Жінка на війні: чому берегиня стає «солдатом Джейн»?

We talk about realities of life of woman veterans, about possible problems and ways of solving them, and about shaping the image of woman veterans in the modern society


Тетяна Курманова,

Ірина Ромалійська


Андрій Козінчук

Жінка на війні: чому берегиня стає «солдатом Джейн»?
Жінка на війні: чому берегиня стає «солдатом Джейн»?

Military psychologist and veteran Andriy Kozinchuk, and veteran and Andriy’s wife, Natalya Kozinchuk, are in the studio.

Tetyana Kurmanova: Had you been in action together or no?

Natalya Kozinchuk: We had not been in action together: different places, different times. Andriy started earlier, it was more difficult and more dangerous for him than for me. My war was a bit different and happened in another place. I was in Donetsk Region. I had the tasks of my own. We had never been together: we waited for one another in turns.

Tetyana Kurmanova: When did you decide that you would go to war?

Natalya Kozinchuk: I am a military person. When they asked whether there were volunteers who would go there and perform certain tasks we said we were prepared to go.

Iryna Romaliyska: Contrary to Ukrainians’ traditional idea that woman-guardian should stay at home and wait for her husband women go to war. Why?

Andriy Kozinchuk: Women have become so universal now that in addition to a woman guardian there can be a man guardian. Women giving birth are still there. Everything else had changed. If she has a goal and desire to go there, yes.

There are a great many reasons why you have to go there. Imagine a woman who is not popular here, who has complexes, a pile of problems, and acne on her left cheek. And she goes to the ATO zone to defend her Motherland. She finds herself with a team of 120 men: “What a godess!” And all her complexes go away, of course. She comes back (competition rises again) and says: “Civilian life is trash, real people are at war.” 

But let’s be honest: not all the men went there because they sympathised with Mother Ukraine being stamped on by aliens in their Muskovite sandals. There were different people, this is why we should be frank.

Of course, there were women who followed their husbands and left their children to grandmothers’ care at home. Others went in order to change some societal orientation.

Whatever the primary reason, very much gets changed at war. So women could come back with an absolutely different system of values. The question about what happened after they come back, this is important to me.

Tetyana Kurmanova: So how does she reintegrate into life?

Andriy Kozinchuk: Much harder than a man. I’ll explain taking real situations as examples. A man returns, he walks about in uniform, he’s got eight medals on his chest. A girl returns, she may come somewhere in uniform, and there’s a question right away: “Why are you telling me where you were in action? I know everything about you all; sexual acts, drinking alcohol and doing nothing is all you want!” And this is a terrible putting down. It is unjust. Women there do some things that sometimes cannot be done by men.

Iryna Romaliyska: Natalya, have you faced negative attitudes here and at the frontline?

Natalya Kozinchuk: When you come there you are a woman for all men: “What you can do? What are you doing here?” And they are starved for women’s presence there, so sometimes they start to behave towards you in a not-so-pleasant way. So you have to constantly prove something. With time, the attitude changes, they begin to understand and respect you. And here nobody has an idea that you could do something worth of respect there as you are not a man and you are not strong.

Andriy Kozinchuk: There are people who explain to themselves why they don’t go to war. I am an adherent of the view that not everybody should go to war. But there are guys and girls who think: I won’t go to war as they are fighting there for Yatsenyuk’s son only, let the President’s son fight, this is not my war, I am a pacifist. These are feeble inner excuses, and they see a tender girl, get to know that she has an experience, and can’t rise to her level. This is why it is important for them to lower their opponent to their level.

Iryna Romaliyska: What should a woman do in this case?

Andriy Kozinchuk: I want to tell the society: if you see that a woman is a veteran you should not judge her. Don’t say whether she is good or bad. Be with her. We do not say: Society, you are bad as you are indifferent. We are part of the society. Don’t judge what you cannot judge. This offends.

Women and girl veterans, if you explain something or prove something to someone, you are going down to their level. If somene does not understand you, address your veteran brothers- and sisters-in-arms. If everything is entirely bad, go to the right psychologist. 

Tetyana Kurmanova: It seems to me that it is much harder for a woman at war, and she needs more time to adapt.

Andriy Kozinchuk: As to me, women adapt to war much faster, and much slower to peaceful life. This is normal and logical. What she saw at war is different from what she sees at home. It is very important who is the support for this woman. My wife’s husband is a veteran, and there are wives of civilians who went there. And this is normal. It is very important whether a woman has support. This can be her grandfather, her father, her brother, a friend. But this has to be a man, as a rule.

