How Ukraine’s ‘Women Warriors’ Are Playing a Vital Role in the War
Arranging an interview with Kateryna is difficult. The situation on the front line, where she serves, is complicated and constantly changing. In the Ukrainian army, she is a marksman — a role mostly filled by men, as she proudly notes in a recent video call.
A native of the town of New York in the eastern Donbas region, 44-year-old Kateryna — who requested we use only her first name — has dreamed of joining the army since she was 6 years old. Back then, women had limited functions in the Soviet military, mostly focused on helping male soldiers and not actually fighting. In Ukraine, that has changed: Kateryna is one of many Ukrainian women who have joined the war effort — including on the front lines — to perform a variety of crucial roles in response to our country’s urgent situation.
In 2016, Ukraine expanded the list of positions for servicewomen. Ukrainian women can now hold 63 more positions, including as marksmen and snipers. The changes were the result of military experience: When Russia attacked Ukraine’s eastern region of Donbas two years earlier, many servicewomen working, for example, as cooks or liaison officers were actually performing military duties in combat positions. But their payments and titles did not reflect the fact they were risking their lives. The rules were changed to adapt to this new reality.
As soon as Ukrainian women were allowed to fight, Kateryna — a divorced mother of two — joined the army. For her, the issue was personal: The Russians were attacking her native Donbas.
“In my philosophy, it’s normal. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman — you protect the future of your children,” she told me.
Kateryna is a champion in kickboxing and has worked as a trainer for different forms of martial arts, including combat Hopak, a Ukrainian national dance that preserved certain combat elements, she explains. She quit the army after a year to care for her children. But when Russia invaded this year, she returned to the front line — first as part of a self-formed military defense unit and later officially as a member of the marine unit. She told me that now “it is okay to be a woman warrior in Ukraine.”