Sisters in arms. Victoria Tkach (Smetana, which from Ukrainian means sour cream)

From 2014 to 2017, she was a paramedic and a volunteer in various volunteer medical brigades. During the war, she improved her skills and conducted courses in tactical medicine for the military. From the beginning of the full-scale invasion, Victoria, in the Kyiv direction, in addition to providing medical aid to the military, participated in the evacuation of people and animals.

“You cannot taste victory in battle until the war is won. Until the last katsap dies, I will not feel the taste of victory because there is a lot of work ahead,” concluded Victoria in an interview with one of the TV channels.

Has her own veteran business.

She graduated from the Kyiv School of Economics.

Now she is in one of the subdivisions of the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine.

By decree of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Victoria Tkach was awarded the Order for Courage of the Third Class. 

An extended interview with paramedic, entrepreneur and future mountain guide Victoria Vasyliivna Tkach discusses how to become a pro and survive in any team.

What about becoming a part of the team?

An army is a place where you have to be a professional. If you are a professional, it doesn’t matter if you are a woman or a man. It is essential to position yourself in the team as you want to be treated and maintain a bar. At home, you can be anyone. For a husband, you can be a beloved wife, for children, for parents – the sweetest child, but at work, you are at work, so you must observe subordination and, from the very beginning, not allow yourself to be humiliated. Don’t make fun of yourself if you don’t like it. As you position yourself in the team, so you will serve. Of course, it cannot be easy because teams are different, but it is possible – it all depends on you.

At the beginning of the ATO JFO, before the full-scale war, I had a lot of situations when I was perceived as a girl and not as a specialist. And I will not say that it depends only on the team. That is, your inner state, your confidence in your work, when you feel like a professional or someone who does his job well – this also makes a lot of sense. After all, when you are confident in your work, you can prove to anyone that you are where you should be.

Actually, I wouldn’t say that the war in Donbas and the full-scale war can be compared because it has changed a lot. It’s gotten faster and more brutal, and of course, it’s a war of artillery and heavy weapons. Unfortunately, it’s tough for those units that don’t have those weapons, like the infantry. Infantry is, perhaps, one of the most… Roughly speaking, it is the hardest for them. Of course, there is the fire support of our beautiful artillerymen, but all the same, it is right when metal is against metal, and when the flesh is against metal, the flesh will lose. It is by the intensity that a full-scale war is more difficult because such a number of shells fired at our territories and our troops per day can be compared to a week or, perhaps, two during an escalation in Donbas (ATO JFO).

What about humiliations and conflicts in the army?

We all understand very well: if a person starts, it doesn’t matter if he is a man or a woman, to humiliate another person, this speaks of the insecurity of that person who allows himself to offend the honour and dignity of another person. In any collective, some do not emotionally extract situations of everyday life or combat situations, and this must be fought with the help of reflection, with the help of conversations. Of course, there are those – excuse me – ****ers who are against everyone. Everything is wrong with them, but these are that person’s problems. They should not affect your work directly in the unit.

I thought for a very long time: should I mobilize, think about a contract, because when you are a volunteer, you can face some injustice from the leadership, or the brigade, or the commanders to whom you are seconded for a while, you can say: “thank you, but you mistreat us, you don’t see our value, you don’t want us to work, so happiness, health, we’ll go find a good team where we can work.” Getting attached to one of the groups was difficult for me because I was a volunteer all these years – and here it is, oh mobilization, and you have to get attached to one commander, to one group. And I had been looking for a very long time where I could go so that I could work and trust people. I found such a person, so it is vital who your commander is. Group commander, company commander, battalion commander – these people must be really interested in your work, in your person, and, of course, in the development of group work, that is, it must be a motivated person who takes care of people, who is interested in the good work of the unit, this is very hard, but you have to look.

How often do you come across “ladies” who you don’t want to stress over again? Did they increase or decrease?