Natalya Kozinchuk: Andriy understands me and helps me a lot. Some are less lucky. You arrive, and your surrounding changes, there are much less people whom you want to deal with. They do not understand, they do not want, do not accept you.

At war, you know where you are going and what you are going to do. You don’t know how it will piece together but you adapt quicker. Here it is more difficult. Here you understand less of what is going on. Here there are more people who go somewhere while you don’t understand where everybody is hurrying. 

There, you get support from elder men. Young guys think it is joyful and beautiful: girls have arrived; elder men would sit down and say: “What, the guys are not gonna cope without you? What are you doing here?” And they helped more, and it was easier thanks to them.:

Andriy Kozinchuk: I’d like to draw attention to those who stay at home. I was a wife: I, a man, was in Kiev, walking to my work every day past a lot of restaurants and clubs whille my wife performed her duty in the ATO. This was some kind of an unnatural feeling. 

Tetyana Kurmanova: What a woman is capable of that a man is not?

Natalya Kozinchuk: I think you will agree that there are many such things. Women are more concentrated, they are calmer. She does some things better, in a more concentrated way, quicker. 

Andriy Kozinchuk: Women are more concentrated but they react to situations less promptly. If we take driving a car, women break the rules less where percentage is concerned. But men are better in overcoming extreme situations. If we return to war  women are better where percentage of concentration, attention, continuity is concerned. It is for this reason why many communication people and medics are women. Men also cope with this. But we do not have entirely male or female professions.

Iryna Romaliyska: Do you know of cases when a woman would go to war leaving her children back home? 

Natalya Kozinchuk: My girls have left their children at home. 

Iryna Romaliyska:  But children have more connections with mothers, and this is harder.

Natalya Kozinchuk: But if there’s a dad, a granny, they would engage a child in doing something so that children think less of this. This is like a children’s camp: if a child does not call you this means that this child has a lot to do and everything is good, and when they call this means that everything is bad, The same applies there. 

It is hard for the girls, During the first three to five days they are very sad, they phone and cry. After this you get involved in work, and this keeps them from all this to a certain extent. Men miss their children just as women do.

Andriy Kozinchuk: Most people get their trauma in life from their parents during their childhood. There’s nothing worse than excessive care. So when children are left behind there are opportunities for them to assess another reality and become prepared for life. When going to war you can escape inflicting trauma upon your child or see what would happen if you are no more, And another thing: no military person had left their child locked in a home without food, there is a sort of responsibility. I am against the situation when a woman would give birth and then go to the frontline in a fortnight.  Mom has to be with her child for the first year. I saw both positive changes in relations with children, and I saw worse. But they become different.

Tetyana Kurmanova: If a woman goes to war while a man stays at home, which problems may arise later? 

Andriy Kozinchuk: These are huge problems. Some quarrels begin, and one of the arguments when she’s run out of all arguents is: I was there, and you were not. And this is the same as to say: The characteristics of your genitals do not correspond to international standards. After this, a man can say at best: Then I’ll go to war but with another woman if you are such a soldier Jane.

It is very important to identify here what do you mean for me even if I am at war. Ask yourself what is your place in his or her life. For some time, I had more wives who came to consult me than husbands. Veterans’ wives (not necessarily those who went there) were more open to say that not everything is OK.  Because a husband can also say that not everything is OK but he would call his pal and the pal would come with a pint. They would consume it and would not solve the problem but it would seem that they are relieved. 

And women did come and tell about their problems. And the problem is not that a husand betrays her, there’s the issue of attention. And a man’s attention to a woman: whether he’ll protect her or not, whether she may be sure about tomorrow. So there’s an advice for men: a bit more attention. 

Iryna Romaliyska: Isn’t it the same for men?

Andriy Kozinchuk: If a man comes back, it is very important for him to have a territory, a space, a time of his own. This territory has to be “mined” for some time. If a woman is wise and respects this time and space, she won’t have the next.

Iryna Romaliyska: We’re introducig to our conversation Ms Iryna Soshchenkova, a medic who came back from the ATO zone and can tell her story. Why had you decided to go to the frontline? 

Iryna Soshchenkova: I did not see what to do in the civilian sphere any longer when a war began in my country. In half a year, I joined the army on contract. I went there immediately. I think I am more needed there as a medic than in the civilian life. 

Iryna Romaliyska:  Do you have a husband or children?

