Sisters in arms. Maya Moskvych

Maya Moskvych is an activist, a participant of the Revolution of Dignity, a veteran of the Russian-Ukrainian war and an active service woman, currently serving as a senior soldier in the Second Separate Rifle battalion. 

She is the first woman to join Ukrainian National team in the international competitions Invictus Games, as well as gold medalist in both bullseye shooting and archery at the 2022 Warrior Games, which is veterans and servicemen competitions hosted in the USA.

She is the founder of the Archers Birds shooting club and the Lutsk archery federation. 

Everyone has a unique story about how their military career started. Tell us yours, what motivated you to join the army? 

I divide my military biography into two periods: the first war and the second war.

Back in 2014, during the first war, I enlisted voluntarily. I had a lot of youthful maximalism, I was a part of a patriotic organization, and participated in the Revolution of Dignity and Maidan. All of these factors played into my decision to join the army and so I did, without maybe fully realizing what that decision meant.

When my service began I was filled with heroic intentions, and after my 3,5 years of service in various units and 6 rotations to  the Anti-Terrorist Operation zone I had seen and lived through a lot, had different experiences and learned a lot from them. 

At the end, when I was released due to my health, I was drained and exhausted that I hid all my equipment in the attic in the village and said: “I will never pick up a weapon again.”

After that my lengthy rehabilitation process began: exercises, a psychologist, nothing heavy in my hands, nothing negative in my head as they say. After 2,5 years of this regime I was able to recover, although not fully.

On the day when the second war started I did not plan to join the army, however, by the end of the day as I could not find a place for myself I realized that there is only one place I can be at right now. This time, I went to enlist with a full realization of what I do.

Do you mean that you see yourself as a combat unit?
Yes, maybe not the greatest combat unit but still. When I went to enroll, I was thinking, ‘Oh, God, I hope they take me.’. There were huge lines in the enrollment center and when I arrived there were around 150 people already waiting. At some point the registrator asked, ‘Are there any officers among you?’ so I stepped forward and introduced myself as a senior lieutenant in the police.  I got past the line, and only then did I find out that my rank wasn’t really an officer’s, but I was able to enroll.

During that time the units were overcrowded, and for two more days, I went back and forth – no space here, they don’t take girls there, and so on – at that point I did not care which unit I will be assigned to and eventually, I was assigned one.

On the sixth day of the war, when I had my ZSU camouflage and my weapon, I felt like I had found peace in this world. I truly felt absolute calmness and safety, and I still have that feeling. So much time has passed, but I still feel like I’m in the right place, and when I say ‘I’m a military servicewoman,’ I say it with pride, even though my role in this war is small. It’s still an honor for me. I’m in line, and my place is in line, because it’s that kind of war – everyone who can fight, should fight. And every person who’s in line should be there.

“The little drop will overflow the sea.” You mentioned that you went through rehabilitation. Was your experience with the shooting club a part of it?”

At first, I underwent sports rehabilitation, which started with the Invictus Games project, which for me became the next stepping stone. I continued it with my own business “Falcons” and it was definitely my 100% rehabilitation.

Are there programs for veteran business and sports projects like Warrior Games and Invictus Games where not only active service members but also veterans participate? Do you think that the more such events there are, the fewer people with PTSD there will be?

It’s normal to have PTSD, and these programs can really help you go through it, but at the same time, there should be support from psychologists, it has to be a combination of things.  I myself  worked with a therapist. 

All of these programs – productive rehabilitation, entrepreneurship – they work. Although one thing may work for some, and another for others, and a third for a third. There should be a maximum number of programs. Especially in the future, when the number of military veterans will be measured in millions.

Can you give some advice to women who are currently in a state of “I’m unworthy,” “I’m unworthy of the program, free education,” “I’m not enough of a veteran, I haven’t done enough,” “I have psychological problems, but I should not participate because others need it more”? What advice would you give to women who are doubting themselves?

I can’t give specific advice because each case is individual, but I can talk about my own path: at some point, I felt that my strength, my advantage precisely in being a woman. When it comes to men, they always have an idea that they need to prove something, to strive, to be better, to win; at some point, when I was really broken, I realized that I, as a woman, don’t need to prove anything to anyone, I just need to be myself. We are born perfect, we are already beautiful. There’s no need to find hundreds of reasons to prove something to someone, we are worthy just because we exist.  

When I was abroad, in Britain, in America, I saw that there is a lot of money, countless programs, and resources in the world. The world is a blue ocean, there’s enough for everyone, you can take as much as you want, and others can also take as much as they want – we’re not fighting for one scarce thing. 

The logic should not be – if  I participate in a competition, then someone else won’t be able to, because there won’t be enough. No. Just take what you need  and accept yourself.

What was your most challenging experience in the context of competition and military service?

