“Russians are our enemies. And enemies must be dead,” says volunteer of the Women Veterans Movement, Hanna Demidenko.
She is extremely energetic and brave in the fight for a free Ukraine. She is not just saying that, but is ready to take risks and responsibility. Hanna Demidenko was an active participant in the Revolution of Dignity, including providing medical assistance. In the early years of the war in Donbas, she succeeded in fighting for the recognition of volunteer soldiers at the official level. Currently, she works in the civil service at the Ministry for Veterans Affairs of Ukraine and actively volunteers at the Women Veterans Movement’s rapid response headquarters.
She is one of those who delivers aid to the corners of Ukraine where active fighting is taking place, as our soldiers and civilians need support.
Meanwhile, amidst historical events, this woman gave birth to a daughter whose father has also been defending the country since 2014, he went as a volunteer and is now a serviceman of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, fighting in the south of the country.
Hanna confesses that she is happy that we are giving the Russians a hard time. She believes that this is a new opportunity for Ukraine to revive in the crisis. And ironically, but confidently, she adds that giving a hard time to “Moskals” (a derogatory term for Russians) is the national duty of every Ukrainian.
Here is a frank interview with volunteer and civil servant Hanna Demidenko.
Your husband is fighting for Ukraine, and you have been involved in volunteering and civic activism since the beginning of the war in Donbas. How did the Ukrainian liberation struggle start for your family?
My story started at the end of 2013 after the beating of students on Maidan. Since then, it has been crucial for me to fight for what I had never thought about before. My husband and I were not yet married; he was my boyfriend and was very worried and constantly following the news. During the beating of students and the landmark events on Bankova Street, where I was with my friend, an enormous number of people impressed me.
I was struck by what was happening on Bankova Street during the protest. Berkut (former Ukrainian riot police) were driving people away: they blocked our ambulances, and I saw that Berkut were brutally beating some adult men who were standing quietly and simply couldn’t move away in time. It struck me so much that the people had been beaten, they were sitting on the pavement in blood with injured heads. I went to the pharmacy and bought some bandages to carry in my backpack. I carried them with me during the entire Revolution of Dignity, periodically refilling the backpack. And from that moment on, I realized that I had to be there.
As I am very proactive, the next day I went looking for a place for myself on Maidan. At the volunteer centers, they told me: “We’ll take your phone number and call you back.” This made me angry. More people wanted to help than were needed. I went to the Kyiv City State Administration, where they told me to make sandwiches. From lunch until morning, I made sandwiches and distributed food.
And then the EuroMaidan SOS responded to my application. I went to stand guard from evening until morning. That’s how my Maidan began. Then my husband, who was following these events, said: “There is the Right Sector on Maidan, it’s a cool movement, they are nationalists. We should go to them.” He went to the Right Sector. And then on December 19, there was a storming during my shift. We were told that people were being beaten, put into vans, and taken away. I decided to do some reconnaissance, took my backpack with medicines, and a red cross was taped onto my hood as if I were a medic. I went to see the surroundings and got into an “adventure”, I accidentally ended up on the side where Berkut were standing. One of them grabbed me by the hand. They sat me down next to them and held me. A journalist spotted me and said, “Come with me, what are you doing here? We’re looking for you.” He took me to St. Michael’s Cathedral and asked, “Are you crazy? You can’t walk around like that.” And there it was really hot: near the Dnipro Hotel, where Berkut were standing, there were a bunch of beaten people and vans. In St. Michael’s Cathedral, the medics enlisted me to help. They gave me a construction helmet with a red cross on it, medicines, masks, because everyone was getting tear-gassed, and thermal water for rinsing eyes. Then I realized that I wouldn’t go back to standing guard. That’s how I became a medic.
Then my husband and I went to “Right Sector” together and attended all the events together, including Vohne’Khreshcha (from VodoKhreshcha, a Ukrainian holiday celebrating Epiphany but combined with the word fire instead of water as there was a lot of fire during the Revolution of Dignity). My husband always said that there would be a war and that we needed to prepare. When Crimea was occupied, he went to the RS base, and I stayed in Kyiv to deal with organizational issues for the movement.
Then my husband decided to join the “Donbas” battalion consisting of volunteers. At that time, I found out that I was pregnant. I couldn’t go to war, but my husband had already signed a contract and was preparing to go to the front.
