Sisters in arms. Anastasiia Blyshchyk “Press”
Anastasiia has been in the army since August 2022. She was born in the Kherson region, worked as a journalist in Kyiv, her last place of work was the “Ukraine” TV channel. She changed the information front to the military front exactly 3 months after the loss of her beloved, Oleksandr Makhov – a well-known journalist, military correspondent, and the 95th Air Assault Brigade fighter. In 2015-2016, Oleksandr served in battles in the Donbas region, in 2022 he died during fierce battles for the small village of Dovgenke, Izyum area. The President awarded him the 3d degree Order For Courage posthumously. Anastasiia initiated the renaming of a street in Kyiv in honor of Oleksandr, and one tram station will also bear his name.
You may find the tragic love story of Anastasiia in the media, but we will introduce you to the soldier Blyshchik, who serves in the Izyum Battalion of the Territorial Defence Forces. She recently joined the Ukrainian Women Veteran Movement. This conversation is about how to get to the desired front area, to enlist in the army quickly despite the persuasion of the Military Commissariat to “go home” and the troubles with the bureaucratic system. And also about what not to say to those who have lost loved ones.
ON SERVICE AND CHANGE OF PROFESSION
What is depicted on your chevrons?
In addition to the mandatory ones, I have a chevron showing a woman with a weapon in her hands, and behind her is destroyed equipment. There is also the “Unbreakable Kherson” chevron, I am from the Kherson region, it was given to me by someone, who is from there too, he serves as well.
Your parents and sister didn’t know you were going to enlist, how did they react? When and how did they find out about your decision?
My parents were living under occupation in the Kherson region. I had one reason not to tell them: so that they pass russian “filtration” while leaving the area. If they were asked: “Where is your daughter?”, my mother would immediately burst into tears. And I didn’t tell my sister, because since our childhood she always told everything to our mother, she wouldn’t be able to keep the secret. After my parents left the occupied area, my commander let me go to hug them. Then I told them and immediately stated that it was too late to try and talk me out of it, there was no need to quarrel, it was better to be proud and support their daughter. Mom called me selfish, barely holding back her tears. Dad said nothing, but I could see the pain in his eyes. It is very difficult for the parents because they could not come on the most terrible day of their daughters’ life – May 9, when I was sitting next to the closed coffin of my beloved. That is, there was no family member near me. Mom thinks I take offense. But it is not so. They did not come because they became hostages of war.
In one of the interviews, you said that you were not comfortable in civilian life. Was the decision to join the Armed Forces of Ukraine an escape or a thirst for revenge?
It was an escape fueled by revenge. Every street and building brought me back to my memories: “This is where me and Sashko kissed, and here we ran to the car in the rain and laughed…”. I gave myself time to regain my strength and went to the Military Commissariat.
The fact that you wanted to get to the Izyum area of the front is understandable. Question: how to get purposefully to a specific region and get enlisted in a matter of days?
“Through bureaucratic hell to the Armed Forces of Ukraine”, that’s what I would call my book, where I described how I managed to get a military ID. It is almost impossible to get enlisted in a matter of days. When February 24 happened, people were being enlisted in a simplified manner. At that time, no one collected certificates, did not pass a medical examination, did not stand in line at a photo salon to take a matte 3×4 photo for a military ID. But I had to do all of that. They thought that I would give up, but I went there every day, for five days straight. I was taken to the colonel for a conversation, and near the Military Commissariat some unknown people offered me “better service conditions” (I still don’t know who sent them). When they realized that I won’t listen to their advice, and would not go home to “give birth”, they issued a military ID in my name. By the way, it’s the only document where I look beautiful in the photo.
Regarding the region: I have a lot of acquaintances among the military who serve in the Izyum region, I asked them to write me a letter of recommendation. In military terminology, this is called attitude. If you don’t have such a letter, you will just be registered or sent home. I, on the other hand, had a document where it was written that a military unit was waiting for Anastasiia Blyshchyk.
What is the name of your combat position? What are your duties?
I am a soldier, but I act as a press officer. My main task is to organize work for journalists. Take them to the war zone, make sure they don’t blow up on mines, and most importantly, that they have a possibility to film great videos. I was a journalist myself, I know their requests.
