She's got it 11:12 23 Feb 2023

Gender bias and other challenges Ukrainian servicewomen are facing

Women have been fighting in the ranks of the Ukrainian army since 2014, when russia annexed the Crimean peninsula and occupied part of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Since then, the number of women on the front line has only increased. And in 2022, with the beginning of a full-scale invasion of the russian federation, women began to join the ranks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine even more actively.

40 thousand

Rubryka asked a servicewoman, paramedic, and the head of the medical service of the Women's Veteran Movement 'Veteranka' Yuliya Sidorova, with the call sign "Cuba," about how the attitude towards women in the Ukrainian army has changed, what stereotypes women still face, whether proper conditions have been created for women's services and what else needs to be changed.

In October, during the Ukrainian Women's Congress, the Minister of Defense of Ukraine, Oleksii Reznikov, stated that 59,786 women serve in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Of which 41 thousand are military personnel, almost 19 thousand are civilians.

Approximately 5,000 women participated in the hostilities, of which 10% joined the Territorial Defense Forces.

Also, according to the minister, 101 women died, 50 went missing, more than 100 were wounded, more than 350 received state awards, and 2 women received the posthumous Hero of Ukraine award.

Women in the Ukrainian army currently serve as gunners, tankers, scouts, and snipers. Previously, all these specialties were exclusively the prerogative of men. Moreover, women have recently been able to hold officer positions. However, some women still face stereotypes, devaluation, sexism, prejudice, and, of course, household issues, which, first of all, are optimized for men's needs.

Since 2019, the NGO Women's Veteran Movement has been protecting the rights of female veterans and active servicewomen. It is also engaged in implementing equal rights and opportunities for women in the army, particularly through legislative initiatives.Ветеранки

"Women continue to be issued men's uniforms, men's underwear"

Yulia Sidorova, head of the "Veteranka" medical service, shares that for her, the war began on the Maidan in 2014 when deadly clashes between protesters and state forces in Kyiv culminated in the ousting of elected President Viktor Yanukovych and a return to the 2004 Constitution.

In 2014, she joined the medical battalion "Hospitaliers" under Yana Zinkevych. Having fought for three years with paramedic Alina Mykhaylova, Yuliya created her own medical service, "Ulf," within the 1st assault separate company of the Ukrainian Armed Forces "Right Sector." Yulia returned to civilian life in 2019.

February 2022 changed everything. The start of a full-scale war forced Yulia to return to the ranks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and continue to defend the country on the battlefield.

Yulia shares that since February 24, they have started supplying bulletproof vests, helmets, first-aid kits, and cars. Already in May, she returned to the front to evacuate the wounded and is now fighting in the ranks of the 92nd brigade of the Armed Forces.

Юія Сідорова

According to her, since 2014, many changes have taken place in the army, but since 2022, when significantly more people joined the service, sexism and a certain disrespect for women have returned.

"Of course, I will not say it is everywhere, but sometimes it is. From 2014 to 2019, when I fought, women proved by their presence at the front that they were a full-fledged part of the army. And when I was already returning to civilian life, mainly in the army and volunteer units, a woman on the front was adequately perceived," the paramedic shared.  

"A woman has to fight for the right to serve and defend the country"


According to military servicewoman Yulia Sidorova, the Ukrainian army is still "made" for men.

Everything provided by the Armed Forces of Ukraine is made for a man. Yes, now the army as a community, as an organization, is ready to perceive women adequately, and men are ready to work together with women. But at the same time, many men still do not accept that a woman can, in principle, allow herself to choose how she dies. When a woman goes to war, she also understands that she may die. But men often believe that they can make such a choice for themselves, and a woman is not created for this.

Of course, another factor is that when a woman dies, it demoralizes the unit more than when a man dies. This is because, firstly, there are significantly fewer women, and secondly, men's attitudes are still different. Therefore, there are many obstacles for women to get into the Armed Forces in principle and realize themselves there, like fighting directly in the trenches and going on combat missions. Very often, commanders do not allow women to go where all men are allowed. Therefore, a woman must also fight for this right — for the right to fight and defend the country, Yulia is sure.

Part of the male composition of the Armed Forces of Ukraine still reacts skeptically to women in the army and war. Despite this, military personnel is increasingly becoming more professional than their male counterparts. Yulia Kirillova, the coordinator of the social department of the "Women's Veteran Movement," shares her experience of the first months of the war:

"Some inspection is coming to us. A bunch of generals from the General Staff arrived. They come to our headquarters, and one of them says: "Oh, and who's that? Soldier Jane?" I felt so uncomfortable. We all remember 2014, when mobilization began and the state in which the Armed Forces of Ukraine were. And it was brought about by colonels, captains, and generals, who now call me 'Soldier Jane.' Excuse me, but this 'Soldier Jane' in 14 years has carried more uniforms, armor, and spare parts, than the average camel carries some cargo across the desert."

Юлія Кіріллова

After the full-scale invasion, more and more women choose difficult professions at the front line. Men who have been fighting for a long time are not surprised by this, unlike "newcomers."

