Friday 14 July 2023

Female soldiers in Ukrainian army burdened by health issues, ill-fitting equipment

 Women who volunteered to fight alongside the Ukrainian Armed Forces (AFU) in defense of their country are burdened by health issues and ill-fitting equipment.

According to the Daily Beast, the Russia-Ukraine war that broke out in February 2022 has been a "particularly brutal" experience for the roughly 60,000 women in the AFU. Some of them shared to the news outlet the conditions they have been forced to endure.

"The lack of appropriate equipment and resources for female soldiers – including ill-fitting uniforms, boots, body armor and tools to help them relieve themselves on the battlefield – often puts them in greater danger than their male counterparts," the Daily Beast wrote.

Siblings Julia, 24, and Alina, 28, recounted their experiences on the field. Both formerly worked as programmers and had been planning a vacation to Bali in Indonesia. Russia's attack on Ukraine forced Julia and Alina to enlist with the AFU.

Julia stated: "Try to go to the toilet in the woods at 4 F. All of us got cystitis – inflammation of the ovaries – and back pain. After a year of the war, we have a bouquet of all sorts of health issues."

Alina, meanwhile, remarked that the health issues caused by the lack of female diapers or urination devices were "the least of the problems [they] have." Her gripes focused on ill-fitting equipment, such as being forced to "stumble in men’s shoes that are too big." In other instances, they are forced to run in "huge pants" that slow them down in critical situations."

"But the hardest is to run in the army's standard, 30-pound bulletproof vest – which just never fits snugly to the body with boobs like mine," Alina said.

"If I take the army armor off and get wounded or killed, there would be no compensation paid to me or my family. Our lives [and] our security often depends on what we wear on our body and our feet, [and] how healthy we are."

Charity group provides better equipment to Ukraine's female soldiers

"Experts and soldiers … believe that access to uniforms, medicine and equipment specific to the needs of women would translate to more success on the battlefield," the Daily Beast pointed out.

The outlet accompanied Alina and Julia at a warehouse event organized by the charity group Zemliachky. The group, whose name means "women compatriots" in the Ukrainian language, is dedicated to supporting military women fighting for the country.

The event showcased and distributed new summer uniforms designed for women, albeit at a limited supply. Organizers explained that they negotiated with AFU officials for the uniforms' approval. The new uniforms for women feature lighter and more form-fitting body armor.

Runa, a 28-year-old military volunteer, was thrilled when she got her new uniform as it was more appropriate for her petite build. Formerly a florist in peacetime, she enlisted in the AFU to fight for Ukraine and now commands an artillery unit.

Before receiving the better-fitting uniforms, Runa had been wearing uniforms about four times her size – including the 30-pound body armor that made her muscles ache. She expressed her delight in a video, saying that the uniform "fits perfectly" even for someone like her "whose size is hard to find."

Another volunteer, 27-year-old Ksenia Draganyuk, pulled out a box labeled "feminine urinary director" during the event – something that could benefit Julia. Draganyuk explained: "Here is what us girls use when there is no chance to pee."

"When we asked all our girl soldiers about their health issues, 90 percent of them complained of cystitis and yeast infections," Draganyuk said. "So our job is to make sure women soldiers stay healthy because they are Ukraine's future mothers."

However, one cannot help but question why the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense had to rely on the efforts of Zemliachky to procure appropriate equipment for women fighting on the front lines. The substantial amounts of donations sent to Ukraine by various countries would have been more than enough to provide uniforms and more equipment for female soldiers.  

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