As a country with a long history of resistance, Ukraine has witnessed many demonstrations of resilience and courage that have come to be immortalized by public memory. Yet as appears to be a trend globally, existing societal prejudices and stereotypes have led to public knowledge of resistance tactics and movements to operate within a gendered lens skewed towards greater inclusion of male-dominated stories. As such, with this article, we would like to start a series of special materials about women and their resilience in the face of war.
In 2014, a network of women’s resistance movements, the Ukrainian Women’s Guard, was created in Ukraine. It was established as a public organization by lawyer Olena Biletska at the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine war. The organization was set up with the goal to empower the Ukrainian women wishing to take an active part in the defense of their country and provide them with the skills necessary to do so.
Since its creation, UWG has been conducting training and exercises for women so that in crisis situations women unite, know what to do, how to survive and, if possible, resist. Among the educational activities of the organization are courses on self-defense, mental resilience, provision of first aid and intelligence information, as well as trainings on surviving captivity and mitigating the impact of PTSD. The organization’s work is based on the principles of Trust, Safety, Cooperation, Solidarity, and Assurance.
Despite facing outdated societal stereotypes and prejudices against women’s participation in military operations, especially on the frontlines, Ukrainian women continue to prove that gender is not an obstacle to serving their country and protecting its values.
Trainings for women
At the outset of Russian aggression in Ukraine in 2014, it became clear that there was a need to organize training events and self-defense courses for women in Ukraine. Defense knowledge and skills are essential in a country at war.
One of the key components of the UWG’s activities is the organization of training for women. These trainings provide participants with the opportunity to acquire the fundamental knowledge and skills necessary for military service. The training includes aspects such as military tactics, shooting, first aid, orienteering, physical development and more. Such training is also aimed at developing moral and ethical values.
The activities organized by UWG are not limited to technical and military training. They also include activities targeting the development of team spirit and the ability to cooperate in difficult conditions, which is becoming an important aspect in the duties of military units. As such, the training is organized in close cooperation with professional military officers and experts, which helps ensure the quality of training and confidence in the participants’ ability to perform their duties on the front line.
In the beginning of 2022, UWG, realizing the inevitability of a full-scale war, launched offline training for women on survival in the city during war. From the beginning of 2022 year to February 24, 2022, UWG conducted five such trainings for more than 2,000 women. It was the maximum number they could accept due to the pandemic, although there were more than 10,000 people who had expressed their desire to attend.
For women who want to feel more safe in their own country, UWG conducts basic self-defense training, asserting that self-defense skills are “a necessity, not a whim.”
Another target group for the training are women volunteers. Cases of emotional burnout, chronic fatigue syndrome, symptoms of PTSD, and cardiovascular diseases are common in the public volunteer community. The participants of the training are able to learn various practices of restoring energy, body sensation, active recreation, and returning to civilian life.
A training course on “Avoiding and leaving captivity” was prepared by UWG for women serving in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. In NATO, every soldier receives this training as part of their basic training. The advantage of this training is that it not only helps the soldier survive in captivity, but also helps to reduce post-traumatic stress disorder after release. As part of the training, women also gain knowledge of international rules for the treatment of prisoners of war.
Since 2014, more than 60,000 women across Ukraine have been trained by UWG.
The members of the Ukrainian Women’s Guard call themselves ordinary Ukrainian women who have added another task to their main job – to become a reliable rear guard for the defenders:
“We are confident that veterans of the Russian-Ukrainian war should become successful and become the engines of society’s development. We support Ukraine’s defenders in the hottest spots of the frontline. We are with them when they come for rotation or training. We are with them when they return to peaceful life.”
In 2015, the UWG started publishing a monthly newsletter called “Battle Leaflet on Guard,” which is distributed among military personnel in the combat zone. They also regularly provide legal assistance to women in the army and their families and conduct training for women on personal development.
Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, the Ukrainian Women’s Guard has been conducting active counter-propaganda and information work. They prepare newsletters and translate them into many languages to be posted across different social media platforms. Since February 24, 2022, the UWG has been preparing operational news about the war in Ukraine (in Ukrainian and English) and sending it to a network of international contacts: diplomats, military, politicians, journalists, foreign media. A separate component of the work was the preparation of 280 digests of Russian crimes. The work involved 1500 volunteer translators in 33 languages.
Together with the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance, UWG launched an interactive map with information about the events of the large-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. The interactive map systematizes information about the losses of the occupation forces, kidnappings and looting by Russian forces in Ukraine, and resistance of residents who found themselves in the temporarily occupied territories. The data is constantly updated and translated into three languages.
Special projects for war veterans
According to the State Service of Ukraine for War Veterans, there were 500,000 veterans in Ukraine before the outbreak of full-scale war. This number is projected to grow to 5 million. These figures indicate the emergence of a very specific social group that requires psychological and socioeconomic adaptation in both the short- and long-term.
As a public organization, the Ukrainian Women’s Guard has launched a number of projects to help this segment of the population whom the UWG supports and trains in running their own business and cooperatives, and creates social enterprises for women, veterans, disabled veterans, military wives and widows of the fallen, thus creating a number of workplaces across the country.
The UWG is engaged in the establishment of a Paramedic Training School in the Kyiv region, as well as a project to create a Recreation and Rehabilitation Center in a Posich village in the Ivano-Frankivsk region for social rehabilitation of women who lost a family member in the war, children of war, and displaced women.
Women at war
We’ve spoken with Olena Biletska, the founder of the Ukrainian Women’s Guard, and asked her what role women play in the war that Russia has started against Ukraine. “If we look at all the activities that Ukrainian women are currently engaged in, we can say that they are truly multitasking geniuses. Each of them combines a rescuer, a psychologist, an anti-crisis manager, and a warrior,” Biletska said.
According to her, Ukraine’s undoubted victory will be in part due to the enormous contribution of millions of Ukrainian women who believed and worked for it. “Well-educated, professional, stress-resistant, with outstanding leadership qualities, they are symbols of will, steadfastness, and extraordinary inner strength – these are all Ukrainian women. And wherever they are – staying in Ukraine or traveling abroad, saving the future of the nation – our children, whom the enemy has declared a real hunt for as the greatest treasure – women work tirelessly – donating, volunteering, supporting family, friends, acquaintances and even strangers, telling the world about Ukraine and firmly believing that the day will soon come when we will celebrate the final victory over the enemy!” she added.
The Ukrainian Women’s Guard is an example of how strong will, patriotism and civic responsibility can unite women to defend their homeland. Their contribution not only helps to ensure combat readiness, but also inspires other women to overcome stereotypes and strive to achieve their goals regardless of their field of activity.
True heroes are not defined by gender, they are born in times of trial.
More about the Ukrainian Women’s Guard
Post from weareukraine.info
Text: Anastasia Holumbiovska
Design: Anastasia Chervinska
Edit: Kvitka Perehinets