“Who is Eve? Who are those three girls from the 25th battalion?”, the chief of medical staff in the anti-terrorist operation area wonders after a long day of active hostilities. He comes closer to the woman-soldier, looked at Eve’s exhausted eyes, and shaked her hand.
Yevgeniya Yanchenko,call sign “Eve”, a 32-years-old battalion fighter and paramedic with long red hair remembers the moment when for the first time she felt not “just a woman at war”, but a professional soldier. On that day, August 28, 2014, Eve and two other women earned respect and finally felt on an equal footing with other 600 men in the Kyiv Rus battalion.
The war in the east of the country brought changes into women’s lives. A lot of women went to the ATO (Anti-Terrorist Operation) zone to help in fighting against Russian-backed forces. Women in the Armed Forces face a problem of discrimination. “The Ministry of Defence says, that there are more than 2,000 military women in the anti-terrorist operation area, but actually nobody knows the real figure. Because most of them officially work as steamstresses, secretaries and kitchen staff. But in fact they are on the battlefield”, says Maria Berlinska, the Head of the Center for Air Reconnaissance, volunteer and a founder of social project “Invisible Battalion”.
While the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko is bragging on his Facebook page about the successful gender politics in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, women-militants take down his populist words by doing real things. For the last two years volunteers managed to change the military law and introduced 63 new positions for women in the Armed Forces. Today they are making a social documentary film “Invisible Batallion” about women at war who share their expirience. Public pressure on the leadership of the Armed Forces and a demand to make real changes for female militants is the most important thing currently. Also there is a strong demand to introduce a new mainstream position in the Armed Forces of Ukraine - a person responsible for gender equality. That’s how they are trying to reach the top of the equality’s ladder in the Armed Forces of Ukraine and at the same time stumble on the question “Why there are women at war?”
December 1, 2013
Yevgeniya and her husband Andrii are sitting in front of the TV. They couldn’t sleep for whole night when heard about the dispersal of the “student Maidan.” They were arguing whether Andrii would go to the Maidan alone or with her.
- I’m a military. I know that’s the first blood and there will be more of it at the Maidan. I want to protect you from that.
- I’ll cope with that. I just can’t sit at home... What will you take with you?
A long pause.
- Pack things into a backpack. For two of us.
They quickly make snacks, take coffee, cigarettes. At 6.18 p.m. they came to Maidan Nezalezhnosti metro station.
This is the day when Yevgeniya quit office work.
A phone call. Andrii Yanchenko, a former paratrooper, received a proposal to create a battalion of territorial defense. Andrii and Yevgeniya decide that it’s a good idea. They name a battalion “Kyiv Rus.” They recruit people:
“There will be no food, weapons. We don’t know what equipment will have. Who is ready, make a step forward,” a commander of the battalion Yanchenko, call sign “Vysota (Height)” said. He saw that some men were hesitating.
Yevgeniya decisively makes a step forward. Andrii is against that.
“It’s not a joke. It’s not even the Maidan with all that scary events. A woman at war is another weak spot for a military. Moreover, there is a law, according to which you can’t be subordinated to your spouse.” he said.
“Death in war doesn’t choose whether you are a man or a woman. We are a family. There are many our close people at the battalion. We have to protect each other,” “Eve” (her call sign) said.
For a couple of months Yevgeniya attends trainings on medicine and paramedicine organized by NGO “Patriot Defence”, exercises at Desna polygon. Now she has a first aid kit of NATO standards and a certificate. Yevgeniya along with other activists establishes NGO “White Angels” in order to go to the anti-terrorist operation area with medics from the Maidan.
Yevgeniya sends an official letter to the Ministry of Defense asking to allow “White Angels” to join the 25th battalion. “We take responsibility for whatever happens to us in the anti-terrorist operation area. In the future, we won’t have any moral or financial claims to the commanders of the battalion or to the Ministry.” With this document “White Angels” go to the notary in Vyshgorod and now have the right to join Kyiv Rus battalion in Debaltseve.
Yevgeniya takes the documents and says to the commander of the battalion, her husband: “Now I’ll go to the war and will stand along with our relatives and close people.”
In such a way 3 women joined a battalion of more than 600 men: Anna Kuzminchuk (21-year-old), Khrystyna Skilska (21-year-old) and Yevgeniya Yanchenko (29-year-old).
“What are they for here?” the men wonder.
