Make no mistake, Ukrainian women who fled the country are still actively fighting the war and their stories need to be heard
Here are numbers routinely reported during a time of war. We get used to hearing them. Things like the latest death toll or the number of people who have fled a country.
In case you are wondering about Ukraine, 3.6 million people (mostly women and children) have fled the country, and another 6.5 million have been displaced within the country.
These statistics are always heartbreaking. But there is another statistic about the war in Ukraine that surprised me recently.
It refers to women.
Female voices accounted for less than a quarter (23 percent) of all experts, protagonists or sources cited in global digital news about the war in Ukraine. This number is based on an analysis of reporting from GDELT (Global Database of Events, Language and Tone), which bills itself as “the largest and most comprehensive open database ever created.”
How can half the population be so disproportionately represented?
Another explanation for this data is that although Ukrainian women and children feature in a smaller fraction of news stories, we remember them when their stories are told because we connect with them emotionally. Less airtime, but more impact? I find this statistic worrying. It does not adequately reflect the magnitude and power of the Ukrainian women’s voices and activities that I have seen and heard over the past few weeks.
From the first days of the war, Ukrainian women were vocal and visible. Anyone remember the elderly woman who went viral on social media after brazenly approaching Russian troops? She then offered them sunflower seeds to put in their pockets so that the national flower of Ukraine would rise from the ground if they were defeated. She had no problem letting them know they weren’t welcome.
We are used to war reporting that spotlights men’s activities because politics and the military have traditionally been male-dominated. But let’s be clear that women have always played an important role in times of war. For example, during World War II, women worked in factories and helped build tanks and airplanes. And in 2022, women are using both hard and soft power methods to make a difference in Ukraine.
There are the women who took their children out of Ukraine only to return to the country to take up arms. the Wall Street Journal reports that women now make up around 15 percent of Ukraine’s armed forces. There are the women who actively help on the front line as helpers, doctors and nurses. There are the women who help make military equipment. There are the women who drive to the Polish border to collect other women and protect them from sex trafficking. The list goes on.
There are also women who fled Ukraine but are still actively fighting in this war. Just because you fled to another place doesn’t mean you gave up. Over the past few weeks I’ve been connecting with Ukrainian women on social media. After long conversations via video link, I saw firsthand that Ukrainian women are actively fighting this war.
Take chef, food blogger and restaurateur Alisa Cooper (35), originally from Kharkiv, 40km from the border with Russia. The city was destroyed in the war and her grandparents in their 90s are still trapped in their apartment building because they are not mobile enough to walk.
Before the war, Alisa ran a successful business with a team of 14 people in Kyiv and Odessa. Her cooking school trained more than 20,000 people. Now she has moved to Paris with her five-year-old son. The Cordon Bleu trained chef has made it her mission to harness the power of the kitchen to rebuild her life and raise funds for the people of Kharviv by creating an online cooking class called ‘Cook Ukrainian’.
Alisa is social media savvy and uses her digital marketing skills to fight misinformation online. Before Russia blocked Meta, which owns Instagram and Facebook, Alisa served paid ads to geotargeting users in Russia. “I used up my company’s marketing budget so people could see what was happening,” she told me. Despite her new status as a displaced person, she wants to be financially independent: “I don’t want to be a refugee. I am an entrepreneur.”
Other women across Europe are part of a movement raising funds and helping keep their friends and families safe – a Herculean task when humanitarian corridors, internet and electricity were cut in some cities.
Iryna Lisova, a 36-year-old travel blogger, translator and author, filmed her 80-hour journey from Kyiv to Berlin in the first week of the war. Since then, she has been meticulously planning the evacuation of her mother and sister from Kyiv and has managed to reunite them in Germany.
“My mother is a 72-year-old widow and cancer survivor. She’s had a tough life,” says Irina. “It is a personal tragedy for me that I had to leave my country just to sleep.”
Irina is active on the messaging platform Telegram. She uses it to keep her elderly relatives up to date with news they wouldn’t otherwise receive. Her biggest concern is that war fatigue will set in: “People get tired of the news quickly, I’m afraid the world will eventually forget us.”
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this war has severely impacted people’s mental health. Support is needed for the coming decades. There is already an awareness of this.
Nutritionist and fitness blogger Sofia Rozhkov (30) from Kyiv was in Valencia with her one-year-old daughter when I spoke to her via Zoom. “The children are traumatized, they can neither eat nor sleep because they are so affected by fleeing the war,” she says. Sofia still runs her business remotely. One of her colleagues was working on her laptop from a toilet in Kyiv while sleeping in the bathtub.
It is difficult to put into words the trauma of these women. It’s equally difficult to characterize the determination (and anger) they are filled with. The statistics surrounding the coverage may show that there is still a lot of room to share women’s lived experiences of this war.
But one thing is clear, there is no shortage of stories demonstrating the power and resilience of women. These stories need to be heard.
Anne-Marie Tomchak is a journalist and entrepreneur. You can follow her on social media @amtomchak
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/never-underestimate-the-value-resilience-and-determination-of-ukrainian-women-41497255.html Never underestimate the value, resilience and determination of Ukrainian women