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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Ukrainian Women At The Front: Don't Ask Us About Pads, We're Short On Weapons

Almost a year ago, a well-known lawyer, Yevhenia Zakrevska, became a soldier in the Ukrainian Armed Forces and now serves as an aerial reconnaissance officer. She tells her story to Ukrainian news media Livy Bereg.

Photo of Military parade in honor of the Independence Day of Ukraine

Military parade in honor of the Independence Day of Ukraine

Victoria Guerra

In an interview with the Ukrainian media outlet Livy Bereg, former lawyer and human rights activist Yevhenia Zakrevska recounts how, after Russia invaded, she volunteered for the territorial defense of Kyiv, learned to fly reconnaissance drones, and now works on the front line.

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Women with a military background are serving in the Ukrainian army, but so too are volunteers. Yevgeniya has enlisted in the territorial defense unit in Kyiv, but with her team, she has already been to other cities in Ukraine where there are active combat operations.

Here is her story.

Yevhenia reveals how the work is equally challenging for men and women, leaving no time for sexism, and why she's tired of being asked about being a woman in the army.

Life on the front lines

"Today in Kyiv, I spent 40 minutes looking for a place to park my car. It's a different feeling than when you're looking for a place to hide it at the front, at least under a tree, or better yet, to disguise it with branches or stretch a camouflage net over it. Here, the most I face is a tow truck and a fine. Ha!

But on the front, it's a little more serious. I speak as an aerial reconnaissance officer: if you don't disguise your car with branches or pull a camouflage net 5-10 kilometers from the front, and even further, you make it a target.

It's strange, but no one here wants to kill me. It's so lovely, and we don't usually appreciate it. Yes, there are rocket attacks, it's roulette, but no one here wants to kill me specifically.

On the frontline, you can work at night or during the day. There are no days off, and you can't have plans to spend time quietly. As they say: 'There's a war in the country, but it's Saturday in Lviv.' It does not mean that Kyiv or Lviv do not help the front, but it shows the distance from the events and the different perception of time.

Zakrevska with some of her drone equipment

An honor, not a punishment

"We still believe the army is a punishment, not an honorable duty. It's so unpleasant, all those stories about getting draft notices in nightclubs, on the beach, in the subway, etc.

Being a 'famous lawyer' at the front is more of a problem than a bonus. It does not help to fight. I have more applied skills.

In my unit, we gathered interesting people: top business people and executives. There is a high concentration of them; they are overqualified and well-motivated because 100% of them came to serve voluntarily.

​Chemical weapons and a beautiful spring

"In March, we went to Irpin shortly before the Russians were chased away: when they began to withdraw from the Kyiv region, we expected the use of chemical weapons. Seriously. We were looking at the wind direction and strength, checking gas masks, counting atropine ampoules, planning whether we should distribute them already, and another wave of orders for all these chemical protection items began.

In Kharkiv, we held positions on the edge of the city in Northern Saltivka, which was shelled the most.
It was just the beginning of spring — flowers, birds, cats, and a completely broken, destroyed Saltivka, such a surreal scene... I remember one of our guys was recording some neutral video, and someone wrote to him in the comments: 'Did you make a video on purpose against the background of a destroyed building to squeeze out a tear?'

He replied: 'There are simply no buildings here that have not been bombed, no whole buildings.' And it was true.

​Aerial reconnaissance

"When our unit was in Saltivka, we started using drones. There were very convenient positions for aerial reconnaissance — 16-story buildings on the edge of the field. But our commanders still looked at aerial surveillance as a toy back then. But since then, everyone realized it was a matter of survival.

We have very few shells. That is why our artillerymen work only on confirmed targets that we find and when we can adjust their work from the air. Even so, there is a strict limit on the number of shells.

How do the Russians work? They, like us, have planned targets. But they also conduct massive shelling because they have more rockets.

​A year of the war

"Despite all the horror, the war should also be an impetus for development. The army's presence means many customers who need a lot of things, so the villages near the front line in the east and on the road to the east should use this opportunity for local business development.

And the central government and local communities should also help in this direction. If all our resources go to humanitarian aid, it's not good. It makes people accustomed to freebies and makes them weak-willed. There is a time when this is necessary, but if humanitarian aid becomes permanent, people stop looking for work and opportunities to earn money.

As long as there is a war, we must form business ties. And then, I am sure, will be a tourist boom in Ukraine. There will be prosperity, and people will come back.

Zakrevska says journalists should stop asking about her uniforms

Women in the army

"I am constantly asked, 'What is it like to be a woman in the army? What do you lack as a woman in the army?' I don't work as a woman in the army. I work as an aerial reconnaissance officer. And as a woman in the military, I lack shells and artillery.

As for the fact that they did not give me thermal underwear of the appropriate size (like half of the guys in the unit), I ordered underwear for 18 euros, and that's the whole problem. And then my friends sent me a bunch of thermal underwear — and half the unit now wears it.

But journalists instead ask 100 times about underwear and uniforms. And not a single time about the shells. Because what exciting things can a woman tell you about shells? Underwear and pads are her 'level'. So how will women be treated in the army after this?

This constant discussion of 'women's problems in the army' (disproportionate to the problems in the army in general) has the opposite effect. It gives the impression that women in the military are a huge problem and that we have no place there. But this is not true.

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