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Women of the Ukraine

Last week, the drummer from a rock band died, and it seems the world falls to its knees and mourns. May he rest in peace, but there is something way more important going on. War. War in the Ukraine where atrocities too many to count and too horrific to ponder are happening. Is this why the world can not see? Who is mourning them? Is it too horrific? Or, is it just life as usual here in the good old USA? I can not imagine what the people of the Ukraine are going through. However, just because I can’t imagine it, I can not turn away from it!

I am not celebrating war. It is abhorrent. As Richard Hottlette, a former war correspondent said that war is “a bankruptcy of reason and diplomacy.” What I am celebrating is the indomitable spirit, grid, bravery and grace of the Ukrainian women.

There are currently about 30,000 women facing the Russian invaders on the battlefield. Women are up 15% of the army in the Ukraine. But the fight of women during this war extends beyond the battlefield. There is the bakery owner who stores medical supplies in a refrigerator next to freshly baked and decorated cakes. There is the seamstress who makes wedding ensembles who is substituting camouflage for lace. A schoolteacher runs a hotline that helps families who search for relatives in the besieged city of Mariupol.

The Ukrainian women are playing a vital role in the Russian invasion. Solidarity is high and they consider themselves the other line of defense. Liliya Chyzh, a pulmonologist, ways, “He (Putin) did not take us into account. Liliya treats displaced women and children, free of charge, in Lviv. She just returned to Ukraine after escorting her 84-year-old mother to safety in Poland. Seamstress Natalia Domashovets says, “Every Ukrainian family is involved, and that’s why we are strong, and that is also why we will win,” she says, after finishing sewing the hem of a grenade vest.

While the eyes of the world are on the Ukraine, the Russian media tells a completely different story to what is actually happening. They are flooding their media with lies. The horrific atrocities are being documented by a group of 120 women volunteers. They call themselves Dattalion. They take photos and videos at the front and share them with the media and Ukrainian government officials. “We are primarily women, as men are fighting or doing more dangerous stuff,” according to Dattalion’s founder who is a former government official and businesswoman who fled Ukraine for a European Union country a week ago.

She spoke in an interview with TIME magazine on condition of anonymity because she fears for the safety of her team members and their families who are still in the Ukraine. Women throughout the Ukraine use their smartphones to record executions, the bombings and children who have been injured, some having legs amputated. “I always knew how strong Ukranian women were, but this has now been confirmed a thousand times over,” she said. Since they established it in late February, Dattalion has verified around 1,200 videos that have been downloaded close to 7,000 times in a day.

These women provide their video footage and photos free to reporters around the globe who want to report the truth. Many of these women, mothers, have witnessed the massacre up close and they are just tired of seeing children, families and neighbors murdered right before them. They say they want to share the truth of what is happening to the good Russian people and concerned people all around the world to see what is really happening on the ground in their country.

Photo: Time Magazine

Myroslava Bodakovksa, a 38 year old travel agent, meets women and children who are fleeing the violence and horror, “I pick them up on the platform and take them to a shelter,” she says, estimating she makes about 20 such trips each night. “I go back and forth until the sun comes up. Then I go to bed.” Myroslava is fighting two battles, the war in her country and cancer.

Tanya Kobzar Photo: Ryan Kellerman, NPR

Tanya Kobzar has picked up arms and is fighting at the front. She says, “I was waking up in the middle of the night terrified. I would look at a black-and-white photo of my grandmother, which I have framed on a table. She reminds meow how brave a person can be.” Tanya’s grandmother was an army medic in World War II. She was dauntless, treating soldiers from lines. Inspired by her grandmother’s bravery, Tayna, a 49-year-old mother of two, followed in her grandmother’s footsteps. She left an office job in health care supply and enlisted in the army. “I did this for my children and for my country.” She using her military nickname rather than her full surname, for security reasons. Ukrainian women have actually been serving in combat almost a century longer than American women. There were female Ukrainian officers in World War I, in the Austro-Hungarian Army, and in World War II, in the Red Army.” The Bolsheviks and the Communist parties, they declared equality between men and women in all the spheres, including the military," says feminist historian Oksana Kis.

Tanya's late grandmother Photo: The Kozbar family

Several other women tried to enlist, but were told they would be added to a queue and it would be awhile. One of these women was Olga Limarenko, a 36-year-old architect. She and some of the other women are helping in another way; they are making Molotov cocktails for cities under Russian occupation. They make about 1,000 a week.They also tie camouflage nets. They say they are ready to fight in combat if the opportunity presents itself. She says “make no mistake about the commitment of Ukrainian women to this war.”

Viktoriia Kramarenko Photo: Washington Post Heidi Levine

Viktoriia Kramarenko, 55, is a volunteer medic. She has been working at a burn hospital in the capital. Viktoriia is using her vacation time to treat fleeing refugees and wounded soldiers. For the last three weeks she has been on the front line in Irpin, just north of Kyiv, where Russians have killed many people, cut off all phone and internet connections and destroyed home. Her parents are still inside Irpin. She has come under fire, built a bridge out of rope to get urgent supplies where they were needed, and assisted those citizens who are severely traumatized. Her ambulance makes dozens of trips between her bridge and a checkpoint nearby, where those fleeing rest and regroup.

Sgt. Daria Filipieva Photo: Washington Post, Heidi Levine

Sgt. Daria Filipieva, 33, was on vacation when the shelling began. “I couldn’t just stay in my house because I’m a soldier, a sergeant, a combat medic, and I need to protect this country.” She goes on to say that it is important to her that on the battlefield, she is seen not only as a woman but “a citizen of this country.” “It’s not about the sex. It’s about how strong we are within.”

Daria Vasylchenko Photo: Heidi Levine

Daria Vasylchenko, 29, is prepared to fight any Russians who try to take her capital. She is armed and knows how to shoot. “We have arranged everything here for a nice welcome,” she says sarcastically as she holds a rifle. She is also trained as a medic.

Alona Bushynska Photo: Heidi Levine

Alona Bushynska, 32, is a professional make-up artist and teacher. Today she carries an assault rifle serving with the Territorial Defense Forces in Kyiv. She has a reputation for a diplomatic attitude, so she has become the peacemaker if any arguments arise among the volunteers.

The First Lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska, has stated that “Our resistance, as our future victory, has taken on a particularly feminine face,” and has praised Ukraine’s women for serving in the military, raising their children in wartime, and providing essential services. Women and girls from around the world have joined in solidarity, in whatever ways they can, to support the Ukraine. We are all joined in one prayer: "May Peace Prevail!"

Prayer for all military aggression:

May their guns jam and their tanks stall.

May all their missiles and explosives be duds.

May their hearts soften enough to see their enemies as their brothers,

And may they reject violence and division through the love and truth.


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