The women of Ukraine are the unsung heroes


Editor’s note: Jeffrey Owens is a Jeffersonville native, a 1995 graduate of Miami Trace High School and 2000 graduate of Ohio University. As a life-long history buff, Owens published Victory In Europe; A People’s History of the Second World War, a more than 700 page analysis of World War 2 in Europe in 2015. Since 2015, Owens has hosted more than a dozen educational symposiums on a variety of military history topics at the Grove City Library.

Once Russia invaded Ukraine, Owens applied his love of history and writing to the topic, and transformed his personal Facebook page into an educational blog about the war. Utilizing in-depth research and his knowledge of military history, Owens has provided a unique coverage of the war from multiple angles through his writing.

Owens is a resident of New Holland, is married and the father of two children. His son Luke is currently completing his freshman year at Miami Trace.

The following is Owens’ 14th Ukraine analysis:

Among the unsung heroes of Ukraine are the women who serve in every capacity of saving human life and defending Ukrainian territory. Nearly 2 million Ukrainian women have gone west into the unknown as refugees, caring for displaced children and elderly, where they experience both overwhelming support, and growing danger.

Women by untold hundreds of thousands have taken to bomb shelters and basements where they serve as caretakers for their underground communities. As a vulnerable population in occupied zones of Ukraine, women have endured some of the worst indignities inflicted by Russian forces in an attempt to terrorize, humiliate and control the Ukrainian people.

Women serve in both the Armed Forces of Ukraine as well as the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Force where they’ve taken the fight directly to the Russians. Women are represented in every type of professional employment and government occupation in Ukraine, and continue those roles, whether they remain in Ukraine or work remotely from foreign countries.

Women are journalists and bloggers who bring the war home to people around the world, from every corner of Ukraine, and report on anything from the heroics of the Ukrainian people, to the terror of living through bombardments and shelling. Women are serving their county in every conceivable capacity and represent Ukraine strong and proud.

As Russian bombs fell on Ukrainian cities and tanks rolled across Ukrainian borders from multiple directions on February 24, 2022 in Putin’s criminal attempt to over run Ukraine, the Zelensky government immediately called for the evacuation of women and children to Western Europe. By the day, the numbers of Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war, who were all women, children and elderly, grew exponentially; from a few hundred thousand to over 4 million within the first five weeks of the invasion.

Many refugees crossed into Poland, where they arrived exhausted, but were met with an overwhelming response of kindness. Citizens by the tens of thousands of showed up offering food, water and shelter to refugees. Ukrainian women and children who took trains or buses further west into Germany found an identical experience and received an outpouring of support.

Reporting from the Schloss Weiler castle in Germany, which has temporarily been turned into housing for several hundred Ukrainian refugees, the Harbor House Foundation found Ukrainian girls feeling like “princesses” even while displaced. Poland has offered free public transportation for all refugees while individual civilians as well as charitable organizations in dozens of countries throughout Europe and across the globe have provided assistance and or opened their homes to Ukrainian women and children.

Although representatives from the International Rescue Committee as well as the United Nations Refugee Agency have reported that they have never witnessed such a reaction to a refugee crisis; they also have voiced growing concerns and have described the outpouring of support as a “double edged sword.” With so many tens of thousands turning up to help, background checking and monitoring is an impossibility, and there are unsavory individuals and criminal organizations who are taking advantage of a terrible situation to traffic homeless, exhausted, and scared Ukrainian women and children into sexual slavery.

“Angelina,” a Ukrainian college girl who temporarily lives in Poland for school, was visiting family in Odessa when Russia invaded. She immediately took a train back to Poland, where eleven women were packed in a train carriage designed to hold four. Upon arrival in Przemyśl, she was overwhelmed by volunteers, but also was so exhausted that she accepted a ride from a stranger and “didn’t think to ask him for ID.” Although “Angelina” just like hundreds of thousands of others turned out fine, her story is one that could have gone wrong and tragically has already gone wrong for some Ukrainian women who have been kidnapped into human trafficking.

Alisa Vysokaya, herself a Ukrainian refugee, founded the non-profit organization Safeway for Women and Children, to educate and assist women in navigating their new reality as refugees. Alisa embodies the boss-girl image, as her natural beauty conceals the fear and pain she internalizes, while she utilizes her education and skills to push her life forward and help others.

Like so many Ukrainian women, Alisa is an educated professional, who has a background in IT design. Putting her skillset to use, she, in quick succession created a mobile app for women to help them locate safe access to transportation, lodging, accommodation, medical assistance, food and much more while on the move. An instructional video Alisa shared with me on the functionality of her app reveals it to be both very user friendly as well as highly detailed, and contains contact information for refugee assistance all over Europe.

Meanwhile in occupied Ukraine women are a vulnerable population intentionally targeted by Russian forces for rape and sexual exploitation. Psychologist Vasylisa Levchenko who founded a counseling center for sexual assault survivors in liberated regions of Ukraine has written that “Russian soldiers are doing everything they can to show their dominance, and rape is also a tool here.” Correctly defining rape as a “weapon,” Levchenko stated “The weapon is a demonstration of complete contempt for the [Ukrainian] people.” Levchencho’s organization has provided counseling to more than fifty rape survivors just in the Kyiv region after it was liberated from Russian occupation.

Another psychologist, Alexandra Kvitko, in referring to her five years of operating a sexual assault hotline in Ukraine, stated that “This amount of sexual violence, this kind of brutality has never happened before.” Over the previous five years she had handled ten rape cases, but in less than two months, now has over fifty. Kyitko elaborated that “Rape is an instrument of war against the civilian population — an instrument of destruction of the Ukrainian nation.”

Rape is among the most vulgar of war crimes, as it is so much more than a sexual attack. Rape is designed to demean, control, and demoralize not just the individual, but also an entire population. Rape is a weapon; that has been used to destroy cultures, to intentionally cause mass unwanted pregnancies to “bleed-out” a population; or as one Ukrainian rape survivor reported; her rapist told her that she would be repeatedly raped until she was so damaged that she would never again bear a child to further the Ukrainian race.

On the battlefield, women are taking the fight to the Russians, both armed and dangerous. Throughout the eight years of combat with Russia along the separatist regions since 2014, women have steadily seen greater involvement and participation in both the military and in combat. At the onset of the Russian invasion in February 2022, more than 30,000 women were serving in the Ukrainian Armed Forces, with more than 900 holding officer ranks. When the Territorial Defense Force was activated, and more than 1 million volunteers enlisted, more than 10% of them were women.

Kira Ridic, a parliamentarian from Kyiv, was one of these women who enlisted in the Defense Force. As a thirty-six year old female who had never before held a rifle, Ridic was an unlikely candidate for armed resistance. However she, like thousands of other women, stepped up to the challenge to ensure “that Putin has far more people to fight than he originally thought.”

Throughout the previous thirteen analyses, the stories of multiple women can be found. These range from “Kristin” the aspiring psychologist from Kyiv (#4) to “Anna” the escapee from the filtration system (#10), to Anastasia Radina, the parliamentarian who fiercely advocated for additional military support in Washington D.C. (#8), to Lyudmia Denisova, the human rights spokeswoman who first brought the world’s attention to the forced deportation and filtration of Ukrainian civilians into Russia (#6). Women’s experience in war is unique and this will be the first of multiple analyses dealing exclusively with women’s participation, service, struggles and sacrifices in the ongoing war. Glory to Ukraine!

By Jeffrey Owens

Local History Writer

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