At some point, they let him go, we were given 2 hours, and we went and got married. He is a lawyer, so he believed that it was important for his family and child to be protected and have an official status. We got married, and he went to war. He participated in the liberation of Popasna, Lysychansk, where he was seriously injured and was hospitalized in Kharkiv. Then there was the Ilovaisk Encirclement, where many of his fellow soldiers were taken prisoner and died. But he was injured earlier, so he did not have to go through that hell. Then he transferred to the airborne troops and fought until 2016. He was at war for two years, and during that time, our daughter was born. I continued to volunteer and deal with organizational issues.
At that time, there were a lot of volunteer soldiers who were not protected by the state. So, I suggested creating a social protection service for the “Right Sector.” We took on the responsibility of fighting to have volunteer soldiers recognized and paid social support money from the state after being wounded. From the end of 2015 to the end of 2021, the public organization that my friend and colleague Nastya Rimar and I created was specifically dealing with this issue. We wrote laws, fought against the system, collected documents for each person, each deceased, each wounded, went to the front, and searched for witnesses. It was a long and difficult process that culminated in the achievement of our mission – volunteer soldiers were recognised.
Then, I felt constrained in the civil sector and wanted to make changes at the state level. During that time, I managed to complete my studies in the master’s program at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, received a master’s degree in public administration and graduated, went through a competition, and joined the Ministry of Veterans, where I have been working since October 2021.
When the full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation into Ukraine began, my husband was part of the first operational reserve of “Azov.” He went to war right away. He was in battles in Moschun, and now he is fighting in the South and does not intend to stop. For my part, I continue to provide maximum assistance at the state level with the tools that I have and engage in volunteering.
What are the biggest challenges the Ministry of Veterans is facing?
Since October 2021, I have been working at the Ministry of Veterans Affairs of Ukraine as the head of the expert group for interaction with civil society organizations and the development of the veteran movement. My functions are directly related to communication with veterans. The biggest challenge for the department after the victory will be that every fifth Ukrainian will be a veteran. We need to provide them with social guarantees, medical assistance, and rehabilitation. Many people have lost their homes and lives, so we must protect their families to ensure they receive status and support from the state. Injured soldiers must receive quality medical care. We also need to support the civil sector. This is important cooperation because only as a team can we achieve results and ensure a quality life for our veterans.
There are many problems, but we are confidently coping with them. I have not left Kyiv because I swore an oath to the Ukrainian people, and some of my colleagues also stayed in the capital. We worked on legislative changes just in the kitchen, cooperating with other departments. The crisis situation showed who is who, who is willing to take risks and responsibility. I am proud of my colleagues who never stopped working and even worked from basements.
You often deliver humanitarian aid to hotspots. How does the current full-scale war differ from the war in Donbas? What impresses you about our people who resist: civilians, military personnel, volunteers?
The situation after February 24th is different in that we are being bombed. Missiles are flying into Ukraine and Ukrainian cities are being destroyed. The methods of waging war have become completely different. And the losses of civilians and military personnel are different. In 2014, it was scary, we didn’t understand what was happening. At the beginning of the war, there was shock. Now, missiles and bombs weighing 250-500 tons are flying at us, which simply fall and leave behind terrible destruction. There is a difference.
What impresses me about our people? The absolute absence of panic. At the same time, leaving the war zone is okay. Civilians should not be where the fighting is going on, because infrastructure can be rebuilt, but unfortunately, we cannot bring back lost lives. Firstly, civilians do not put themselves at risk and save their lives. Secondly, it is very important that they do not interfere with military operations being conducted. Because it is very difficult to conduct warfare where there is a population. We have many examples: Chernihiv, Kharkiv, Mariupol, where by saving the civilian population, the forces lose resources to fight. It impresses me that people understand and realize what is happening. It wasn’t like that before. Well, the East. Well, war, scary. And that’s it. In peaceful cities, people were relaxed and didn’t really react to events. They adapted too quickly, in my opinion. And now every Ukrainian understands that missiles are flying over populated areas of the whole country. The war concerns everyone.
I want every Ukrainian to understand that there can be no agreements or tolerant acceptance of the Russian-Ukrainian war. We will not forgive anyone. My seven-year-old daughter asks: “Mom, how many of them are left? Did dad kill many Muscovites? When will he finally kill them all and come back home?” We have already won this war in our heads. We understand that we are at home and we have to protect our home. There is no panic or fear. We don’t want peaceful negotiations. We want victory. The whole country wants victory. I am inspired by people who have joined in on all front.
