The women of Ukraine play a vital role in protecting their country and shaping its future.
More than 60,000 Ukrainian women serve in the Ukrainian military defending against Russia’s aggression. Tens of thousands more do their part to help their country as journalists, paramedics, teachers, politicians and artists.
“Throughout history, women have played a critical role in Ukraine’s fight for freedom and sovereignty,” said Katrina Fotovat, acting ambassador-at-large for the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State. That remains true today.
“Women are … heroes of this war,” Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, said during a State Department virtual panel session on the role Ukrainian women play in fighting Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and their collective future.
Women leading communities
As many international organizations fled Ukraine at the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion, many women leaders stayed, Markarova said.
“They risked their lives to deliver food to help other women. They risked their lives to help our brave armed forces. They risked their lives to actually try to secure some kind of normalcy in this horrible war,” she said.
She noted the exceptional work of Oleksandra Matviichuk, who leads the Center for Civil Liberties and shared the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize for efforts to document possible war crimes and human rights abuses.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said February 18 that, based on a careful analysis of the law and available facts, members of Russia’s forces and other Russian officials have committed crimes against humanity in Ukraine. He said the determination underlines the “staggering extent of the human suffering inflicted by Moscow on the Ukrainian civilian population.”
In March 2022, Blinken announced the U.S. government assessed that members of Russia’s forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine.
Journalist Nataliya Gumenyuk said female journalists have reported stories of abuses by Russia’s forces in Kherson, Kharkiv, Severodonetsk and other cities and towns across Ukraine. She said the journalists affiliated with the Public Interest Journalism Lab, which she founded, talk to witnesses of what could be war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“It’s extremely difficult work,” Gumenyuk said during the panel discussion, but it’s “done for the future, done for justice.”
In towns and villages, many men are on the front lines, so women have had to keep hospitals, schools and even the villages themselves in operation, often without water, electricity or supplies. “Very often it’s just thanks to them [the women], the community survived,” Gumenyuk said.
Women lead on the front lines as well. Of the 60,000 women in the Ukrainian army, 5,000 of them serve in combat units, working as paramedics and snipers, said Yevheniia Kravchuk, a member of Ukraine’s Parliament.
Thinking of the next generation
Kravchuk noted that a generation of children in Ukraine “do not know anything else than Russian aggression.”
That includes Kravchuk’s daughter, who turned 9 this year. She was born around the time of the Maidan Revolution, also known as the Revolution of Dignity, in early 2014. And just a few weeks after she was born, Russia’s forces invaded and then began occupying Crimea. And then Russia’s proxies moved into the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. “We cannot leave this war to our children.”
Ruslana Lyzhychko, who won the 2004 Eurovision Song Contest and is a recipient of the State Department’s 2014 International Women of Courage Award, is an outspoken critic of the war. On social media, she urges her fans and celebrities to be active and work for peace. “It’s not just about Ukraine, it’s not just about Europe,” she said. “It’s about our humanity.”
Watch these women’s full remarks at the panel session. Also learn more about other women defending Ukraine profiled in a ShareAmerica series, including Yana Zinkevych and Nataliya Mykolska and Valentina Synenka.