Ukrainian women are calling for an international effort to stop Russia from targeting them to erase their Ukrainian identity. Women serving in the Ukrainian military or other roles close to the fighting face the threat of sexual violence, with the United Nations documenting several incidents since Russia invaded in February 2022. According to estimates, around 50,000 to 60,000 Ukrainian women are currently serving in the military, with thousands more taking on civilian and activist roles. On International Women’s Day, many of these women are on the frontlines in places such as Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian soldiers are defending against waves of Russian attacks.
Some of the most brutal incidents targeting women and children took place in the city of Mariupol in southern Ukraine, when in March 2022 a maternity hospital was bombed.
Another horrifying incident was recorded in the city of Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine in April 2022, when Russian rockets hit the railway station where large numbers of people were trying to escape, many of them women and children.
Tamara Martsenyuk, Associate Professor at the University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in Ukraine, told Express.co.uk: “Russia is continuing its terrible war against ordinary civilian people, among them women and children. There is already a lot of evidence that Russia is committing genocide against Ukrainian society. It’s visible, for example, from rapes of Ukrainian women, children and even men by the Russian soldiers.”
Maria Romanenko, 30, is a journalist and presenter from Kyiv who fled Ukraine with her partner when the war started and now lives in Manchester. In an interview with ITV last year, Ms Romanenko explained her fear of being on a Russian kill list due to her role as a journalist and the stories she has covered.
Speaking to Express.co.uk, she highlighted how Russia has targeted both men and women in Ukraine in an effort to eradicate Ukrainian identity: “A lot more could be done to protect women, things such as expelling Russia from the UN. Every action that Moscow takes to target people in Ukraine is to stop the Ukrainian population from continuing to exist.
“Russia also targets men, as we saw in the images of large numbers of men killed in the streets with their hands tied. We also know that when they torture men, they do it so that they are not able to have children.
“The attack in Mariupol on the maternity ward was to do with that as well, by stopping children being born. It all fits this idea of ensuring there is no more Ukrainian identity.”
Ukrainian women have fought for years for improved rights in their country, and Ms Romanenko believes there has been positive progress, especially since the country gained independence in 1991.
Her grandma, who died aged 92 on Christmas Day, was part of this change. She worked as a nurse during Stalin’s reign and carried out abortions despite it being prohibited at the time.
Maria said: “When I learned that I was so proud of her, she is a great example of a feminist and I had this amazing example of a woman doing great things.
“When Ukraine was in the Soviet Union, International Women’s Day was seen as a day about femininity and beauty, when men would pretend to care about women.
“In the last few years, it has been changing to what it should be, which is more women’s rights. There have been more women taking up roles in the military, and Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska recently said that in the last two years Ukraine lowered the gender pay gap to 13 percent, a figure lower than in many EU countries.
“A lot more women understand what the actual purpose of the day is now. Many women are doing roles that no one would have imagined ten years ago.”
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Ukrainian women have gained more rights and protections under law since the collapse of the USSR, including in the Constitution of Ukraine in 1996, and more recently the Istanbul Convention in July 2022 on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.
Speaking on the significance of International Women’s Day in Ukraine, Associate Professor Martsenyuk said: “International Women’s Day for me is the day to remind us about women’s rights and all the successes that we women in the world have now as a result of their fight.
“During the Euromaidan protests in 2013-2014, Ukrainian women managed to challenge traditional gender roles as caretakers and victims of a conflict, and reclaimed visibility, recognition, and respect as revolutionaries and volunteers.
“Now in Russia’s war against Ukraine, women are visible in the armed forces, they participate in territorial defence units, and they die as heroines.”
The Russian Embassy in London has been approached for comment.
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