Iryna Soshchenkova: I don’t have a husband or children. I and my boyfriend had not come through the war, one may say. He thought that I am a woman, and my place is kitchen, and I should bear children. He even put forward conditions for me: either he and family, or war.

Iryna Romaliyska: Andriy, is this a typical problem for modern society? 

Andriy Kozinchuk: Not a problem. If I had such a thing happen to me I would thank this person for breaking apart before she gave birth to children, and she got to know what he is in reality.

Iryna Soshchenkova: I also think that this is right. When I came back, the relationship lasted for another month. We parted against the background of: “You came back not what you were when you went there, you are not the same altogether, and something has happened in general.” 

Tetyana Kurmanova: And how do your friends treat you after your return? 

Iryna Soshchenkova: My friends do not find differences in me. But I can discern for myself that I have become a bit stricter towards our real life. I saw what kind of people are there, what they come through, what they see, and watched young men in civilian life: these are different looks and different eyes. 

Iryna Romaliyska: When you arrived at the frontline, did you have to prove that you are a fighter, a professional? 

Iryna Soshchenkova: At first they did not see me as a medic. I had found myself in a new well-knit team. But then there was an instance with a patient for which the entire division was grateful to me. Starting from that moment, I had proven my professionalism and they began to respect me.

Iryna Romaliyska: Was it more difficult for you to adapt to peaceful life than for your male colleagues?

Iryna Soshchenkova: I think it was much simpler for me. I came, almost immediately I had a leave, I met my relatives and friends.

Iryna Romaliyska: Have you already found yourself in peaceful life or will you go to the frontline again? 

Iryna Soshchenkova: Everything is OK where I serve, I got a rank and a new position. There’s no boyfriend so far, I cannot consider a non-military man my potential boyfriend. 

Tetyana Kurmanova: I think the problem is that veterans do not want to return to peaceful life because it is more comfortable there. 

Andriy Kozinchuk: There is no linen there, and the designer of toilets is of very non-standard views, it is either colder or hotter there. So it is not more comfortable but more understandable. 

In the ATO zone, they may punch you in the mug for telling lies. When you come here you are being told: this is the art of manipulating, this is even cool. Your role is much more understandable there. And the value is very understandable. Everyone knows their place there. 

Tetyana Kurmanova: Is looking for a person who is like you a typical situation? 

Natalya Kozinchuk: Such a person speaks the same language as you do, or the same silence.

Andriy Kozinchuk: One woman confessed to me that a man who had not gone through this does not even excite her. He may have Apollo’s looks but there’s no drive. Common experience is very important. This is why such a woman would lie to her if she convinces herself to be with someone who does not have such an experience.

Iryna Romaliyska: We have a recording: Vasylisa Trofymovych told “Hromadske Radio” about the problems facing woman veterans of ATO and how to overcome those difficulties. 

Despatch: If a person is successful after the war the society behaves strangely, says a woman ATO veteran

Vasylisa Trofymovych told “Hromadske Radio” about the problems facing woman veterans of ATO and how to overcome those difficulties. 

Two years in the line of fire. Vasylisa has seen ruined homes and crippled lives with her own eyes. She was among the first who went to the frontline in 2014. The girl remembers that initially civilians treated volunteers and ATO fighters with respect but the situation changed later.

“While we were in the 2014-15 conditions, we almost did not appear at home, we did not take off our uniforms, and we were like saints to everyone. Then you come back. Claims start of the kind: “You went there to look for a husband.” Almost all of us were successful people, all former civil servants. Everything was OK with me in my career and elsewhere. You return to your own life.

You have beautiful shoes with high heels. You have expensive dresses from best brands. But the society remembers you for those two years only. It does not remember what you did before that. And people say: Why had she come back? Why does she sport a dress? If a person is successful after the war the society behaves very strangely. A book was piblished, then another co-authored. I am living a normal usual life, and I am being told: “There’s war in Ukraine, and you have earned everything at war. If not for the war you would be nobody,” Vasylisa says. 

The society’s strange attitude towards women who are ATO veterans is not the only problem that this girl faced at home. After coming back to peaceful lands Vasylisa had to get used to another relity for several months. 

“Then, I gathered my stuff and stayed at home, I had financial problems. I spent a month with the Patrol and had not adjusted to it. I went to Kiev and could not find a job there for a long time. I was disconnected, like a broken piano. 