To be honest, all experiences are difficult. I will tell you about the most recent one. I was invited to participate in the Warrior Games in 2020. At that time, I was preparing for the competition with my coach Dmytro Sidoruk. I was preparing with the understanding that this was not just an international competition among military veterans in the open category of women. And if the Invictus Games, where I once won gold, was a competition among women, then this time it was the opportunity to win in archery among both women and men and to be on top of the world. This was my secret dream, I didn’t tell anyone about it because it was very bold to say such a thing, so I just trained quietly for it. 

One day my coach said, “You have to take the medal.” His words were strange to me because I didn’t shoot very well at that time. I remained silent, but I kept his words in my heart. And these words gave me inspiration during training because he believed in me at a time when I didn’t believe in myself.  And then, on April 5, my coach, who also went to war, was killed in Popasna. For me, this was a personal tragedy, because we were supposed to have joint competitions and projects in the future. I couldn’t imagine and still can’t imagine that he is gone. He was my mentor, how could he have died?

After that I was called to the national team. I wasn’t sure what to do. My first thought was to refuse to participate in the competition, so as my response to the invitation I wrote, “My coach told me to take the medals, I don’t have the opportunity to train at all and I won’t be able to fulfill his last assignment. Let me go next year, and I will train because if I go and don’t perform, I will be ashamed.” A short response came to my letter , “These will be the last games, Ukraine is invited only once, they won’t invite us anymore – one chance.”

I consulted with my psychologist, and she said “You should go”.  I agreed, although I knew that my circumstances were quite complicated compared to my previous competitions –  trained well beforehand and everything was good.  But this time, I had to win a competition after my coach passed away.  I was not prepared, I was very stressed after coming back from frontlines, and I only had a month to prepare. Nevertheless I agreed to compete under these conditions.

When we arrived in Britain for training, I didn’t see eye to eye with the new coaches. They prepared us well, but in my understanding, it wasn’t enough to win. They often told me not to shoot too much because I could get injured. I felt there were too many obstacles, and I wanted to do things my way, so training was difficult, and my technique suffered. At the end of the training, when we left for the competition, I managed to take last place among all the our archers.

It was challenging for me to train without my coach. The first two weeks, I cried, nothing was working out for me and I set high standards for myself and there was a battle within me. Another veteran, Yaroslava Mazur, who listened to my confessions after training, always supported me, and I am very grateful for that – it was sisterhood. Tyra, whom I am also incredibly grateful for, often stood up for me because I didn’t keep quiet. I just speak my mind, that’s the way I’m.  Julia Paevska, since she has more authority, stood up for me as well. Before the competition, I had already accepted defeat, accepted the death of Dmytro  Sidoruk, and accepted the fact that I would lose, and it would be very painful because I wouldn’t fulfill the coach’s hopes.

On the day when competition began I felt down, I didn’t want to win, I didn’t want anything.  As  it turned out, God heard my prayers, or maybe the coach in heaven arranged for me to shoot well on that day and went through qualifications. Our position in the sparring was quite tough – the strongest Ukrainian archers were all  beaten by Americans, but I was lucky to win easily. At that moment it seemed like something fantastic, magical was happening andI felt ready for this magic and came to life, realizing that this was my chance. I just started shooting, doing my part of the job, and this victory was the most difficult of all the competitions and I won under the most difficult conditions –  when I had already reconciled myself to defeat, I didn’t give up, I just made quality shots, not expecting anything.

Somehow this reminds me of war –  everything seems impossible, unreal, very difficult, you want everything to stop, just stop, no matter how, but even in such a state it is important to do your job, to keep going and who knows, maybe God is preparing your victory. When we do our job, the result will be there and we will see the downfall of our enemies.

How do you feel about the hateful comments regarding you not being at war but at competitions?

I don’t know why people write such things. But these words don’t affect me at all because I’m in close communication with my guys from my unit. I’m a servicewoman and I was on a mission. The guys from my platoon, whose opinion is the most important to me, supported me greatly when I went to America. They signed a flag for me, wished me victory. I constantly complained to them that I felt bad being there and it would be better to be with them, and they supported me: eat, drink, rest, why do you need it, train, that’s what they were telling me. When I trained, I really wanted to win a medal to bring it to the unit and show the guys that I’m not in vain. They encouraged me to win and were among the first to find out that I got a medal in rifle shooting,I would like to dedicate my medal to my little platoon. Opinions of these guys matter to me as I was lucky to have their support and to share my joy with them.

I brought the flag they signed for me back to out unit and charged it with victory and I’m sure it will help us on the battlefield. 

Were there any conflicts within your unit during your service? Many women who join the military find themselves in conflicts, not only with other women but also with their commanding officers, particularly because often the leadership does not consider women as good soldiers. How did you deal with this, if it happened to you?

I don’t remember anything specific, but I do recall that I used to be quite non-confrontational, because any conflict could jeopardize my perfect service record and make me a problematic soldier that nobody needs. So, I think I just avoided conflicts. Now, however, I’m not afraid to confront people, and just yesterday I met with my former commander and he said: “Maya, stop all this, you’re a woman, your place is to have children and sit in the kitchen, how long can you keep doing all of this, stop it.” But I’m no longer afraid to confront people, so  I said: “I’m a soldier, and my place is in the ranks.” I’m already 30 years old, I can choose what to do – to cook,to  serve, to be myself, and not be ashamed.

