War does not discriminate between the sexes. Countless women have tended to the dying and wounded in wartime, while others accompanied their menfolk on campaigns. Millions more have been caught up as victims in worldwide wars of the 20th century. War has always been more than pitched battles, and women have dedicated themselves in such fields as nursing, medicine and factory work. It is only recently that women have been officially allowed to serve in combat positions.
On June 3, 2016, the Defense Ministry of Ukraine issued Order No.292 allowing women to serve in combat units.
According to the Ministry of Defense Ministry, in June 2016, some 49,500 women served in and worked in the Ukrainian military; more than 17,000 were military servicewomen, of which more than 2,000 officers. Women also joined different volunteer defence battalions before the order for women’s integration in the armed forces was enacted.
According to former President Petro Poroshenko, about 10,000 women served in combat units in October 2016.
In September 2018, the Ukrainian Parliament passed a bill that made men and women equal in the military and in law enforcement agencies, thus allowing women to gain higher military positions previously available only to men. The following month, Liudmyla Shuhaley was appointed Ukraine’s first female general. Yet another woman – Yuliya Laputina – was appointed general in 2020.
Seven years after the beginning of the war in the Donbas, the engagement of women in the Ukrainian military has significantly increased in both combat and non-combat roles. As of mid-June 2019, it is estimated that 57,000 women served in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, with about 26,000 on active duty and more than 3,500 holding officer positions.
As of September 2019, Ukrainian women have been allowed to study in military lyceums and higher educational institutions. Today, the number of women studying in military universities and training units is 8% of the total number of students enrolled.
As of the end of February 2021, there were 925 women officers in command positions and 56,726 women serving in the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
Today, as many countries celebrate International Women’s Day, we remember and honour the brave Ukrainian women who sacrificed their lives for Ukraine and freedom. Most of them were killed in the line of duty, others died in accidents or of disease while serving in the war zone… and one was assassinated in Kyiv Oblast.
Kateryna Noskova, nom de guerre “Ket”, was born on April 23, 1989 in Znamyanka, Kirovohrad Oblast. In February 2015, Kateryna left home as a volunteer and joined the 57th Separate Motorized Brigade. When asked why she took up arms, Kateryna replied the following:
“Guys, everyone has to take up this fight. Otherwise, we won’t win this war... and we must be victorious. I’m protecting my child and my home.”
Kateryna Noskova was killed in enemy shelling near Horlivka, Donetsk Oblast on August 16, 2015.
Alesia Baklanova, nom de guerre “Mala” (Tiny), was killed near Shakhta Butivka, Donetsk Oblast on October 10, 2018.
Alesia was born on January 11, 1999 in the village of Karavan Solodky, Luhansk Oblast. She served as senior soldier and shooter in the 92nd Separate Mechanized Brigade. She was awarded the Order of Courage III Degree (posthumously).
Sabina Halytska, nom de guerre “Sonechko” (Sunshine), served as junior sergeant and senior nurse in the 10th Separate Mountain Assault Brigade.
Sabina was born on September 20, 1994 in the village of Bastova Rudnia, Zhytomyr Oblast.
She was killed near the village of Katerynivka, Luhansk Oblast on February 20, 2018 when an enemy anti-tank guided missile hit her vehicle. Sabina was awarded the Order of Courage III Degree (posthumously).
Yana Chervona, nom de guerre “Vidma” (Witch), was killed on April 2, 2019 near the village of Novozvanivka, Luhansk Oblast when an enemy missile hit her dugout during during heavy enemy shelling by 82-mm and 120-mm mortar launchers.
Yana was born in Kharkiv on April 16, 1979. She served as senior soldier and machine gunner in the 46th Special Purpose Battalion Donbas-Ukraina of the 54th Separate Mechanized Brigade.
She was awarded the Order of Bohdan Khmelnytsky III Degree (posthumously) and the medal of National Hero of Ukraine (posthumously).
