Anastasia Vlasova: The Invisible Warriors

Anastasia Vlasova (Ukraine): The Invisible Warriors


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There was one boy there (at the checkpoint). What was his name? Vadik? Yura? Not sure I even knew his name… On his way up the hill he turned back to me and said ‘bye, mama’ and waved his hand. About a week after I got a call from a comrade who told me that a shell had landed exactly where their tent was… That kid got killed right away. The others got wounded pretty bad. When I realized that that kid died, even though I didn’t even know his name and spent just about an hour with him, his ‘bye, mama’, which he said as my own son could, is still haunting me. It really did get to me a lot, even though he was a stranger

Oksana Shakhray with a call sign “Mama” (mother) recalls her service at Ukraine’s National Guard as a paramedic. At home, in Odesa, Oksana has two sons and a grand-daughter, while at the war zone in Eastern Ukraine she has dozens of soldiers whom she treats like her own children.

Oksana joined the army in awareness that her 27-year-old son might be conscripted, so she wanted to be near him in case he gets wounded. He never was, while Oksana stayed to serve in the army and became a mother to many soldiers.

14,332 women currently serve in Ukrainian army according to Ukraine’s military spokesman Andriy Lysenko. Only 35 of them hold senior positions.

I am working on a story about women who volunteered to join the Ukrainian army when war started in Eastern Ukrainian region called Donbas in 2014.

I was in a car. My commander, and his wife decided to give me a lift home. That was just months after I joined the army. Suddenly, the commander’s wife started to humiliate me, saying that I’m a military whore and that I slept with her husband. I didn’t know what to do. The commander tried to stop his wife, to say that it isn’t true, but she just wouldn’t listen. She opened all the windows in the car, so I would feel cold. I asked to pull over and ran out of the car. I couldn’t feel my legs, literally. I fell on the ground and couldn’t move. I took off my military beret, I was too humiliated to wear it at that moment. I was afraid that passers might think that I’m just some drunk servicemen lying on the ground.

Says Anastasia Shevchenko, 22, who finished her service in fall 2015 due to health problems after a year in the war zone as a paramedic. Anastasia joined the army after the Euromaidan revolution. She wanted to continue the fight for Ukraine’s wellness. During her service, Anastasia broke up with her boyfriend with whom they were planning to get married when the war would be over. Currently, Anastasia is undergoing medical treatment in Israel. She is slowly recovering from the consequences of contusion and post-traumatic stress disorders.

Women who serve in the Ukrainian army and participate in the war in Eastern Ukraine face stigmatization and humiliation within society. Female fighters suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and have difficulties with social adaptation.

Women fighters have been stigmatized within the society historically since World War II. Female fighters who came back from service after World War II were avoiding to tell people that they were war veterans because the society at that time put a stamp on them as being «military whores».

Svetlana Alexievich, a Belarusian non-fiction prose writer and a Nobel Prize in Literature Laureate, in her book War’s Unwomanly Face describes cases of isolation of women who came back home after serving in the Soviet army. Men did not want to marry them, mothers were expelling them out of the house in fear that a younger daughter might not find a partner because of the bad reputation of the older one. They were afraid to mention their service and military awards.

Military hospitals, volunteers and the Ukrainian government deal with men’s physical injuries and PTSD, but women who were at the war zone remain neglected with their problems when they come back.