What advice would you give to women who have just joined the army or are planning to, on how to prepare or what to have with them to withstand all the difficulties of service?

You cannot be completely prepared for army service, neither psychologically nor morally, nor in any other way. It’s important to accept the fact that no matter how much you prepare, something will still go wrong and there will be difficulties to overcome. The most important thing is to understand why you are joining and of course, to pass the training courses before so that you don’t go in completely unprepared and have a solid foundation. It’s essential to take the young soldier course to have some idea of what to expect. It also would be great to already have a profession. These days I think it would be interesting for me to not just be an ordinary soldier but rather be more technological. Nowadays, war required a lot of technical specialists a, therefore, I advise others to pursue a technical  specialty that can help you operate a drone,  be part of artillery or communication systems rather than being an ordinary digger, like in this anecdote: 

“I’m a warrior, I want to do it!”

“What can you do?”

“I can hold a gun.”

“Well, then take a shovel and dig trenches while holding a gun.”

Nowadays, there are new niches in military professions and they are worth filling.

How has the attitude towards women in the military changed before and after February 24th?

After February 24th, I noticed that there is a lot more caution with women on a frontlines and I started to hear more of  “don’t go to the front line because you could get killed” or “don’t go, you’ll die.” Prior to that, it wasn’t as dangerous on the front lines, and it seems to me that women  took a more active part in combat operations. I was lucky with my unit, however, , they are  awesome and are so modern in their views regarding women that everyone can envy me. It’s the Second Shooter Battalion.

I have a friend, her unit often goes on combat missions, and she says that they don’t always want to take women, and that’s okay because a combat mission could mean 100% death. Overall, I wouldn’t say that when it comes to situations like these, it’s not about discrimination it’s about human relations. Does a commander not worry about his men? He worries just as much about women as he does about the men and there are women who fight just as much as men do.

There is one story when the commander delegated a lot of his duties to a woman and then found a weak spot in her and used her as a scapegoat for the entire unit. Have you encountered such a situation? How would you handle yourself in this situation?

What to do when you’re being bullied? It really depends on the person. However, if I were being bullied like that, I would quickly give up and give in,  I wouldn’t be able to withstand such pressure. In situations like these you can try to resist, to prove your rights, argue and spend a lot of energy on it, but to me the best thing to do is not to allow such a situation to occur in the first place.  

Perhaps it is worth looking for friends in the unit and finding at least a few people who can support you in a situation where everyone is against you. Society is generally an aggressive environment and it is expected that some people don’t like us. I’m sure that in any unit, there are people who can support you. If the commander said something and everyone is silent because he is the commander, it doesn’t mean that they all think that way.

How has your character changed during the period before the war, before 2014 (how old were you?), and how has the war changed you?

I was around 23. It has changed me a lot, but it was not just the war, many things have changed, but despite everything, I remained myself. 

Many servicewomen  neglect sports. How to motivate oneself and when to engage in sports while in service?

I realized that I had problems with my back and that in order to join the service and wear a bulletproof vest, I needed to strengthen my legs a lot, so it was a necessity for me. Different units have different needs of course and  I wouldn’t say that you have to force yourself to do sports. It should come from some positive vibes as sports can be challenging.

How  do you see our victory, when will it happen, and will it happen in our heads?

Right now, I feel like an ambassador of victory and it’s easy for me to talk about it because I have experienced it two or three times in competitions. Victory is possible. However, to win  it was necessary to work incredibly hard, to do your part to the very end, even when it seems that everything is lost  and even then we must do our job.

Victory is not just a declaration of the end of the war or a post on Facebook saying “we won,” or “moscow burned down.” No. Victory is an art, it is woven with threads, millions of threads, a dense fabric that goes through many areas, and in the hands of the people. Victory is and will be happening continuously  for a very long time. Those who have ever won some competitions understand what it’s all about. It only looks like “I won” from the outside, but in reality, victory, a medal or something else, can be decades of work, small detailed decisions,coincidences, luck, God’s will,.

Victory is not given; it is made by hard work. And probably this war in which all Ukrainians all over the world and not just Ukrainians, are involved – everyone is making their own contribution. We are weaving this victory.

It has yet to be determined when and where we will win, but I have a feeling that we are moving in the right direction – the fabric is being woven, it is almost complete. Whatever we feel until then, we must continue to do our part: someone be serving, some by volunteering, some by working – just make your own contribution, and if someone falls, replace them and continue, even when it seems hopeless, impossible, continue weaving the fabric of victory. And we are going to win, no matter what, as we are almost done with weaving. No matter how scary it is, whatever happens, even if it’s a nuclear war, don’t give up, keep going – we will definitely win.

We are a nation whose strength is truth. 

It has never been defeated by anyone