Yaroslava Nykonenko, nom de guerre “Hera”, was killed by a sniper bullet near Maryinka, Donetsk Oblast on October 15, 2019.
Yaroslava was born in Myrhorod, Poltava Oblast on August 25, 1983. She went to war as a volunteer & then served as a sniper in the 101st Separate Brigade for the Protection of the General Staff.
Yaroslava was awarded the Order of Courage III Degree (posthumously).
Her father, Serhiy Nykonenko, an Afghan veteran & fighter with the Aidar Battalion, was killed in enemy shelling near Trokhizbenka, Luhansk Oblast on Jan 18, 2015.
Klavdiya Sytnyk was killed by enemy shelling near Novotoshkivske, Luhansk Oblast on February1, 2020. Klavdiya was delivering humanitarian aid and medicine to the front lines.
Klavdiya was born in Zachepylivka, Kharkiv Oblast on February 24, 1986. She completed her medical studies at the Krasnohrad Medical College. In February 2017, she signed a contract with the Armed Forces of Ukraine, serving as sergeant and senior paramedic in the 93rd Separate Mechanized Brigade Kholodny Yar.
Alina Surhuchova was killed on April 13, 2017 while serving near Bakhmut, Donetsk Oblast.
Alina was born on December 27, 1995 in the village of Komar, Donetsk Oblast. She served as senior soldier in the 53rd Specialized Mechanized Brigade
Alla Vovk, nom de guerre “Fortuna”, died in a road accident in the war zone, near the village of Hrechyshkyne, Luhansk Oblast on November 18, 2015.
Alla was born in the village of Pilny Oleksynets, Khmelnytsky Oblast on February 16, 1968. She served as senior soldier and medical instructor in the 44th Separate Artillery Brigade.
Before the war, Alla worked as a nurse, but when war broke out in the Donbas, she went to the front as a volunteer. Her comrades recall that not only did she save many lives, but she also took part in combat, “rescued the wounded at the front, and carried ammunition to the guys in the front lines”.
Anastasiya Horbachova, nom de guerre “Lisa”, was killed near Mariupol, Donetsk Oblast on August 6, 2015.
Anastasiya was born in Chernivtsi on March 16, 1983. She served as shooter in a reconnaissance unit of the Pravy Sektor Volunteer Corps and paramedic of the Hospitaliery Medical Battalion. Her comrades-in-arms speak of her with great respect and admiration, noting her strength and stamina in combat missions. She could be distinguished by the thick fox tail attached to the back of her helmet.
Olena Bilozerska, a volunteer soldier who served with Lisa, writes:
“At the front, Lisa fell in love and started a family… During the first months of her pregnancy, she went on reconnaissance missions. She was afraid of nothing and no one. She repeatedly said that she would die young, but this didn’t seem to upset her. However, she believed that she see the end of the war, she often dreamed that after the war we would all meet in a cabin high up in the Carpathians… But, it turned out that we will not meet. Rest in peace, my beloved sister.”
Iryna Shevchenko, nom de guerre “Skazhena” (Madwoman), died from her wounds in Mariupol hospital on July 1, 2019. During the evacuation of the wounded near the village of Vodiane, Donetsk Oblast, an anti-tank missile hit her vehicle. The driver was killed on the spot, and Iryna suffered severe injuries and burns.
Iryna was born in the village of Daryivka, Kherson Oblast. An active participant of the Maidan and volunteer, she served as sergeant and sanitary instructor in the 36th Separate Naval Infantry Brigade.
Althought she suffered from diabetes, she refused to leave her unit, saying:
“I have both hands and both legs. How can I leave these boys? I just can’t!”
Nadiya Morozova died in a tragic accident in the war zone, in the village of Pavlopil, Donetsk Oblast on June 26, 2017.
Nadiya was born in Krasni Okny, Odesa Oblast on October 27, 1993. She served as senior soldier in the 10th Battalion of the 59th Separate Naval Infantry Brigade.
