Ukrainian servicewoman with the call sign “Manul” (translates to ‘wild cat’) only served in the army for several months – because for much of Russia’s almost three-year war in eastern Ukraine, she and other women were not allowed to participate in combat operations. At least not in the same way men could.
Since the start of the conflict in 2014, at least 10,000 women were part of the army. They were given supporting jobs such as war medics, cooks, and administrators. But everything changed last June for Manul and thousands like her. She explains why she decided to join the army:
“I ended up on the frontline because of my husband. He serves in the 95th battalion. I followed him to the frontline and ended up here in the 94th battalion. And actually I’m very happy to be able to serve alongside the guys here.”
The Ukrainian military changed its rules last summer, to allow women to be appointed as vehicle commanders, machine gun operators, mortar commanders, and perhaps the most risky job of all – snipers.
Manul has two daughters waiting for her at home. One is currently studying to be a surgeon at one of the country’s top medical schools. It’s difficult to imagine having both parents serving in the military during a full-blown war.
“So what we’re doing is protecting our homeland. We can’t just surrender it to the enemy. And the girls understand this,” says the woman.
Manul is now registered as part of the military and receives the same salary as her male counterparts. She says feeling part of the military unit is crucial while serving on the frontline:
“I have the best team. I can always depend on them. They always have my back and I have their backs.”
Life on the frontline in eastern Ukraine is difficult for both the men and women who serve there. The Russian-backed offensive launched late last month in Avdiivka and the surrounding area has put more strain on the already failing ceasefire in the region.