August 28, 2014
Soldiers from the National Guard were ambushed by the separatists when they were going to help ATO forces in Vuglegorsk. A lot of soldiers died, some burned alive. 25th battalion soldiers urgently went there to conduct evacuation. “Eve” and “White Angels” acted immediately. Chief of the medical staff stood aside watching them working.
One soldier shouts:
“There are wounded 1-1,5 kilometers far from here. We have to take them from there.”
“Who will go?” Yevgeniya asks. Nobody answers. She throws her backpack into the car, together with medic Anya they go beyond the “zero”, beyond the red line, to the side of separatists. They didn’t find anyone, but saw a commander of the battalion “Vysota.” He was on the armored personnel carrier and showed them to turn back.
10 minutes later, they started bringing wounded to “zero” checkpoint. Eve rescued one of them. “Seryoga” had the severest wounds. He has an internal cranialbrain trauma. Yevgeniya managed to stabilize his condition and evacuate him as fast as possible.
The locals started to come:
- There are your people on the battlefield.
- We can’t evacuate them because of the hostilities. Could you do that? The separatists won’t touch you.
That was the youngest man from the battalion with a call sign “Shkolyar (Pupil).” The locals brought him in the trunk. Our military took him to the car and went to our camp. He was put on the table and covered with white sheet.
Later a chief of the medical staff arrives. He is shocked with the work of military women. He comes closer to the battalion commander and says:
- Who is Eve? Who are those 3 women from the 25th battalion? They worked better than any man today.
Later he came to shake Eve’s hand. She doesn’t feel “just a woman at the war” anymore. They started perceive her as a professional.
May 27, 2017
Yevgeniya and Andrii returned from Debaltseve (where the bloodiest events were taking place in January-February 2015) long ago. His son is one year and a half. Friends from the battalion became his godparents.
The couple decided to open a shop “Imperia of Orchids”. They called Kyiv Rus battalion soldiers to help them to fix the place up. Men and women in military uniform helped them to spackle, paint like “one big family.”
Only Eve is not in a military uniform. She is wearing a blue dress and has flowers I her hands.
- Our “Kuzya” was always coming to our battalion with flowers. Do you remember that? Winter, extremely cold, snow is everywhere, and he bringing flowers as usually.
November 2013 - February 2014
Olha is an economist in the contact-center of Oschadbank. She answers the calls from all over Ukraine: deposits, loans, accounts. The Maidan have turned her work into a social support service.The elderly man from the village not far from Donetsk calls to ask whether his pension has already been credited to the account. “No, we haven’t received it yet,” Lyana says. “My village is totally destroyed. Probably all the people have left it. I’ve been living for three months in the cellar. I have nothing to eat,” the man complains. Unfortunately, Olha can do nothing.
February 18, 2014
Olha goes to the Maidan every evening after work. There for the first time in her life she saw so many blood, scattered limbs and real fights with weapon and without it. When she leaves the barricades, her clothes smell of burn smoke from burnt tires. 8 a.m. she goes to the office as usually. The first call. From Donetsk. The woman says that supports the separatists and wishes all the Ukrainians die. Olha hangs up the phone and goes to the friend she met on the Maidan. Now she wants to participate in the anti-terrorist operation with her.
Olha arrived to the headquarters and said that she wanted to serve officially. In respond she traditionally heard: “What do you need it for? Are you a military? What can you do? You are a woman. Your zone of responsibility is kitchen and children.”
Also there were two men. Nobody asked about their education, work experience. There were no questions to them. They were signed up for service in the anti-terrorist operation without any problems.
Olha signs a reservist contract. It means if the hostilities are active, she will be called.
- You again. Want to join the battalion?
- Yes, I want.
- Well, what about a secretary? We need a secretary.
- Okay. But I want to take part in trainings, rotations, as everyone else.
Olha has been working as a secretary for a year already. Besides her responsibilities as a secretary she learns to disassemble, collect and clean weapons, along with everyone attends the shooting range, regularly goes to the ATO zone. Only when she got an official status of a military she became a gunner.
Now Olha as a member of the platoon is on duty at the checkpoint 24 hours a day. She checks suspicious people and vehicles crossing the checkpoint. Her task is to identify whether they’re connected with the so-called DPR and LPR or not. At night she has to be especially careful. Sabotage and reconnaissance groups like this time most of all.
In ambush she spends 3-5 hours. Since officers are on duty at the checkpoints 24/7, Olha has morning, day and night shifts. After the shift she usually takes a rest or has a “free shift.” The former means that in case there is no combat or training alert she may cook, do laundry, read, do exercises or just sleep. The latter means that Olha, on the commander’s order, may be involved in such activities as unloading goods, harvesting firewood, cleaning the area, special military exercises and trainings, may be taken to the shooting ranges.
