KIEV — Vladimir Putin’s war has been attrition for hundreds of thousands of soldiers fighting Russian troops on the frontlines — but the invasion has been particularly brutal for the roughly 60,000 women who serve in Ukraine’s army, according to multiple sources speaking to The Daily Tier .
Aside from the usual horrors of war, Ukrainian women speaking to The Daily Beast said the lack of proper equipment and resources for female soldiers often puts them at greater risk than their male counterparts – including ill-fitting uniforms, boots, body armor, etc. who help them to relieve themselves on the battlefield.
“Try going to the bathroom in the woods when it’s 4 degrees Fahrenheit… We all have cystitis or ovarian inflammation and back pain,” a 24-year-old Ukrainian soldier, Julia, told The Daily Beast in Kyiv week. “After a year of war, we have a bouquet of all sorts of health issues.” (Julia and several other women who spoke to The Daily Beast for this story asked to be identified by their first names only.)
Julia’s 28-year-old sister Alina also serves in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. In an interview with The Daily Beast along with her sister, she said that the health problems caused by women’s lack of urination devices or diapers are “the least of our problems”.
Women in the army are often forced to “stumble in men’s shoes that are too big” or walk in “huge pants” that slow them down in critical situations, Alina said.
“But the hardest thing is running in the standard Army 30-pound bulletproof vest — which with boobs like mine just never fits tight to the body,” she said. “If I took off the army armor and was wounded or killed, no compensation would be paid to me or my family. Our lives, our safety often depend on what we wear on our bodies and feet, how healthy we are.”
Before the war, the two sisters worked as programmers in the technology industry and had saved just enough money to plan a holiday in Bali. All that changed in February last year, when they canceled their tropical excursion and instead opted to volunteer to fight Putin’s invasion – first on the outskirts of Kiev, then in Donetsk.
Since the beginning of the war, more than 100 military women have been killed in Ukraine, whether fighting at the front, during evacuation operations or working with the press. But many of the fundamental problems that handicap women at war appear avoidable: Experts and soldiers who spoke to The Daily Beast said they believe access to uniforms, medicine and equipment specifically tailored to women’s needs will help are tailored, would lead to more success in war battlefield.
In Ukraine there are some efforts to address this issue. The Daily Beast caught up with Alina and Julia at a camp event hosted by the Zemliachky charity, a group dedicated to supporting Ukrainian military wives, where a limited stock of new women’s summer uniforms was presented and distributed. At the event, organizers said they had been negotiating with army officials to approve the uniform, which features lighter body armor designed specifically for the female body.
At a news conference on Thursday, Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said of the uniforms that “other models of body armor and helmets for women are already being tested in combat units.” When a conclusion is reached, the Ministry, by order of the Ministry, will approve the standard and officially order it for the defense system.”
Runa, a petite 28-year-old army volunteer, was thrilled when she got her new uniform from Zemliachky. Previously, the former Kiev florist, who now commands an artillery unit, wore uniforms about four times her size, including 30 pounds of body armor that left her muscles sore. “It fits perfectly, even for me whose size is hard to find,” she said in a video showing the uniform.
Zemliachky founder Andriy Kolesnyk told The Daily Beast that the organization currently has enough funds to provide uniforms to just 10 percent of the 9,000 women who need them.
“We have hundreds of items to provide women with, but the most important thing is uniforms — we need $1 million to make uniforms and shoes for all women.” We only need $1 million to get all of our defenders in this summer dress the right size. Both their effectiveness and safety depend on how freely they can move, run, crawl, load weapons or operate a drone,” he said.
During the event, Ksenia Draganyuk, a 27-year-old military volunteer who supports the organization, pulled out a box that said “Feminine Urinary Director.”
“That’s what we girls use when we don’t have a chance to pee. When we asked all of our servicewomen about their health problems, 90 percent of them reported cystitis and yeast infections,” she said. “Our job is to keep servicewomen healthy because they are Ukraine’s future mothers.”
Though even the most basic resources like sanitary pads are scarce, the dedication of numerous Ukrainian women fighting the war is steadfast, Kolesnyk told The Daily Beast.
“To a housewife somewhere in Oregon it would probably sound crazy that pregnant women would fight on the front lines to defend Ukraine, but our country is under constant attack and so even pregnant women fight against Russian invaders until they are seven months pregnant “I currently have requests for specially made uniforms and other essential items from at least ten pregnant servicewomen,” he said. “We’re running out of stocks on every single item… So far, no one has been able to actually help.”