Regarding the lady in the army, I am very aggressive because when you go to a combat unit, you have to answer him. You also have to run with them, do sports, and endure average physical loads in your group. And when, for example, I see women who say: I won’t do it, I don’t want it, it’s not mine – so what are you doing here? Go ahead, and I don’t know, do nails, or eyelashes, or some other bullshit. If you don’t want to share physical exertion and all the burdens of your unit, then ******* ***** (you don’t belong here).

Well, of course, there are women in the army without whom the work of, for example, the financial service or the personnel department, is impossible. Women can afford not to be so combative, so to speak, but their level of training should also match that of a service member. This does not mean that they have to carry something every day.

A woman in a combat unit should work like everyone else. I try to avoid communication with those women who come for some of their benefits, in terms of finding a husband or earning money. This is not my priority because I have a wonderful husband – yes, he is far from me, but now is the time. That is, I come here as if to work. I do my job.

Our army is a little unprepared for women. It lacks many things that should be in progressive countries. For example, tailoring women’s uniforms is very difficult to find something in which you will be comfortable working. The same goes for equipment. We have different body structures, and many pieces of equipment cannot fit women – such as body armour and tactical belt system (RPS). Because we have different pelvises, chests, and mammary glands, and that’s the least you can pay attention to. I hope that all this will change because the more women in the army, the more the question arises of the army’s readiness to accept female military personnel. Well, underwear is the same: thermal underwear, underwear, this is not enough, and the quality of the existing one would be a little better.

Regarding forming oneself in a team, of course, it can be compared when you transfer to another school and you have a class – there are boys,h there are girls, everyone is different and looks at you warily. But in order to really position yourself correctly in the team, you need a little time. You need to observe people, see who lives what and their priorities, and listen to their every word. And over time, when you correctly collect information and evaluate it, you will be able to develop a model of behaviour that will belong to this group and directly to the individuals of this group. This is really important so that the army can be compared to a school; everything is the same, only people are a little older, but childhood is also in their heads.

What is your most challenging case?

I can call the most challenging case there is a wrong attitude towards oneself and self-doubt. It is tough when you are at the point of permanent deployment of military units (PPD) while studying and doing really useful work. Still, your thoughts start to bite you all the time because someone is working, someone is fighting, someone is rescuing, and you are studying here; sometimes, you can go home, see relatives or a beloved dog, and go to training. You have to learn to love yourself, and really, war is a time to rest, take care of yourself, and actually fight.

Because when you’re exhausted and doing lots and lots of work all the time, you still eat yourself up. There is time; it is necessary to find time for recovery.

My case has been since the beginning full-scale war – I started doing manicures. One of these days, I want to go for a pedicure, to the hairdresser, to go, no matter how strange it sounds, for laser hair removal so that you are comfortable. In other words, this type of femininity appeared, which did not exist before. In addition to sports and Crossfit, I understand: I want to care for myself because I deserve it.

And the attitude of civilians or some military personnel is very annoying when they are sure that if a person is at war, he should look like, I apologize, like a prat. And when, for example, you take a picture, they tell you, “her uniform is clean; she is not fighting.” But nothing like that! You can be sloppy, not in combat. If you start loving yourself and treating yourself with respect, you will look good wherever you are. I can afford to paint my eyelashes, comb my eyebrows, and this will not reduce my fighting ability, and my self-confidence will increase many times.

Has it ever happened that your colleagues in the team reproved you about that?

I probably find an approach to people more quickly and try not to jump over my head, not to make friends, but to maintain normal relationships, like at work. That is, I am never afraid to say something to a person’s face if I think about it, but I think before when to say it and how to say it correctly, to try not to offend the person. We must remember that no one owes anyone anything, and we cannot expect something from people, for example, good, normal behaviour or attitude towards you. And how you will grow in the team depends not only on you but also on other people. No one owes anything to anyone. No one promised anything to anyone. If there’s some conflict, I try to stay out of that person’s reach, but if I’m going into their comfort zone and have to work with them, I might as well go lower and make the person more comfortable when I understand that they, no matter how strange it sounds, weaker than me in moral terms.