As all the rest Olha sleeps in the dugout (3x4 meters) with 6 men. She takes shower, eats, do laundry, changes clothes in the same places as everyone. In a place of permanent disposition, as all non-local people, she lives in the barrack which is kind of small for the entire battalion, but “there are no rooms in the hostel for the mobilized.”
The season of rains has already began. It has got cold to stand at the checkpoint. Olha and her friend Daria got warm uniform. Olha received shoes size 41 and uniform size 50. Men besides shoes and uniform receive thermal underwear, underpants, a sweater and two pairs of warm socks.
- And what about us? Will we get thermal underwear?
- No. It’s not foreseen for women.
The commanders shrug their shoulders. Several days later the girls were told that they would receive it instead of summer shirt and a tie.
- You’ll receive thermal underwear instead of summer shirt and a tie.
- So we won’t receive a shirt and a tie in summer, right?
- But according to the statute we have to receive a skirt and tights also (laughing).
- We don’t have them.
- Why men receive uniform once a year and women once a year and a half?
- Such rules.
- We serve in the anti-terrorist zone as well as men.
- For women it’s not foreseen.
When Olha has free time she goes to buy shoes size 37 and take in the uniform for her money.
Olha finds out that 63 positions for women-militants were added to the Law on Military Service. Meanwhile, the military unit receives a telegram from the Kharkiv National Guard Academy with the invitation for military training. Several days later Olha comes to the military unit to get all necessary documents to study and become an officer. “We don’t enroll women this year, the quota for women is over, you see,” head of HR department said.
Later Olha takes private courses where she acquires military specialty skills. She receives a certificate, but the commander of the battalion does not recognize it.
She has been waiting for a room in a dormitory for year and a half already. “There are no free places,” she usually hears.
- But my colleagues from the battalion live there. I know for sure there is a free room near them.
- No! No places for woman.
Adriana took a backpack and 115 UAH she had and along with hundred of volunteers went from the Maidan directly to Luhansk.
They were told that would be guarding Luhansk Security Service of Ukraine for 5 days. They were brought to the village of Nyanchyne, received weapons. Everyone understood that there was no way back. The names of those who received the weapons were noted.
Adriana is responsible for organizational issues. She worked at the headquarters as a secretary, helped to release prisoners, held negotiations with the terrorists, called relatives of soldiers.
May 25, 2014
She understands that can’t work with documents anymore. She asked the battalion commander to take her to the battlefield, to liberate Schastya city.
I went with “Chorni (Black)” group. Guys didn’t know that there was a woman with them. Everyone wore balaclavas. She was given an assault rifle, a grenade and was told to give it back in case she returned.
She wrapped a grenade in a tram and hid it into the bra.
There were a lot of things she couldn’t do that day: to unload a rifle, to kill a person. There was a separatist in front of her, but neither he nor she pulled the trigger.
The battle near the village Metalist not far from Luhansk was the severest for her. They went there with Nadya Savchenko who was taken prisoner later. There were the first dead. The person 2 meters far from Adriana was killed. “That’s my first birthday at war,” she thought.
Then there were more of them. Adriana lost more than a hundred of friends during three months of 2014.
When guarding the 25th checkpoint Adriana finds out that she is pregnant. For the first time she started crying at war. But she decides to stay until the demobilization. 25 below zero, she lives in the dugout with 7 other people.
On the third month of pregnancy she continues performing some combat tasks. However, she doesn’t go on recon missions, doesn’t carry heavy things. She is responsible for communications, accompanies volunteers. Sometimes she risks. In Pervomaisk she helps to release prisoners. Five months of pregnancy she served in the Armed Forces.
Adriana was demobilized. She went home, to Kharkiv.
When she saw documents, understood that worked as a secretary, then as seamstress. In fact, for all the time she was storming a lot of cities.
She counts the names of people she lost. Reached 70 and couldn’t continue, started forgetting whom she had already mentioned and whom not.
She doesn’t want to be back as the war hasn’t finished yet.
She hasn’t been in the war zone for 2 years. She feeds her 2-year-old baby, put him to bed. Now she thinks of coming to the anti-terrorist operation area at least for a couple of days. There is a dark green ribbon on her wrist. Adriana’s husband has the same one. That’s the warrior’s prayer.