Ukrainian Female Marine: Why I Fight
A Ukrainian Reconnaissance Marine by the name of Yara has shared her experiences of serving in the reconnaissance marine battalion for almost three years. Speaking in an exclusive interview with Kyiv Post, she recalled heavy fighting near Mariupol in the first weeks of the war and said there is trench warfare near the vital city of Bakhmut and much fighting in Luhansk Region.
Where are you serving at present? What are your combat missions?
We are in the Lyman section [in Donetsk Region] of the frontline, and I am involved in reconnaissance work. Our battalion also took part in liberating one of the settlements here in Luhansk Region, my task was to evacuate from the battlefield to help wounded soldiers. I could also control a drone and correct its flight in line with the commander’s orders. I perform tasks as an ordinary reconnaissance soldier.
Are you on the Donetsk section right now?
Yes, on the border of Donetsk and Luhansk Regions, where the Siversky Donets River is.
How did you get into the army, and how long have you been serving?
I’ve been serving in the marines since May 2020. Before that, I was a paramedic in the volunteer battalion of Hospitallers. That’s where I gained my first experience as a combat medic, evacuating the wounded. I went to the marine battalion at first and then got transferred to the reconnaissance battalion. I’ve been serving in the reconnaissance service for two and a half years.
What is happening on the frontline? Are the Russians advancing?
Yes, there is active movement from both sides. There is an active offensive from our side, we are moving toward the settlements of Kreminna, Rubizhne and Svatovo, all of which are in Luhansk Region.
The Russians are trying to narrow this corridor near the river because by capturing the inhabited villages in our area they would then be able to surround Lyman. There are active assault actions from both sides.
Are there any civilian casualties or losses in your unit?
Our unit has been fighting since August 2021. We have not been party to rotation and have fought on many parts of the front. Of course, there have been losses over the course of this year and a half. We suffered our greatest losses at the beginning of the war in March, and we were fortunate in summer.
Are these dozens, hundreds of people?
Dozens of people, because our unit is not large. Autumn was difficult for us on this front. We suffered losses. One reconnaissance group successfully performed a task, but they came under mortar fire on the way back. There were dead and wounded.
Do you have winter uniforms, equipment, and enough weapons?
Everything is fine with equipment. We received both the regular provisions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and volunteers brought a lot of everything. We even had the opportunity to choose what we wanted. Our unit has enough clothes and generators - the provision is excellent now, especially compared to what we had in March.
What are relations like within the unit, and are there any other women serving with you?
There are other women in the battalion, but I am the only one in our reconnaissance unit (which has about 100 military staff in total). Our relations are excellent. I am fortunate. Serving here is absolutely fine, and those newly-mobilized servicemen who come to us also say the same thing.
Talking of relationships between the sexes, there are certain men who believe that women have no place in the army in wartime and in combat missions. Fortunately, there are not many of them, and this was all in the past.
Now, after the combat path that we’ve managed to come through together, and I have never refused to take part in combat missions and men perceive me as their equal.
Is there any discrimination?
On the topic of discrimination. At the beginning of my service there were men in the army who wanted to see you not as a member of the military but as a woman.
However, there aren’t many such men, because our society is moving towards equality. You come and prove that you are a specialist and not interested in any attention from men towards you as a woman. You want friendly relations. Friendly, but no more than that.
However, some men want to see you smile, flirt with them, and say: "Oh, you are my warriors, let me cook you something!" And when you showed that you’re not a member of service personnel, but you are a warrior on an equal footing as them - some men were offended and hurt, but I only met a few who were like that.
The majority, when they see that you do the same job as they do - dress the same way and perform the same functions - treat you on equal terms. Talking of the battalion’s command, they’ve never discriminated against me, and have always treated me on equal terms.
The work of a reconnaissance marine is complicated and dangerous. How do you cope?
I try not to think about that. I understand that a mine can hit me, so I take a turnstile and a first aid kit with me. I know that there may be fire contact with the enemy. If the enemy is greater in numbers, then we try to be invisible. If the enemy’s forces are equivalent or smaller, we must go into battle as our commander orders. We discuss every possible scenario.
For example, in the event you are captured, we discuss how to behave. When you are on an observation post, you simply don’t think but perceive everything in terms of facts: if there’s shelling - hide in the shelter, if no shelling - wait for the command. Over time, a member of the military learns to perceive everything through facts.
How has the situation on the frontline changed over these nine months?
February and March were extremely difficult, at the beginning of the full-scale invasion. We were waiting for this offensive right up till Feb. 24. We guessed that it would happen.
We thought the Russians would go in groups and capture places, but they used a huge long armored column of vehicles that just drove along the main roads. In the first month there was fighting in order to stop these long columns of Russian armored vehicles.
Our unit also took part in such battles north of Mariupol. They were challenging, and we had much smaller forces compared to the Russians. Later on, when we started to receive Western artillery and various defense systems, the situation changed. The columns were stopped very quickly because the Russians began to suffer big ineffective losses. The Russians had to stop their assault in long columns. After this they began looking for our weak points and attacked using a group of vehicles. It was a war of operations on both sides.
The third stage of the war began once we began to retake our territories. Now the situation is different. For example, near Bakhmut, there are unprecedented trench battles and assaults from both sides in the style of World War One.
There is also an assault taking place where we are located by both sides, but at a great distance, and our artillery works well. The frontline has been formed and is unlikely to change any time soon.
What is your motivation for going to the front?
It all started with the Revolution of Dignity [in 2014]. I defended the democratic path of Ukraine on Maidan as a civic activist. When Russia annexed Crimea and began to capture Donetsk and Luhansk I realized that I wanted to join this fight as a soldier, to take up arms. It was then that I gave birth to my daughter in 2014, and had to wait until she had grown up a bit. I joined the army in year five of the war, in 2019.
Can you describe the most dangerous situation that has happened to you on the front?
It was the beginning of March. Our unit was sent as reinforcement for Mariupol. Our task was to first enter Mariupol and to support other marine units. But by the time we got there, the Russians had already surrounded the city. We encountered battles with columns of Russian forces in the villages north of Mariupol.
The most dangerous situation was in one of those villages. We held the defense there for a week and repelled two assaults. We were shelled with artillery and tanks, and on the third assault, the Russian column drove directly to where our position was. In five minutes of battle we had one killed and three wounded. I had to shoot, and we shot from everything we had. I was bandaging the wounded with shrapnel, one had a shot leg.
We were attacked very rapidly with greater forces, and at that time we did not have artillery cover. We fired back and used up almost all the ammunition. We had to leave without taking the bodies, it was the most difficult thing for me.
However, we managed to maintain the defense on the next line.
Who is waiting for you at home, and how does your family feel about your work?
I have a daughter. She is in another country now. I’m looking forward to us being together. She supports me.
And how old is she?
My daughter is eight years old. She goes to school. She understands very well what is happening, and that Russia has started a full-scale war against us. My parents approve of what I am doing.
Do you have any vacation time? Can you get to see your daughter?
Yes, I had two 10-day vacations. On one vacation, I saw my daughter; on the other, I didn’t because she’s now in another country. I think that in time we will have the opportunity to have a vacation, but now I have to get myself together and press the Russians out of our land.