Ukraine War: Women fight at the front

For more than a year, women have been fighting on the frontlines of the war in Ukraine without proper equipment, a Ukrainian charity says.

Since Feb. 24, 2022, about 60,000 women have joined the fight against Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, the founders of Zemliachky, a charity that supports women soldiers on the frontlines, told

Their military uniforms don’t fit properly, their helmets cover their eyes when they fall off their heads, and their boots are too big.

“The most important thing is a military uniform,” Karina, a deputy commander on Ukraine’s front lines, said in an email to “The uniform given out is not always the right size and when it gets colder you have to dress warmly and of good quality.”

Access to menstrual products is another difficulty these women face. Pads and tampons are hard to come by and even harder to change when the bathroom is a hole dug in the floor.

For three women who emailed, the honor of serving their country in its need far outweighs the difficulties of daily life on the front lines.

To protect their families, has agreed to keep the women’s last names private. The quotes below are from emails to, edited for clarity and translated from Ukrainian.


“I came here by accident, but now I can’t imagine myself anywhere else,” Veronika told (post).

The moment the war felt real for Veronika was when she was handed a grenade after the Russians made a breakthrough in the Ukrainian defenses.

“This is instead of imprisonment,” she was told.

The 26-year-old was born in Dnipro and lived in Kiev when the war broke out. She had just completed an internship and was preparing to become an anesthesiologist.

Every morning, she started her day with a cappuccino at a “nice coffee shop,” she told As a paramedic on the front line, however, Veronika’s morning ritual is very different.

“Instead of a coffee shop cappuccino in a nice cup, I drink instant coffee, if I’m lucky, even with cream or milk,” she said.

Veronika works in the Azov division of an artillery unit on the east side of Ukraine.

“I support soldiers in the field and send them to the hospital when needed and teach the basics of tactical medicine,” she said. “That’s why I studied to be an anesthetist, because I like situations in which quick decisions are important.”

Her decision-making skills were in demand when she was called onto the battlefield to help an injured soldier with a suspected broken neck.

“I ran to him with a stretcher, put a collar (neck brace) on him and he was quickly taken to the hospital,” Veronika said. “I was talking to him the whole time. He was asking if he was moving his hand and I was like, ‘There’s a little, come on, you can do it’, even though there was no movement at all.”

Every day is different for Veronika, but she says she tries to “find happiness in the little things”.

The young Ukrainian soldier is stationed outside the battlefield, waiting to be called to help with evacuation and treatment. She is fortunate to have an outdoor shower and a hot meal prepared by nearby volunteers.


“The war in Crimea in 2014 motivated me to join the ranks of the armed forces since my home was on the demarcation line,” Karina said. (Contributed)

The reality of war looks very different for Karina. She has served in the Ukrainian military since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

“I’ve been here for a year without rotation, I miss hot water and a regular toilet more than anything,” she told in an email.

Karina, 26, is the deputy commander of her unit, which travels a lot during the war. The battery, consisting of 48 men and two women, builds everything: showers, toilets and sleeping quarters.

Each time the group moves, they leave the structures and start over.

Karina said she’s adjusted to her new reality but still has trouble taking care of herself. Cystitis, the bladder infection often caused by a bladder infection or an untreated UTI, is common among her comrades, she says.

The helmets given to the women are “3 sizes larger,” she said, and the underwear they wear is for men.

Karina joined the department when she was 23 years old. The commander of the unit left shortly thereafter, leaving about 50 men in her charge.

“I was scared, but I made it. I am respected and obeyed,” she said.

Their main task is to notify the soldiers’ relatives when they have been killed.

“It’s tough and I need to find strength, compassion and sensitivity,” she said.

In August, Karina had to make a difficult phone call to the family of a 23-year-old soldier.

“I called his father – he didn’t believe me at first,” Karina said. “There’s a deep pause and it hurts a lot, it’s scary. Because you understand what the person on the other end is feeling.”

Karina finds motivation in her unit, which she calls her second family. The soldiers who work with her are all very different, she says, but nonetheless sincere, friendly, bright and cheerful.

She looks to the future and imagines after the war how she will buy a new home since hers was destroyed on March 15, 2022.


“I worked, studied, walked around town with friends and enjoyed life. And from February 24 (2022) I immediately started helping, first civilians in their area, looked in basements and bought groceries,” said Lisa. (Contributed)

In another unit, Lisa, a 21-year-old artilleryman, says she’s lucky if she has warm water.

“(There is a) lack of light, water, heat, internet,” Lisa told in an email. “The toilet is a dug hole and the shower is water heated over a fire. Often there is no place to wash.”

When out in the field, she packs pads, tampons, and painkillers in case she’s away from camp for a while.

“First my buddies offered me something sweet during my period, but I said I don’t eat sweets, so now they bring me cucumbers and tomatoes,” she said.

The winter was bitterly cold. Lisa wears four pairs of socks and sleeps under four summer sleeping bags at night.

She lived in the eastern district of Mariupol, one of the first areas in Ukraine to be shelled. On February 24, 2022, at 5 a.m. local time, Lisa was awakened by an explosion and immediately contacted her boyfriend, who works in the military.

She had joined the force in April and knew she wanted to work with mortars to follow in her boyfriend’s footsteps. She finds motivation from her friends in Azov (a small town north of Mariupol), who taught her to love her country and books.

“Now many of them have died defending my hometown,” Lisa said. “The Russians destroyed my hometown, killed many civilians, ruined my life so far. Every day they kill children, women (and) genocide my nation.”

“And who, if not us, should stop them?” She said.


Founded a month after the outbreak of war, Zemliachky published his first Instagram story featuring a female soldier.

“Mental health is actually so important because we communicate with 7,000 servicewomen and we were pretty clear that they all need this mental support,” said Andrey Kolesnyk, co-founder of Zemliachky. “It’s not like you join the army and train somewhere. It’s actually war and all the tragic and horrible things you’re surely going to meet, you’re going to feel and all these deaths, all these murders… It scars your sanity.”

The organization was founded by Kolesnyk and Ksenia Draganyuk, both of whom have connections to support women – particularly in the military. Kolesnyk’s younger sister and her husband enlisted shortly before the outbreak of war.

Draganyuk used to be a TV journalist who covered stories of women across Ukraine employed in male-dominated fields like firefighters, police officers or pilots.

“So we decided to help the idea and combine the idea of ​​their (Draganyuk’s) show before the war and we wanted to tell stories about women on the front lines,” Kolesnyk said.

Through short questionnaires, the two were able to understand who the women at the front are and what they need. The organization began sending out packages of items the soldiers needed, such as menstrual products, food, and messages of encouragement.

In the beginning, Zelmiachky sent about 40 packages a month – now it’s 50 to 100 packages a day.

“We don’t ship the equipment just based on our thoughts, each box contains specific items that we know that specific person needs,” Draganyuk said in Ukrainian. “We also send them like little things to keep their morale up, so they know there are people out there who care about them.”

As the charity grew, so did the demand for women-specific gear and uniforms. With a team of 11 people, the organization takes care of thousands of servicewomen and their needs. Demand is constant while the war drags on.

In July, with the help of partners around the world, Zemliachky began sending female soldiers equipment that suits them.

“Not only (didn’t) society expect so many women to enlist in the army, (but) the government didn’t expect so many women to enlist in the army, so they just didn’t have a chance to engage with the Finishing off women’s uniforms, the smaller shoe sizes with similarly lightweight equipment,” Kolesnyk said. “That’s why we’re here.”


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