Ukraine war: attitudes to women in the military are changing as thousands serve on front lines

NewsDrum Desk
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Aberystwyth (Wales), Feb 1 (The Conversation) Thousands of women have voluntarily joined Ukraine’s armed forces since 2014, when Russia’s occupation of Crimea and territories in eastern Ukraine began.

Over the past nine years, the number of women serving in the Ukrainian military has more than doubled, with another wave of women joining after Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.

Women have served in Ukraine’s armed forces since the country declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, but were mainly in supporting roles until the beginning of the war in 2014.

They started serving in combat roles in 2016 and all military roles were opened to women in 2022.

However, many women in non-combat roles, such as medics, are exposed to the same dangers and hardships as their male and female colleagues who fire the weapons.

According to Ukraine’s deputy minister of defence, Hanna Maliar, by the summer of 2022 more than 50,000 women were employed by the armed forces in some capacity, with approximately 38,000 serving in uniform. Women are now with units on the front lines.

Women in the armed forces are being taken as prisoners-of-war by the Russians. Ukrainian medic Yulia Paevska was imprisoned for three months .

“The treatment was very hard, very rough … The women and I were all exhausted,” she told Associated Press.

Patriarchal attitudes are changing Ukraine is a country with strong patriarchal traditions, especially in the defence sector.

But Ukraine’s women soldiers are increasingly being accepted by Ukrainian society and the country’s political leadership during this war.

One indication of the recognition of women’s presence in the military and society’s rating of their contributions was when National Defenders’ Day was renamed in 2021 as the Day of Men and Women Defenders of Ukraine.

And there are other indications.

Images of servicewomen are now regularly used by the ministry of defence in its social media posts.

Ukraine’s women soldiers are also often in the news, talking about their military experiences.

There are also approximately 8,000 women officers as of October 2022, and one of Ukraine’s deputy defence ministers is a woman.

But the presence of women in the Ukrainian armed forces has not been without controversy.

Some analysts warn against assuming that the photographs and videos in the news and on social media showing women on the front lines means that they enjoy equality with the men they serve beside.

Boots that don’t fit Ukraine’s women soldiers still have to overcome scepticism from commanders and fellow soldiers about their commitment and abilities, obstacles to promotion and career development, as well as difficulties with practical – and vitally important – matters such as getting uniforms, body armour and boots that fit.

Women are also more exposed to sexual violence.

Many Ukrainian female combatants mention in interviews with journalists that they must avoid captivity by any means and that they are ready to die rather than being captured by the Russians. (The Conversation) VM