Sisters in arms. Andriana Arekhta

Tell me about your military experience – how did you get involved in it, and what motivates you?

My story began in 2014, when I participated in the Revolution of Dignity. In the spring of the same year, as one of the first volunteers of the Maidan, I went to the Luhansk region for 5 days. As a result, I got mobilized for a year and became a participant in combat operations as part of the assault group of the “Aidar” battalion. I was demobilized when my son was born.

I couldn’t continue fighting, so I decided to engage in social activities and I headed the Women Veterans Movement. All this time, then and now, I devote myself to defending my homeland.

With the full-scale invasion on February 24, I joined the Armed Forces of Ukraine. I am confident that if I hadn’t got mobilized, I would have gone to a volunteer formation.

I cannot say that military service is my thing 100%. I feel like a volunteer who, at the right moment, makes this choice because of military experience, and I simply cannot do otherwise. In order to call this my profession, I would need to go through training centers, receive officer rank, and build a career that would allow me to improve the reform processes of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the military as a whole.

There are many positive aspects in the army, but I am so painfully affected by what I do not like, that I understand how important it is for dedicated, truly professional people who get a thrill and satisfaction from all of this to be involved in this profession.

Did you expect a full-scale invasion by Russia? What were your emotions on February 24th?

Yes, I did expect it, especially after 2014 when the conflict escalated into a more entrenched war. After that, while presenting various projects, I communicated and tried to convey to people that the Russian Federation would not stop, that we needed to change ourselves, our inferiority complex imposed by our bitter Soviet past, that we needed to prepare and defend ourselves. But people did not always understand me.

Before the full-scale invasion, many foreign correspondents and journalists came to our WVM headquarters and asked: “Will they attack or not?” And I just prepared and waited, managed to evacuate my son before February 24th, received a Valentine’s Day gift from my husband in the form of military gear, assault vests, unloading systems, and received metal-ceramic plates from Anabel Arto partners… Since then, my fellow military sisters I had been preparing.

In the morning, I woke up when I heard explosions near the Artem plant and that horrible siren. Then I sent my husband to refuel the car, and we all gathered at home with our brothers-in-arms to head out to war. I thought to myself: finally, this is being said publicly and most people understand that in 2014, we were not vacationing in the Maldives in eastern Ukraine.

Then there was a lot of pain, fear, disgust, hatred, apathy, helplessness… But I remembered that I made my choice long ago, back in 2014. Victory and will are priceless, and now generation after generation, we will have to work through the trauma of war, but only in the case of Victory. But we will be cool veterans, and our children are the value of the future. Children inspire us to do great things.

Do you agree that the only people who get tired of the war are those who have not been to it?

No, in this case (full-scale invasion), everyone gets tired of the war. I am not talking about the indifferent part of the society right now. I mean the majority. Everyone gets tired.

The only way to avoid falling into the abyss and to win is unity and support for each other. As long as the civilian population supports the army, the army is ready to fight. As long as the civilian population understands that only because they haven’t killed us all yet, they can still live a civilian life. Otherwise, they will have to follow in our footsteps and take our places because we will not be there. Only the unity of the Ukrainian people can defeat both the Soviet legacy, the Russian army, and Putin.

What does unity mean to you?

Unity of the people is the same as “there are no strangers’ children” and “there are no Ukrainian soldiers who are strangers.” It is painful because this war, in addition to our terrible enemy and the beautiful side of the people, has also shown the negative side – so to speak, the sins of our people.

Gender equality in the military – is it there or not? Have there been any changes in the last 8 years?

Oh, how difficult it is for me to answer this question now. There have been colossal changes over the past 8 years. Finally, my military record does not say “Chief of the sewing department” (seamstress). Regarding questions of safety and the specifics of the type of troops, I cannot say exactly what it says now, but it is a combat unit.

Gender equality in the army is as much as it is in society as a whole. The rights of both men and women are violated. The system is imperfect. In other words, I still don’t have a uniform and boots that fit me, not to mention underwear and everything else. I have to work twice as hard because of physical differences. Morally, the only thing is that I don’t know how to keep my mouth shut, and in the army, initiative is still punished. It is necessary for the critical mass of the middle management and higher-ups to change a bit and already accept that things will not be as they were before.

How do you react when someone tells you that war is not a woman’s job?

I don’t react anymore. My fellow soldiers don’t talk seriously about that anymore, only sometimes for a joke. I don’t care about what others think. Of course, the percentage of women is lower, but they do the same things as men. War is not a human job. It is terrible for both men and women. War is the work of demons in human form who encroach on foreign lands and peoples, and people, whether women or men, must defend their family, home, and homeland.

What are the three major problems that women face at war?

First – stereotypes. Ukrainians as a nation have not yet accepted the model of gender equality.

Second – the women do not always understand what they are expected to do, what is required, and why they need this experience.

Third – the legal aspect plus, the “soviet” mentality is difficult to eradicate from the modern army. Bureaucracy, statutory and non-statutory relations, influence power, human factors, etc. 

Could you please describe the most dangerous situation you’ve faced and how you felt then?

The fact that I’m still alive means it has not happened yet.

I’ve seen a lot. I cannot single out one dangerous situation. My emotions from the past are now mixed with my present feelings – back in 2014, we stormed with zero experience and during recent campaigns when we’d already learned how to behave in such events.

What helps you not to lose faith and keep up your spirit?

My son, brothers-in-arms, sisters-in-arms, the women veterans, family, friends, and the support of the people. And also videos featuring the unity of the people, Ukrainian children at checkpoints, and so on. You know, the videos that make you cry but make you proud at the same time.