Women in Ukraine: Fighting Back

Graphic Designed by Me on Canva

For the past couple of weeks, we have been hearing about the devastation of Putin’s war in Ukraine. I recently watched a video on Tik Tok made by a man who said, “All men have to stay in the Ukraine and fight, while women are doing nothing. Where are feminists saying that this is unfair?” This video upset me for many reasons. One is that we should not be blaming man-made wars and man-issued laws on women. The second is that one should not exploit the suffering of an entire nation to spread misogynist misinformation. Lastly, women in Ukraine are doing something! They peacefully advocate, use diplomacy, take care of their children, volunteer at borders, and even stay behind to fight. In tandem with International Women’s day, I thought I would highlight how women in Ukraine are fighting back. “Women and marginalized peoples have not only been victims but leaders in crisis response, acting as frontline healthcare workers, unpaid caregivers, and community mobilizers” (Global Fund For Women)

“I think Ukrainians have shown to all the world that we’re not going to stop and we’re not going to surrender. And we will defend our homes…Our brave men and women of the armed forces and all of the civilians who are stopping the enemy without weapons, even, will fight, and we need all of the support to sustain this fight.”

Valentyna Konstantynovska, 79, holds a weapon during basic combat training for civilians. Photo from the Washington Post

I want to preface the following by saying how terrible it is for civilians to stay behind to fight and defend their homes. The president of Ukraine passed a law that all men between the ages of 18 and 60 have to stay behind and train to combat the Russian invasion. Yet this has not driven all of the women out of the country. Yes, many have left to take their children to safety, but many have also stayed behind to help defend their country. Former Miss Ukraine posted a picture of herself on Instagram in army garb, holding an assault rifle. Another photo (pictured above) showed Valentyna Konstantynovska, a 79-year-old woman holding a weapon during basic combat training for civilians. Many videos of Ukrainian women have also gone viral. One from the New York Times (linked below) shows women carrying firearms in tears, ready to defend their capital city. Another showed a woman offering sunflower seeds to a Russian soldier, suggesting that flowers would grow where they fell if he and his fellow soldiers were killed.

“I was very, very angry when the war started. I am still furious. I still don’t understand how the neighboring country [Russia] and Putin can deny Ukraine the right to exist, and I am furious that I am being made to leave my town and my family is threatened. We are all put under threat just because the crazy dictator is telling us so.”

English teacher Arina is now spending her weekend making Molotov cocktails in a park (photo from BBC News)

Another photo showed a woman dressed in military fatigues, a veil, and carrying a bouquet of flowers, married her fellow soldier surrounded by armed soldiers with rifles. Women in a town called Dnipro got together in the park to make Molotov cocktails (a type of homemade explosive). In that same town, the locals created a donation and supplies center. The considerable effort was launched by five women and a handful of social media posts. Now, dozens of people are coordinating a significant aid effort. “The official organizations couldn’t cope, so we created this center,” said one woman. Another video of a Ukrainian soldier’s optimism about the future went viral on social media. In the video, the Ukrainian soldier dressed in military gear is heard saying, “I’m still alive, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, everything will be fine. Long live Ukraine”. The woman’s identity is unknown, but her video was a comfort to many and regained hope for millions. According to the Kyiv Independent Report in December of last year, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry issued an order for military conscription for women. This stated that women aged between 18 to 60 years must be registered for a draft. According to the Wall Street Journal, women accounted for about 15 percent of the military and had this been passed, the military likely would have increased.

“I am protecting my family, and I am organizing the resistance group that is fighting Russians on our streets because they need to go back to where they came from our soil because we are an independent country and will protect our sovereignty no matter what because I want my children to live in Ukraine that I’m building for them not some Vladimir Putin.”

Former Ukraine beauty queen Anastasiia Lenna (left), Ukraine MP Kira Rudik (right). Photos from instagram.

Kira Rudik, a member of the Ukrainian parliament, tweeted, “I planned to plant tulips and daffodils in my backyard today. Instead, I learned to firearms and get ready for the next night of attacks on Kyiv.” She also posted a photo of herself holding a rifle on Instagram that has since gone viral. In doing this, she not only stands in solidarity with the rest of her country but depicts herself as human, just like everyone else, whose weekend gardening plans were interrupted. “The message these women are conveying is not, “We are spoiling for a fight” — the sort of intimidating message that Russian President Vladimir Putin himself sent via his tanks and troops. What they are conveying is, “We would have done anything not to fight, and yet here we are.” (Washington Post) Lesia Vasylenko, another member of parliament, called on foreigners to join Ukraine in resisting the Russian invasion of the country. She referred to the International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine, “a separate unit of foreigners that is being formed for those who wish to join the resistance against the Russian invasion.” She said, “We opened the international territorial defense unit of Ukraine. If you want to help Ukraine fight this invasion, you can sign up at Ukraine embassies in your country and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Ukrainian men and women and help us get rid of the biggest aggressor in the world and have peace in the world.”

“I am not a military, just a woman, just normal human,” wrote Anastasiia Lenna in her most recent post. “Just a person, like all people of my country.”

