Ignited from the 2014 Ukraine’s “Revolution to Dignity”, the Russia-Ukraine conflict has escalated to become the biggest war in Europe after World War II. The ongoing war was started with Russia’s motive to end Ukraine’s possible alliance with NATO. Russian leaders, precisely Putin called the attack a ‘special military operation’ while repeatedly pointing its goal to ‘demilitarize and denazifying’ Ukraine. Based on what Ukraine calls unfounded claims, the war has already caused thousands of deaths and millions of displacements in over two months.
As the war continues, Ukrainians are defending their country with all their might. Ukraine’s leaders are pushing for peace negotiations continuously, putting forward proposals of becoming a neutral state with no foreign military bases in its territory but in conditions of security guarantee from international allies. However, the peace talks have been to no avail.
In such darker times, women of Ukraine have risen to face and fight the war in their best capacity- from the battleground to their homes and refugee camps. Breaking the stereotype of women being fragile and inferior during war, Ukrainian women have proven to be a strong force against the Russian invasion.
Women are arming themselves and fighting in the frontline. Women make up to an estimated 22.5% of the military in Ukraine with more women joining with the onset of war. It was possible for women to fight in combat positions only from 2016, thanks to the female veterans who made this policy change possible. Before that, women were allowed to work as nurses, secretaries, seamstresses, and cooks during war.
In addition, women are playing crucial roles in managing and taking care of their family, community, fellow war victims who are evicted. Women are seen reaching to the neighborhood refugee camps with their children and elderly, then returning to fight and help prepare civilian defense. As news of women fighting the drones with a tan of tomatoes came into light, one could only wonder the strength, courage, and zeal for life these women shared and added to the fight against freedom.
The tales of women’s courage further ring loud in the makeshift hospitals and basements of metro stations where women are giving birth to babies in the peak of the crisis of health care facilities. It is estimated that over 80,000 women will give birth in the next three months. While it is absolutely heart-wrenching to imagine the situation of mothers and infants growing up in a war-zone in lack of access to vital maternal care, it is inspiring to see women not losing hope and bringing new lives so courageously.
Making up to 21% of democratically elected parliaments and having strong media hold, women are also fostering solidarity and resistance against Russian invasion and advocating for justice and democracy.
Despite their glorious contributions, women in Ukraine have now become increasingly vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence. According to a UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) study published in 2019, 75% of women in Ukraine had experienced some sort of violence since the age of 15, with one out of every three women suffering physical and/or sexual abuse. Conflict and displacement have further enhanced their risk and vulnerability to violence.
However high the price is being payed for their country’s sovereignty and for their freedom, Ukrainian women have proven that they are the force for change and an inspiration to all.