Ukrainian anthropologist Oksana Kis discussed the roles women are playing in the ongoing war in Ukraine at an event hosted by Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies on Wednesday.
The event, titled “(In)Visible Agency: Ukrainian Women’s Experiences of the Russian War on Ukraine,” was moderated by Rochelle Ruthchild, a research associate at the Davis Center.
“If asked what Ukrainian women do in this war, one can respond with confidence ‘they do everything,’” Kis said during the event.
Kis began the event by explaining how Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea has influenced the role women are playing in the current conflict, which began in February when Russia invaded Ukraine.
She said women made up nearly half of participants in the beginning of the Euromaidan, a wave of pro-European Union protests that took place throughout Ukraine in 2013 and early 2014.
“The female protestors ultimately regained their sense of active citizenship, and [claimed] their right to be equal and full-fledged citizens who want to contribute to the nation in their own way,” Kis said.
Attempts from some within the Euromaidan movement to relegate women to auxiliary roles led to grassroots women’s solidarity movements.
Kis said Euromaidan created an image of “militarized femininity” that circulates frequently in art posted on social media today in reference to the current conflict.
“Remarkably, those images usually combine rather feminine appearances like long hair and a slim body with military attributes like guns and uniforms, with clear markers of Ukrainianess,” Kis said.
“Most importantly, however, these artists also portrayed the cities in the rear, representing the homefront,” Kis said. “Thus, another part of women’s experiences in war, namely women’s participation on the homefront, appear as equal and valuable in this art project.”
Kis said that in addition to serving as soldiers, women on the homefront have taken up tasks such as healing, volunteering in kitchens, producing camouflage nets, and sewing military garments.
“Because of the large scale of production, the public purpose of such activities, and the collective nature, the meaning of these activities changes drastically as it becomes a socially significant work,” Kis said.
According to Kis, 32,500 women were serving in the Ukrainian military as of 2021 — a figure that has continued to rise since Russia’s invasion.
“Since 2014, thousands of women [have] served on the front line, and proved to be good soldiers, able to master and use different weapons and to carry out various military tasks,” Kis said. “Without praising military service as something desirable or something prestigious for women, we have to admit that there are some women who are good in that profession, and this is their way to be agents of the change.”
—Staff writer Alexander I. Fung can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.