Nataliya Khoruzha went to war in the fall of 2015, and served as medical instructor in the 1st Battalion of the 54th Separate Mechanized Brigade.
Nataliya was born in Pershotravensk, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast on June 9, 1972. She worked as a nurse before the war.
On February 2, 2017, during heavy fighting at Svitlodarsk Bulge, Donetsk Oblast, Nataliya and the medical team drove out to evacuate three wounded soldiers. She provided medical aid to two soldiers and sent them to the hospital in another vehicle. Then, as Nataliya, together with the third soldier and the driver, were getting into their vehicle, Russian mercenaries fired an anti-tank guided missile directly at the ambulance. Nataliya died on the spot, while the wounded soldier and driver were seriously injured.
“She was always calm and smiling. I don’t think she was the kind of person to get easily upset. Our medical centre was situated on the second floor of a former water pump station, and she was often there. She used to sit there, relaxed, with her legs crossed, nodding and greeting everyone with a friendly smile,” says volunteer fighter Halyna Klempouz, who served in the 54th Brigade with Nataliya.
Anastasiya Vitovska, nom de guerre “Stella”, died of her wounds near the town of Zalizne, Donetsk Oblast. Russian-backed militants launched heavy shelling on Ukrainian positions in this region.
Anastasiya was born in the town of Kentau, Kazakhstan on March 31, 1998. She served as soldier and cook in the 24th Assault Battalion Aidar of the 53rd Separate Mechanized Brigade.
Olena Kulish was not a soldier of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, but she was actively involved as a volunteer providing assistance and care to Ukrainian soldiers deployed at Luhansk Airport.
Olena was born in Luhansk on March 23, 1968. On August 10, 2014, Russian terrorists kidnapped Olena and her husband Volodymyr Aliokhin, drove them to the village of Peremozhne, Luhansk Oblast and executed them in cold blood.
Olena and Volodymyr were awarded the title of Hero of Ukraine (posthumously).
Amina Okuyeva was a Ukrainian doctor of Chechen descent. She was born in Odesa on June 5, 1983. During the Revolution of Dignity, she joined a unit of Afghanistan veterans staffing a medical tent during the protests.
When war broke out in eastern Ukraine, Amina joined the Kyiv-2 Battalion. However, she did not practice medicine much at the front, and directly participated in the Battle of Debaltseve. She also served as press secretary for the Dzhokhar Dudayev Battalion.
Amina Okueva was killed in a military-style ambush on October 30, 2017 near the village of Hlevakha, Kyiv Oblast. Unidentified attackers opened fire on the vehicle while it slowed by a railroad crossing. Amina Okuyeva died on the spot; her husband Adam Osmaev was injured in the leg.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine stated that the Russian military may have been involved, although the identity of the attackers remains unknown.
Olha Nikishina, nom de guerre “Kholera”, died of a heart attack while on duty in the war zone on May 10, 2020.
Olha was born in Poltava on February 7, 1972; she resided in Kharkiv. When war broke out, she started working as a volunteer with Pravy Sektor 17th Reserve Battalion in Poltava. She enlisted in 2016, serving in the 16th Battalion Poltava of the 58th Separate Mechanized Brigade.
Olha was deployed to the front in July 2016, fighting in such hot spots as Avdiyivka and Krymske. As of 2018, she served in the 17th Separate Mechanized Brigade.
Liudmyla Onyshchenko was born in Kyiv on September 4, 1968. She died in the line of duty near Popasna, Luhansk Oblast on January 18, 2017.
Liudmyla served as senior soldier and senior cook in the 27th Separate Brigade.
Nation-building is inseparable from remembering and honouring the past. A living nation needs to be rooted in memory and honour so that the past can be a living presence in the present.
As the great Romanian-born American Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor once Elie Wiesel said:
“Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.”
And Chinese general, military strategist and philosopher Sun Zu:
“Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look upon them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death.”