Ukraine Ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova, Photo from Forbes

Outside of Ukraine, while conservatives claim that the U.S. was too busy worrying about gender identity and pronouns to build up the military, many women use diplomacy. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. Representative to the United Nations, is the leading U.S. voice at the United Nations, pressuring the world to hold Russia accountable for the atrocities its leader is waging against the innocent civilians in the independent, democratic Ukraine. Yet she is not afraid to tell it like it is and stands for the values of peace, freedom, human rights, and women’s rights. Jill Hruby, the Under Secretary for Nuclear Security in the United States Department of Energy and the Administrator for the National Nuclear Security Administration, is helping the public understand the nuances of the risks to and management of attacks on these hazardous facilities. Janet Yellen, U.S. Treasury Secretary, aided in implementing the crippling sanctions against Russia, Putin, and his allies and setting up an infrastructure to track and enforce those sanctions. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm is helping to manage the discussions around sanctioning Russia’s energy infrastructure and the U.S. imports of their oil and gas to minimize the financial impact on Americans. Ambassador Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s Ambassador to the United Nations, has defended her country and advocated for more military support for her people. Solomia Bobrovsky previously lived in Boston, Massachusetts, and now serves in Ukraine’s parliament. Rather than flee, she stayed in Ukraine to support her people. European Union President Ursula von der Leyen, has been instrumental in rallying the EU in concert with NATO and the U.S. to develop and implement the sanctions against Russia to bring its economy to a halt in response to this unprovoked and vicious attack on Ukraine. Many journalists like Clarissa Ward, CBS’ Holly Williams, NBC/MSNBC’s Erin McLaughlin, Molly Hunter, and Ellison Barber have also been there. They have been risking their lives to report on what’s going on in Ukraine and the state of the refugee crisis. Executive Director of UN Women Sima Bahous emphasized that women’s full and meaningful participation is vital to improving peace and security processes. She stated that “The inclusion of women themselves in the decision-making processes and humanitarian response is therefore essential to ensure that their rights are upheld.”

“Over the past nine days, we have witnessed the devastating impacts of President Putin’s war of choice on the Ukrainian people. Yesterday, the UN reported that Russia’s invasion had turned half a million children into refugees. Russia has killed thousands of Ukrainians – and sacrificed thousands more Russian soldiers’ lives in the process. Russia is destroying critical infrastructure, denying people drinking water to stay alive and gas to keep people from freezing to death in the middle of winter….A hundred forty-one nations worldwide have called loudly and clearly on President Putin to stop this brutal, unjustified, unprovoked attack. Not only has he not listened, but we’ve also just witnessed a dangerous new escalation that represents a dire threat to all of Europe and the world.”

Ukrainian refugees reunite at the Medyka border crossing in Poland. Photo from LA Times

The war has also caused massive displacement. Many have fled to neighboring countries with families, while others simply have to pick which country to make their new home. Others have left family members behind. This conflict has seen the most displaced people since World War II; the majority are women and children. In an article in the LA Times, I read about a pregnant woman who fled Ukraine with her husband. Her husband was a former soldier, and his wife begged him not to go back or wait until the baby was born, but there was no stopping him. It is admirable for a man to want to protect his country but it’s devastating that he has to abandon his family. Another video I saw depicted a woman taking care of a stranger’s children as they crossed the border to safety. That a woman would take care of a stranger’s children is impressive, but the fact that a man would have to resort to leaving his children in a stranger’s care is unimaginable for some. Is this what these governments want? Another woman said, “I left my husband and father behind to come here,” she said. “That’s why my children asked me why I was crying all the way here.” A UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict said this is also putting women and girls at heightened risk of violence. She issued a statement on Monday that stressed the importance of upholding human rights and exercising restraint. “Unless the conflict ceases, thousands of additional families will be forcibly displaced, dramatically escalating the scale of the already dire humanitarian situation, and increasing the risk of sexual violence and exploitation,” she warned. Many women in neighboring countries like Poland have set up refugee centers in places like train and bus stations to help the transition. Even though many countries are welcoming these refugees, according to the Global Fund for Women, Black Ukrainians, members of the African Diaspora and migrants of color are being discriminated against when trying to leave the country. There are also reported instances of members of the transgender community being denied safe passage or forced into military service due to their gender identity. In war, is there a need for prejudice and discrimination?

A young woman handles a weapon during a basic combat training for civilians organized by a unit of Ukraine’s National Guard. Photo from the Washington Post.

So what is the point of this entire blog post? It is not typically my niche topic, but the feminist movement has always been against war, imperialism, and patriarchy. I have issues with one sadistic man making decisions that harm millions. Am I just trying to prove that Tik Tok I saw wrong? Maybe. I’m not trying to say how shocking it is that women are willing to fight for their country or how amazing it is because men do it, and no one bats an eye. Maybe I am proving the old saying that women can do most anything that a man can do. After all, the willingness of the women in Ukraine to take up arms and aid in the war effort proves that women can serve their country when necessary. I want to be informative and show a side of history that others might not be seeing. Because that’s what women are doing, they are making history. I stand with Ukraine.

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