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Why this 23-year old mom became a Ukrainian soldier

Mom soldier
Nadiya in the war zone. Photo: Joint Forces Operation
Why this 23-year old mom became a Ukrainian soldier
Article by: Oksana Ivanets
Translated by: Christine Chraibi
Nadiya lived for all her life in the small East-Ukrainian city of Bakhmut. Her life was changed after Russian proxy troops briefly occupied her town: the 23-year-old mom became a soldier and enlisted in the Ukrainian Army.

For almost two years she has been serving in one of the mechanized brigades of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. She is currently on her second rotation in the war zone and dreams of being home on New Year’s Day.

Nadiya started thinking about military service way back in 2014, when her city, Bakhmut, was occupied by Russian units and pro-Russian forces. Pro-Russian rallies were held in Bakhmut in the spring of 2014, and propaganda leaflets distributed by Russian sympathizers.

On April 12, 2014, Bakhmut (called Artemivsk from 1924 until 2016) was seized by pro-Russian forces and included forcefully in the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic”. Ukrainian troops liberated the city by July 7, 2014.

In keeping with the law on de-communization, the city council removed the monument to Soviet official "Artem" Fedor Sergeev, and voted to rename its city and over 80 streets. The city officially regained its historic name, Bakhmut, on February 4, 2016.

In mid-April 2014, the flag and symbols of the illegal “DNR” were hoisted over the city council building; Russian proxies seized the police department and the prosecutor’s office. In mid-June, they blocked a Ukrainian military unit near which 17-year-old Nadiya lived at that time. That fearful night is forever etched in her memory:

“I couldn’t sleep. I went out on the balcony, and in the moonlight I saw a large vehicle moving from Kostiantynivka. I didn’t realize it was a tank… It stopped near the gate and fired several shots. Then the Russian-led militants attacked the unit; a neighbouring house was badly damaged. The whole city lived in fear, so when the Ukrainian army entered our city in July, residents breathed a sigh of relief.”

Bakhmut was free, and Nadiya could attend the local college. She graduated and worked at a local company and also raised her son. But, the events of that summer night, as well as constant enemy shelling in February 2015, which killed two civilians and wounded six others, remain deeply ingrained in her memory.

So, in early 2020, when her son 5-year-old Oleksandr was able to attend kindergarten, Nadiya decided to enlist in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Her mother supported Nadiya’s decision and promised to take care of Oleksandr, who couldn’t really understand why his mother was leaving.

They talked about the war, Nadiya spent hours explaining the situation to little Oleksandr, but the only thing he could say was:

“People are getting killed over there! You too can be killed!”

Nadiya hugged him and reassured him. The mom soldier told him that she would now be defending their country, Ukraine, that he would be proud of her. However, whenever she called home, Oleksandr would question her incessantly and remind her to be careful.

Ukrainian Women at War

Nadiya currently serves as an assistant to the unit’s grenade launcher operator. Of course, like any other soldier - female or male - she must train regularly, and demonstrate her personal qualities, skills and competencies:

“There’s no problem with gender equality in our unit. It won’t work if I try crying or complaining. And I think this is right, because a soldier’s professional qualities shouldn’t be measured by his or her sex. You join the army of your own free will, so you have to be ready, on top of it all, because the enemy won’t stop to ask you, as a girl, whether you know how to fight or not?”

Like all Ukrainians, the mom soldier dreams of being with her family on New Year’s Eve and Christmas.

“I want this damn war to end! Because of the war, I can’t accompany my son to school every day. This year he started first grade.

I won’t be able to hug him on New Year’s Eve, give him presents, celebrate Christmas at the family table. But, I think he understands everything now. He knows his mother must be over there to defend our home, so that death and destruction do not enter our country or our home…”

Translated by: Christine Chraibi
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