for the military, but today, civilian women have registered themselves as military reserves, part of the ‘Territorial Defense Forces’.
In recent years however, female soldiers have not been taken seriously. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry portrayed women that were embarking on military training, in high heels. Instead, such women must be recognised for their contribution to resisting Russian occupation.
Avoiding romanticisation of war
As is becoming increasingly clear, media plays a large role in the world that we live in and in shaping our views of society. Nobuhiro Yanagihara, an academic at Tokyo Women’s Christian University, suggested that it’s easy to “lose sight of war’s true nature” – that is, ugly, brutal, and inhumane – when we are only looking at images of “brave women”.
Yanagihara’s comments are poignant and true. Images have emerged of Olena Kurylo, a school teacher in Kharkiv, who stands alongside her house, now destroyed, with a ‘bandaged head [and] bloody face’. She told reporters that despite losing everything, “I am alive… I was really lucky”.
Female activism in Russia
Russian women have also organised protests against Russia’s occupation of Ukraine. Workers’ Liberty, a Russian trade union, points out that “war exacerbates gender inequality and sets back gains for human rights by many years”. This is evidenced by the increased in sexual violence cases.
The trade union continues:
“For a long time, Russian authorities did not perceive us as a dangerous political movement… Currently more than forty-five different feminist organizations are operating throughout the country.
“We call on Russian feminist groups and individual feminists to join the Feminist Anti-War Resistance and unite forces to actively oppose the war and the government that started it.”
They are encouraging others to join protests, spread factual information about the war, and simply raise awareness on social media, with hashtags such as: #FeministAntiWarResistance and #FeministsAgainstWar.
International response to Ukrainian women
At the Scottish Women’s Convention’s IWD event, Nicola Sturgeon said that her thoughts were with Ukrainians, “perhaps particularly the women and girls who are suffering”.
Times are changing in Ukraine, and women’s role in society and the military will not only be necessary, but invaluable.
On behalf of everyone at the Bylines Network this International Women’s Day, we send our heartfelt support to the women of Ukraine.