And were there conflicts with women, how did they start, and how did they end? And what is the cause of female misogyny in the army?

In fact, misogyny is a fascinating topic in the army. As one wise person said, justifying the thesis that women do not belong in the army is about the deep psychology of the interaction between a man and a woman. After all, when in one or another situation, one or another degree of danger appears subconsciously, a man will try to protect a woman, and sometimes this can interfere with the conduct of a combat mission. I agree with this. Unfortunately, there is no other way to fix it, but it can be avoided if you are not a “woman” in the team.

But all the same, psychology, deep psychology, cannot be changed. Unfortunately, this was formed during our social development and, in general, the brain work of men and women.

Did it happen that men saw you as a competitor, and did you overcome the prejudice against yourself as a professional?

Regarding the competition from men: I usually encountered medicine; it was rather related not only to gender but also to age. Because older people typically do not accept the experiences of those younger than them. Therefore, in practice, you must prove that you can be a professional in one field or another, regardless of age. That is the accepted behaviour of most people when they encounter you for the first time.

How did the attitude towards women in the army change before and after February 24 in your experience?

Listen, strangely enough, since the 24th, I have not seen bias because everyone was scared, everyone was destabilized. When it all started, everyone got up together and started doing. That is, there was no question of bias at all because everyone was doing the same job – providing security and providing assistance to those in need.

How can you maintain good mental health?

Regarding keeping your psycho-emotional state normal: sport helps —hard, beautiful, long sport. Therefore, in my free time, I try to go to my favourite gym and do Crossfit – it suits me best. I hate running, although when we have free time and are on the permanent deployment of military units (PPD), our commander makes us run, which is great. Physical exercises very well support the work of your brain, activity and endurance of the body, so sports are the most important.

Which of your plans was ruined by the war? I am sure that there are many of them.

There were actually a lot of plans; it was connected with work in private structures, building and bringing to the logical operation of my family business, and of course, a lot of trips and expeditions – unfortunately. But it’s okay! And even before the war, I was a postgraduate at a wonderful school located in Slovakia. It certifies mountain guides, and at the end of this year, I would have to pass the exam and become the first certified female guide in this school. Unfortunately or fortunately, it is delayed a little, but everything will be after the victory.

What would you wish for young “green” women who have just joined the army? Let’s say the three rules of a combatant to survive in a team and be as useful as possible.

The three rules of a combatant could sound very strange, but first of all, it is to limit your behaviour at home and work. Work is work, and home is home. Get used to the fact that even though these are your brothers and sisters, you should treat them as directly related to work. That is, the relationships in the team are exclusively working.

The next thing is not to be afraid to do something new. If you are taught, you should absorb the information given to you as much as possible, strive for it, and constantly practice the skills. And, of course, to find self-confidence.

Sport. In my opinion, sport is that part of life that allows you to form a personality directly on endurance, the strength of spirit, and physical health. Military service must be inseparable from service because a soldier, a warrior, must be strong, hardy and ready for any stress. Sport helps with this. Personally, I have been doing Crossfit and running for about a year now. This allows me to be a little taller than my peers with whom I work in the group.

Sports initiatives (we are talking about Warrior Games), which our foreign friends create, are an extremely great motivation that allows us to increase the need for sports. It can also bring back to life a person who has suffered an injury that prevents him from continuing to serve or go on combat missions. And when a person prepares for these trainings, when a soldier competes for his type of army, for his group, it helps a lot psychologically and puts a person on his feet. We also have many competitions for the military, and police officers, for emergency services, i.e. for all special services held throughout Ukraine, including “Victory of the Navy” (originally: Звитяга ВМС) in the Odesa region. It was previously held in Mariupol, other cities and, in recent years, in Odesa. People performing there are military personnel but do Crossfit in their free time, and it’s really cool.