How do your two personas – a journalist and a defender – get along? Who do you associate yourself with more?
It is clear that here I cannot disagree with the commander’s order and do my own thing. In journalism, you could argue with the editor, shout at each other, because we are creative people and everyone sees things in their own way. And in the end, you can still do what you want. Here, I just answer “sir yes sir”. Here, I am not a journalist, I am a military serviceman.
As soon as I return alive and healthy from the war, I will do things my own way again. I miss journalism terribly. When my colleagues come to us, I look at the camera, the microphone, I want to grab everything and go interview someone, or give the cameraman the task of filming something. I plan to return to journalism. I hope that by then there will be no marathons and everyone will produce their own product (Since 24 February 2022 most Ukrainian channels operate as a part of a big national news marathon – editor’s note).
ABOUT WOMEN IN THE ARMY
Did you feel some kind of transformation during the service happen?
Yes, it’s a complete rethinking of values. Before, I was thinking about what to wear, because tomorrow Macron or Johnson is coming to Zelensky and I need to be presentable in the Mariinsky Palace. Now I have other thoughts. How to go to the toilet quickly, so that I don’t get cold. Do I have a warm enough sleeping bag. Where can I find size 36 warm shoes. How to drive on the road so my car is not blown up.
In 2016, I’ve told Sashko that I was thinking about joining the army. This inspired him to create a special reportage about female military personnel. He asked me: “You are such an aesthete. You and war, how will you be in all that?!”. But I knew all about the conditions, when I decided to enlist, I prepared myself for the worst. Sometimes it is not possible to shower for five days or more, but wet wipes and dry shampoos help. We often can’t wash things, because there’s not enough water, but a person can get used to everything. At first, I thought: “oh, I haven’t washed my hair for two days, and in civilian life I did it every day, I put my hair up, make it all pretty.” But here, everyone is in the same conditions, sometimes everyone just smells unpleasant. As my combat brothers say: “the foam bath will come later, after the victory.” When I returned to the rear, went into the shower, brown dirty water flowed from me, I laughed more than I felt sorry for myself. We are all Ukrainians, we can adapt to any conditions. The time will come when we return, change into civilian clothes and enjoy life.
Is there sexism in the military? What would you say to a future female fighter who is preparing to join the Armed Forces of Ukraine?
There were combat brothers who said: “Better go give birth”. I ignored it. The majority supported me and expressed their admiration. I didn’t expect that, really. I thought that I would be told more often about children and my place being in the kitchen. People often write to me telling they want to go to serve, asking for advice. I tell everyone that I can recommend what package of documents to collect, what to do first, but the most important thing is to be mentally prepared, as you can be killed at any moment. It is also dangerous in the rear, rockets are flying there, but it is more dangerous at the front. You have to prepare yourself: there will be no luxurious conditions, sometimes no shower, no choice of specific foods or the place you are stationed at. You will sit in a closed space and follow the orders of the commanders, you will not be able to turn around and go home. There is an order: to serve until victory, no discussion.
What do you like most about the army? And what is demoralizing?
The army is like a prison. There is no sense of freedom here, and they can kill at any moment. I can’t wake up, get in a car and go to another city because I want to. Or go to McDonald’s to order your favorite BigTasty. There is a zone of responsibility of the brigade and you must be there. But I am among incredible people. Among those who took up arms on February 24 to defend their homes and relatives. These are not only professional soldiers. These are farmers, teachers, butchers, veterinarians, tractor drivers, politicians, journalists. Everyone is different. It is unlikely that in civilian life we would have gathered like this in one place.
What is missing in the army today? What do women lack?
Weapons (Now Skabeeva will say that the “Nazis” have nothing to fight with(Skabeeva is a russian propagandist – editor’s note)). We always need more weapons to end the war faster. Specifically – modern weapons. Women need the female uniform. Now it’s not there and we get the regular uniforms. The coat is knee-length, the shoulder pads hang down to the elbows, the waist is laced as much as possible so as not to lose those pants. And I could suffer further, but I found volunteers who launched the production of uniforms for female military personnel “Arm Women Now”. The price is UAH 2,200. I only paid for the material. I paid because I am used to looking for a solution to the problem, and not hoping that everything will be given to me. And even more so now.