The Commander of the United Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Lieutenant General Serhiy Nayev, stated that now women are fighting in positions such as commanders of batteries, platoons, and units of unmanned aviation, snipers. According to his data, more than eight thousand women hold officer positions, almost three times more than five years ago. And in 2021, a woman received the post of general for the first time — the commander of the medical forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Tetyana Ostashchenko, became a brigadier general.

Yulia Sidorova believes that experienced fighters who understand the value of a woman in war will treat her with respect in any case and not devalue her because of her gender.

"I faced a superior attitude from men in the army several times in 2014 and even recently. I met a commander of another company who stated that he was generally against women in the army. This happens periodically, but I do not take it personally. I know my price. If at the beginning of my journey, I could have reacted somehow, now I don't," Sidorova shares.

"We should not talk about everyday life, but about providing women in the army, including uniforms, shoes, underwear, and medicines"


As for life during the war, of course, says Yulia Sidorova, it is complicated for everyone. There is little comfort for both women and men. However, as far as security is concerned, women are not as secure as they could be. In particular, it concerns uniform that is still designed for men. It is uncomfortable for women because it is often too large and sewn without considering the female body's physical structure. In addition, shoes are also tailored for men, so a woman has to take care of her equipment independently, even though the state should take care of it.

"Recently, the house we lived in was burned down by kamikaze drones. Due to such cases, we are forced to move and change location. It is wrong to talk about 100% comfort or that everyday life can be customized for a woman or a man. Because if we are already in the army and this is our choice, then if necessary, we will all sleep in one room, no matter how many people there are. Therefore, it is worth talking not about everyday life but about providing women in the army with uniforms, shoes, underwear, and medicines. All this is still in the process of improvement."

"Women's Veteran Movement" has developed military uniforms for women. But the state must provide it, and the state must choose the best option and begin to sew it up, the servicewoman is convinced.

Before the full-scale invasion, Yulia was studying to be a fashion designer. She participated in the Ukrainian Fashion Week and planned to create her own clothing brand, but a full-scale war began.

жінки в ЗСУ

"At some point, after the start of a full-scale invasion, I offered to transport my equipment to the "Women's Veterans Fund" headquarters and set up a minimal workshop to sew something simple for the front, for example, underwear," says Yulia Sidorova.

The paramedic did not even expect that things would develop so quickly. Leading designers joined the team to tailor women's uniforms. The process started, and the workshop began to deal with women's uniforms. Subsequently, the team received a grant of $27 thousand for the development of the workshop. The uniform, which the foundation sews, is sent to the servicewomen for a wear test.

The female uniform differs from the male version because of physical peculiarities. For example, when a woman squats wearing male pants, it bares her waist. And this is only one example of how male uniforms are unsuitable for the female body.

In principle, the servicewomen were satisfied with the provided uniform, and if something was uncomfortable, they shared their concerns, and the organization tried to correct it. For example, it is inconvenient to shoot when there are buttons on the sleeves, so the design was changed to velcro.

How do NATO standards change the Ukrainian army?


Paramedic Yulia Sidorova applies international protocols used in all the armies of NATO member countries in her work.

"Currently, we do not have an established training system based on NATO protocols. Denys Surkov is the only certified TCCC (Tactical Combat Casual Care) instructor, but his powers are insufficient to teach everyone. In my 92nd brigade, I teach recruits how to provide medical care according to this protocol," says the soldier.

Yulia explains that there were enough professional paramedics during hostilities in the east of Ukraine. She says that she left the front because she realized that she was no longer needed, compared to 2014-2015:

"Now, with an increase in the front line and a full-scale war, there are not enough paramedics again. If you have knowledge and experience, I believe you should pass it on to everyone who wants to learn. At the same time, the state should also think about how these trainings should occur so that everyone has proper skills."

In general, from her experience, Yulia says that in the Ukrainian army, there are many cases when a woman wants to fight and has the necessary skills but is not accepted.

"I don't know how to change it so that even in the military commissariat, a woman is immediately perceived as a potential fighter who can be useful for the army. If this changes, then motivating women will not even be necessary. There are many motivated women facing challenges in being recruited by the army. Instead of taking a woman with combat experience into the army, the Armed Forces prefer to take a man with health problems," says Yuliya Sidorova.

According to the servicewoman, women and men should be treated equally. Because even when we talk about the lack of female uniforms or hygiene, it is not only a matter of comfort; it is, first of all, a matter of dignity and respect.

"Women should not be denied the desire to fight. They should be provided with equal security and rights," sums up Yulia Sidorova, a paramedic and a soldier of the 92nd brigade.

Social networks of the Women's Veterans Movement:

Instagram: https://instagram.com/women_veterans_  

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/UkrainianWomenVeteranMovement/

You can support the organization using the followong bank details:

  • Monobank
  • UA923052990000026001006228048
    код ЄДРПОУ/ІПН 43319371 NGO "Women's Veteran Movement"
  • PayPal: [email protected]

The article was published with the assistance of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.


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