“The main difficulty is inner disadapting, that you were in one reality, and now you are in another reality, that everything is not so simple here: there’s a lot of plotting, a lot of phrases and actions behind your back. You have to get used to this. You have to learn to live in such circumstances. In addition, there is pressure on the part of the society which wants to cure you forcefully, send you to a psychologist, and even better to a psychiatrist, and even better to hug you and cry. And if you are not to be hugged and cried about, and if you manage to do everything successfully, they say that you are not worth a penny without war,” the girl says. 

According to Vasylisa, positive emotions and meetings with other women who were at war may become “a medicine” for difficulties and problems. Also, art plays a significant role in ATO veterans’ adapting. 

“People have to fight on their own using good thoughts, kind movies, good music. In some cases, for yourself, in some, helping others. Not to lock yourself within your own shell. You have to saturate yourself with beauty: people, emotions, things visual, your own achievements,” Vasylisa adds. 

On average, adapting may last from a month to several years. Vasylisa was able to entirely return  to usual life within half a year:

“Within half a year I came back to my senses: books, friends, wonderful people who surrounded me. And one moment I realised that this was all, and nothing clutches me anymore. What had burned won’t return. But everything else is capable of functioning perfectly, of living and not looking back every time. 

“We have every right to return. I do not like people who reproach us for enjoying ourselves while there’s war in the country. Much is burning, boiling and aching inside us. And they are not the ones to judge. People who came back are the people who were on the brink of life and death. And if they did come back, I think they should not be deprived of their right to this life.”

Tetyana Kurmanova: I think we have already come to stereotypes and myths. 

Andriy Kozinchuk: The society is not ready for successes, according to my observations. We have  got so used to surviving that we stopped being capable of living. 

I developed my training to support wives. They have to be separately there, live and eat there. I can’t stand asking for money but when I overcame myself because they needed it, I was told: “What, veterans’ wives, are you kidding?! Poor are the boys there, in the East.” But I am a wife of the veteran too because I was waiting for my veteran. And my wife knows what this is. This is the way the society treats this. 

My “Pobratymy” (“Brothers-in-Arms”) public organization works for veterans’ social adapting. This includes trainings, a peer-to-peer program where a veteran supports another veteran. Brothers-in-arms is the kind of work with veterans where they become better after war than they were before it. And we ask those who went into business how it all was, and they tell us: “Cool but the society is a bit unprepared,” it is either you stole during the war, or you threaten and they hire you, or they take pity upon you because you were at war.

If nobody understands you this is not because there are no such people. Just find this person. 

When I was in the USA and studied veterans’ experiences I saw a sign at a veterans’ home: “Heroism does not belong to a gender.” And their woman veterans say: “I have to constantly prove that I was somewhere, although I don’t want to do this; and they look at me and say: ‘What? Where were you? I saw American films, and there were no people like you there’.” 

Thanks to positive examples we can say that heroism does not  belong to a gender.

Natalya Kozinchuk: And some men would say: “Why have you come? You are distracting us: I do not do my work, I am worried about you instead.” 

Iryna Romaliyaska: Is there such a problem as sexual harrasment?

Andriy Kozinchuk: A lot, and there’s much more of this in America. The issue is not rape but harassment. It arises on a purely psychological basis: subordinates should perform what is ordered. And there are diffefrent kinds of orders: from “defend your Motherland from the enemy” to “cover me with your body”, and not like Matrosov (a legendary Soviet hero of WWII who covered an enemy machine-gun with his body to stop it firing). The worst thing is not that they are harassing women. I am irked by women’s reaction here. Go to the prosecutor’s office, write a post in a social network, beat this man on his head but do not accept it as if this should be this way.

Natalya Kozinchuk: A woman feels herself a woman everywhere: both at war and at home. She would find an opportunity to do something and look neat during war as well. But there has to be some sort of a nest at home. It is not important where it is: in your husband’s lap, at a beauty parlour, or with your friend with a bottle of bubbly. 

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Цей матеріал було створено за підтримки International Medical Corps та JSI Research & Training Institute, INC, завдяки грантовій підтримці USAID. Погляди та думки, висловлені в цьому матеріалі, не повинні жодним чином розглядатися як відображення поглядів чи думок всіх згаданих організацій.

This material has been produced with the generous support of the International Medical Corps and JSI Research & Training Institute, INC. through a grant by United States Agency for International Development. The views and opinions expressed herein shall not, in any way whatsoever, be construed to reflect the views or opinions of all the mentioned organizations.

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