We no longer have the situation where I’m supposedly from Kyiv and someone else is from Kharkiv. We already have our country which is our home. Every city, every village is our own, and we will fight for it. I am inspired by our military, because war under aviation is different. For example, I did not participate in combat, but I was in hot spots. And it is really scary when you drive under shelling, there are explosions, missiles fall, something is burning, but you understand that you are leaving from here to a safe zone, and people are fighting and living in these conditions. I am very proud of our defenders, both male and female. These are really brave people because the war is scary now. But we will win.
Now everyone feels like a Ukrainian, a part of the nation and a great people. We see how many successful people have joined, who could afford to leave or not participate in the war. But they went to the front to fight. Among my acquaintances, there are many public servants who are at war. We know artists who took up arms and went to defend Ukraine or joined volunteer activities. Many people transported the wounded, brought food when it was dangerous. I am proud that I live at this time and with these people. I would like everything to end with our victory as soon as possible. I am happy that we are kicking Muscovites’ asses. This is a new opportunity for Ukraine to revive in the crisis. That’s why I think we will win, and our resistance and desire to help this cause contribute a lot.
What does the “Women’s Veteran Movement” mean to you and how did you become involved in it?
I have known the women who created the “Women’s Veteran Movement” (WVM) for a long time: Katya Priymak, Andriana Arekhta, Yulia Kirilova, and other veterans. They are close to me. I witnessed the creation of the WVM. I remember when they were writing the Articles of association and registering the first project.
This is an important topic, women in the war, there are many of them, and they are brave and cool. I am glad that they have such a platform for unity, where they can share their experiences, problems, support each other, and defend their rights. For me, this is one of the coolest projects in Ukraine that happened as a result of the war.
I fully support the WVM and am proud of all the initiatives. I was there, but I was not in action because I was not a participant in the combat. I thought I should not be with the military. However, during the full-scale invasion of Russia in Ukraine, I officially joined the Rapid Response Headquarters on the basis of WVM from the first days of its creation. I am very proud of this and proud of the girls. I hope that in the future, we will together rebuild the country, create new opportunities, and develop this movement. The veteran and military topic has been with me for 8 years, and I do not intend to stop until victory. This is how this story began and continues. I hope it will end soon with our full victory.
Are you familiar with burnout?
I don’t currently experience burnout. I did experience burnout in 2016 during the Anti-Terrorist Operation in eastern Ukraine, when I was heavily involved in volunteering and legal advocacy. I had major health problems and had to see a psychologist for a year. It was a difficult time: I had a small child, slept only 3-4 hours a night, got up at 4 am to work on legal documents, and then I just burned out. But I recovered, and now I respond appropriately to crises. I don’t get tired, and I don’t feel like I’m burning out physically or mentally.
I know how to deal with stress. If I get tired, I always find a way to rest. I understand that I have a lot of responsibility. I work in government, I’m involved in volunteering, humanitarian missions, and I travel to the front lines. I have my own routine and rules, and I stick to them. This allows me to live a normal life, and I’m ready for anything, so burnout is not an issue for me.
Are there any “good Russians” among the living?
My attitude towards Russians is clear. Russians are our enemies, and enemies must be dead. Period.
There are simply no “good Russians”. If they were even slightly conscious, we would see them protesting, and they would be fighting en masse. But what is happening shows that they have no future. I hope that we will completely destroy the Russian army. These degenerate soldiers must be completely destroyed for what they have done to peaceful people in the occupation.
How are we different from Russians?
Throughout our history, the Ukrainian people have made many mistakes and have had many experiences that were not always positive. We have always fought for our land, for our rights, and for the language they wanted to destroy. And Russia has always been the cause of this struggle. What sets us apart is that Ukrainians have their own values, while Russians do not. We see how they live, what their mothers say to their captive sons, and their approach to life. Russians lack values, morality, and upbringing. We are focused on making our country better.
Russia, on the other hand, instead of doing something for its own people, meddles with its neighbors and wants to show the world that it is strong and saving someone. They should first save themselves. But that is already impossible.
Why will Ukraine win?
Ukraine will win because the Ukrainian people are fighting for Ukraine. We are defending our home, not invading someone else’s. Ukrainians don’t like it when something that is theirs and dear to them is touched. This war is sacred in many ways. We have to destroy as many enemies as possible and rebuild the destroyed infrastructure. We have the crazy support of the civilized world.
We have no options, only victory.
Giving the Muscovites a hard time is the national duty of every Ukrainian. I want to end with Golda Meir’s famous phrase: “We want to live. Our neighbors want to see us dead. There isn’t much room for compromise.”