(From the editor: Women Veteran Movement gave Anastasiia size 36 army boots immediately after she wrote us. A set of women’s winter uniforms is being sewn up and will go to the defender in the near future. The Ukrainian Women Veteran Movement organization provides servicewomen and servicemen with everything they need for free, thanks to donations from caring Ukrainians and partners. You only need to fill out a certain form).
Why did you decide to join the Women’s Veterans Movement?
During the 8 years of the war, I did not know that the army had such problems with providing for women. It’s even a shame that I wasn’t interested, and I didn’t see anyone actively raising this issue. Having found myself in the war in a man’s uniform, I really felt sorry for women. But we are not alone, there is a Women Veterans Movement that does not leave us without warm clothes and psychological support. It is important for me to join such a community.
Does job burnout exist? Did you manage to feel it in three months? How are you keeping up?
There are no weekends, and we wake up early every day. I would like to sleep. Another issue is the closed space and constantly seeing the same faces. And most of our conversations center around military topics. It’s exhausting. But each of us made this choice, there is nothing to regret. If I start complaining, it will be difficult. I understand that this is how it should be.
About the liberation of Kherson – your first emotions? Have you ever wanted to change your region of service?
My house is still occupied on the left bank. I’m happy for Kherson, but at the same time, I understand how many Defenders sacrificed their lives there. Every liberation of our territories is blood. I don’t care about the enemy soldiers, let them die. It hurts terribly for our own.
As for the area of the service, my goal is to walk through the liberated Luhansk with the Ukrainian flag and look into the eyes of my Sashko’s stepfather, who fought on the side of the so-called LDR (Luhansk People’s Republic is an unrecognized state on the occupied Ukrainian territory – editor’s note)
ABOUT PERSONAL LIFE
How do you hold up after dozens of interviews where everyone asks you to tell your personal story?
Before the New Year 2021, we sat together with Sashko in our rented apartment, had dinner, shared plans for tomorrow, and somehow a conversation transitioned to our roles in this life. I then confidently said that 2 years would pass and the whole world would be talking about Sashko. He laughed at that. We even bet 51 roses on it.
I don’t want to bring 51 roses to the cemetery. Yes, posthumously, but the whole world talks about Sashko! And these dozens of interviews with Ukrainian and foreign journalists are an opportunity to speak and be heard.
What not to say to people, who lost their loved ones?
“I understand your pain.” No, you don’t understand, because everyone’s pain is different.
“Time cures”. It does not, it is harder for me now than on the day of the burial. It’s just that the pain is transformed. I live with it every second and learn to breathe with the full chest again.
“You are so young, you will find someone,” II usually want to slap a person hard as a response.
“Come back to life, stop crying.” Only a person who has never lost a loved one can say that. When you love, you just can’t forget everything, and tears are constantly choking you.
How should civilians behave with the military? What can be said? How to say thank you, is it normal to approach them on the street?
I always wanted to go up to the soldiers, hug them and thank them, but I was shy and just silently donated money for army needs. When I put on the pixel uniform myself, I felt this incredible support from civilians. I was brought to tears by a woman who bought a sneakers bar in a store and gave it to me. Or the man at the market who wouldn’t let me go until I picked out my socks and he paid for them. Such situations make me understand that we are where we are really needed. And civilians support us. So we are doing everything right.
What’s the first thing you’ll do when you get back to the rear? After the victory?
I will give myself time to recover through small trips and vacations. I will start therapy.
The commander let me go to Kyiv for a couple of days. I was walking along the sidewalk and watched as a woman began to cross a snowy flowerbed. I could barely restrain myself from shouting: “STOP.MINES!”. Then I remembered that I am in Kyiv and here you can walk anywhere, and not only on a checked path. That is, the war is being screwed into my brain and it is important to return to civilian life without traumatizing my psyche too much. And after the victory, I want to see all the oceans.
When will the Ukrainians actually win (what does the victory mean for you)?
Victory will not come just by making all of the invaders leave our country or die and return our state borders to 1991. Victory should be in the heart of every Ukrainian. We must do everything so that our children or grandchildren do not pick up weapons again. Therefore, it is not worth looking for good russians anymore. Let’s respect the Ukrainian language and let’s do everything to cleanse our country of all the traitors.