Thousands of women have gone to the front lines to join the Ukrainian army’s fight against Russia, and they often wear uniforms that fit poorly because they were made for men.
The number of female soldiers in Ukraine has more than quadrupled since 2015, when nearly 14,000 were enlisted. Now, approximately 60,000 strong, they make up a large percentage of the country’s armed forces, according to figures from the US Ukrainian Embassy. Although Ukraine’s Defense Ministry has not recently disclosed how many active-duty forces are deployed to defend Ukraine, just before the Russian invasion began a year ago, Ukraine said it had 261,000 active-duty armed forces and intended to bring that number to 361,000.
And yet, there is still no standard female Ukrainian military uniform. Over the years, women have been issued men’s jackets, pants and even underwear. On average, women have narrow shoulders and wide hips, so uniform jackets are too big in the shoulders or too tight across the chest. And the pants, if they fit in the hips, are too big in the waist. Many women are uncomfortable with soldiers long before they take their place on the front lines doing the hard work.
But local Ukrainian companies are trying to improve this aspect of military life for women by creating uniforms specially designed for them, since the government still has no plans to create women’s uniforms.
Provided by Olga Ushakova
Olga Ushakova, like many female soldiers, was a civilian before the war began. He volunteered to fight because he saw it as his duty to protect his country. Based in northern Ukraine, he works as a communications relay for his brigade.
“The most important problem for women in the military is the lack of women’s accessories, such as uniforms, underwear and shoes. All the items are in men’s styles,” she told CBS News. “The size is often large, and all things should be hemmed.”
Ushakova met Irina Nykorak, founder of the Arm Women Now organization, who was able to provide her with a hemmed and fitted uniform. Nykorak told CBS News that more than 90% of women fighting for Ukraine need their uniforms hemmed to be comfortable. He currently has a waiting list of several thousand women.
“This is the least we can do for our guards. Women appeal to us en masse with requests to give them their uniforms,” he said.
In the Donetsk region, Anastasia Mohina spent the first cold months of the war in sneakers and an oversized men’s uniform, envying the men in her unit three pairs of socks and boots. With all the shops closed and not sure who to turn to, he called his brother Andriy Kolesnik. He quickly sent her a box of warm socks, thermal underwear, gloves, a hat and a uniform to suit her.
Provided by Anastasia Mohina
Newly aware of the need for uniforms and equipment for female soldiers after her sister’s call, Kolesnik created a company with co-founder Ksenia Drahanyuk, to provide boxes of sanitary products and uniforms designed for women’s bodies. The organization called Zemliachki, which roughly translates to “Women’s Compatriots”, was born. So far, Zemliachki has fulfilled more than 5,000 female soldier requests – all of them sent for free.
Historically, those on the front lines of war have been men, which has led to a lack of suitable equipment for female soldiers. Recently countries such as the United States have begun providing customized uniforms that allow women to be more agile and comfortable on the front lines. The first female US Army combat uniform was issued just over a decade ago in 2013.
Mohina says she is happy with her updated uniform, which enables her to work “as quickly as possible” and without the constant distraction of rolling up and adjusting large sleeves and pant legs.
“Women have to fight to be respected and they still have to prove that they are just as professional as men. But we have upgraded these concepts from February 24 (in 2022),” said Kolesnik, a reference to Russian aggression. “Because back then, it was so unexpected when some woman said she wanted to join the army. It’s a shocking idea. Nowadays, it’s not a shock. We’ve built a culture of a woman soldier.”
Women in Ukraine also appear to still struggle with gender bias as civilians. A new Virginia Commonwealth University study found that while Ukraine’s attitudes toward women in the military have improved and the country has tried to adopt more equal policies for civilians, it has “faced pushback from Ukrainian society, which sees women’s place in society primarily as guardians. Home and family.” ” according to political scientist Jessica Trisko Darden, who authored the study. She noted that while the number of female soldiers is increasing, many still face bias on the battlefield.
Women face sexism on the battlefield, Mohina confirms. “You have to prove that you’re not an extra here, men don’t need to do that,” she told CBS News. “But attitudes towards women are slowly changing, as each of us proves that she is needed here.”
Ukrainian lawmakers recently asked members of the House Women, Peace and Security Caucus on Capitol Hill for more weapons and support for their female soldiers.
“Our women fight on the same level as our men. They do IT, they help in the kitchen, they fight, they do different jobs – whatever needs to be done,” said Tetiana Ihorova-Lutsenko, head of the Kharkiv Regional Council. CBS News.
Florida Democrats and caucus vice-chair Rep. Lois Frankel told CBS News that including women in security talks is important because “there are great opportunities for far-reaching peace.” Yehorova-Lutsenko said she is working to establish a rehabilitation center for female veterans that focuses on mental health services. Zemliachki is also working toward providing mental health services to her female soldiers through a program that will give soldiers access to free sessions with psychologists.
For Ushakova, leaving Ukraine was not an option. “I was lucky to be born in Ukraine,” Ushakova said. “Now, after the full-scale invasion, it is my duty to stay here and protect my country from the enemy.” ”