In Depth, 22/04/2019

Sisters in Arms Step Ahead

In the sixth year of the war, people don’t make much of a fuss about a woman in a military uniform and they rarely make outdated comments worthy of the Middle Ages such as “War is not a women’s business,” “Girls in the war only cause problems,” “She decided to join the war effort to find a husband for herself” and other hurtful observations. During Joint Forces Operations, formerly called the anti-terrorist operation (ATO), the so-called “weaker sex” has proved its combat effectiveness. In return, society has accepted their choice and their right to defend their homeland.

According to the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, more than 25,000 women serve in the military in a variety of different positions. More than 3,000 of them are officers.

In general, servicewomen make up 22.4 per cent of the total number of the Armed Forces’ military personnel.

At the same time, only 70 women occupy the posts of colonels and there isn’t a single female general in Ukraine yet.

About 7,000 women currently serve in the east of our country.

In recent years, the Ministry of Defense opened up positions for women from which they had previously been prohibited. Since 2016, about 100 specialties such as private, non-officer and petty-officers, including combat roles, have become available for women in the army.

In fact, women had been able to perform mainly medical, communication, accounting, clerk and chef jobs before. Now, a woman in the army can serve as a driver, grenade launcher operator, deputy commander of the intelligence detachment group, commander of the infantry fighting vehicle, machine gunner and sniper.

Prior to this, women had only been permitted to perform medical, communication, accounting, clerk and chef roles. Now, a woman in the army can serve as a driver, grenade launcher operator, deputy commander of an intelligence detachment group, commander of an infantry fighting vehicle, a machine gunner and a sniper.

On September 6, 2018, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted the Law “On Amendments to Certain Laws of Ukraine on Ensuring Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women and Men during the Military Service in the Armed Forces of Ukraine and Other Armed Forces.”

Law amendments include a number of changes to the Law of Ukraine “On Military Duty and Military Service” and to paragraph 269 of the Statute of the Internal Service of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

These amendments and supplements provide people of both genders with equal opportunities for signing a contract for military service.

The law also enshrines the principle that women should be on an equal footing with men, which includes equal access to positions and military ranks and an equal amount of responsibility while performing military service duties.

The authors of the bill regarding the equal rights of women and men in the army believe that restrictions on women are contrary to international law.

“The consequence of legislative restrictions is that a woman is poorly rated as a professional and specialist in the military sphere,” they explained.

According to the initiators of the adopted law, the practice of armed conflict settlement proves that women’s participation “is essential for peace and assisting the local population.”

Maria Berlinska, a volunteer, states that the world’s strongest armies lift restrictions concerning women in the armed forces. For example, in 2015 US Defense Forces allowed women to serve in any military position. Similar laws were adopted in Israel in 2000 and in Norway in 1985.

Back in 2015, Ms. Berlinska started campaigning publicly for the removal of restrictions on women serving in certain positions in the army. According to her, restrictions created a situation where women performed artillery tasks but were recorded officially as chefs or clerks. It was volunteers like her who have triggered these changes. The Ministry of Defense raised the issue of gender equality and supported the equal rights of women and men in the army, committing themselves to work with experts and deputies to improve the situation.

In addition, equality has become an important cause as Ukraine is reforming its Armed Forces to meet NATO standards and gender issues are subsequently a high priority.

Nevertheless, in spite of the adoption of a number of measures military women in Ukraine still face some problems in the performance of their duties.

During meetings with representatives of the military commissariats in several Ukrainian regions, the media learned about an increase in the number of women signing a contract with the Armed Forces in accordance with the law adopted in 2016. However, a special strategy for the specific recruitment of women has not been developed yet.

Among other obstacles to fostering an equal attitude towards women serving in the Ukrainian military, it has been noted that they sometimes face peculiar treatment by men; either an extremely high level of guardianship or an overly demanding attitude.

In conversation with international observers, male interviewees who served in the Armed Forces of Ukraine said that military positions are “extremely dangerous” for women and that from time to time local commanders deliberately decide not to send women from their units to perform operational tasks that are considered perilous. Servicemen from Lviv added that they are trying to do their best not to involve women. “If a man is killed in battle, his comrades can get over it. But it demoralizes the whole battalion when a woman perishes.”

Another issue was raised by employees who work with demobilized military staff, who allege that ex-military women adjust themselves more flexibly into civilian life. Women supposedly work well in the medical field and have better access to psychological and medical services due to their knowledge of medicine and their network of contacts.

Nevertheless, women sometimes have problems with “returning to women’s life” as they were a part of a masculine environment for a long time.

In the program “Things first. Comments” on the TV channel ZIK, Olena Mosiychuck, a National Guard Corporal of Ukraine and paramedic of Azov battalion, explained the problems that servicewomen face in military hospitals.

“All military hospitals are equipped for men. So if the hospital is full of men, then as a woman you should have a separate room. That’s why you will not be admitted to this hospital and will be referred to an ordinary hospital,” said Olena.

She added that women often have problems with gynecological examinations in military hospitals.

Olena noted that the Ukrainian Army also has difficulties with clothing for military women. “When you serve on par with men you get the same uniform as men, but a woman’s body is completely different which is a big problem. When a woman, whose height is 1.5 meters gets a uniform designed for 2-meter high male and it cannot be altered because after the service contract it must be handed over, the same as boots, what should she do? This is the reality we have in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, ” summed up the servicewoman.

In spite of a number of difficulties which military women experience during their service in the Armed Forces, more and more of them decide to join the army and carry out the honorable mission defending our homeland.

Tetiana Popovych, officer-psychologist of the 44th howitzer division of the Separate Artillery Brigade, made a decision to get out of her comfort zone. As a result, she feels like she has changed for the better, something new has opened up in herself. The experience has been invaluable.

She advised her Ukrainian compatriots, who are going to join the Armed Forces, to understand that the matter of confronting our enemy is our common endeavor and the more people who join the army, the stronger it gets. As a result, our country becomes stronger and more secure. And if a woman thinks that’s just the thing she wants to do, she will succeed and God will protect and bless her.

Text: Natalia Ivanova

Edited: Peter J Cribley,

Photo: derzhkino,, Tetiana Popovych

The material was prepared as a part of Gender Sensitive Space of Modern Journalism, implemented by the Volyn Press Club in partnership with the Volyn Gender Center, supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by Internews international organization.