Women have played a vital role in Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, whether on the frontlines or through bolstering global support for Ukrainians defending their country.
International Women’s Day is a time to acknowledge and highlight the contributions of women, draw attention to the difficulties they face, and advocate for equality and social equity.
Below, CEPA staff and experts honor women who are inspirational to them. These reflections aim to recognize the resilience of women who have made or are making a significant impact in their communities, in Ukraine and elsewhere.
Baiba Braže, Assistant Secretary-General for Public Diplomacy, NATO
By Krista Viksnins, Program Officer, Transatlantic Defense and Security, Center for European Policy Analysis
Baiba is the Assistant Secretary-General for Public Diplomacy at NATO and a true inspiration for Latvian women around the world. I had the pleasure of meeting her last year at the 2022 NATO Youth Summit and, as a Latvian American woman starting my career, could not be a bigger fan. Less than two decades ago Latvia joined NATO and the European Union (EU), so it is wonderful to see a successful Latvian woman advising the Secretary-General and undertaking NATO’s public-facing activities. During this critical time for the alliance, her presence at NATO sends a strong message to Russia that the Baltic states are vital to NATO and European security.
Andriana Susak-Arekhta, Assault Trooper, Ukrainian Armed Forces
By Lera Burlakova Democracy Fellow, Center for European Policy Analysis
My friend Andriana Susak-Arekhta is a translator, but in 2014, when Russia started the war, she volunteered to join the Ukrainian Armed Forces as an assault trooper. In 2015, she was five months pregnant, and so left the battlefield. But she never left her brothers- and sisters-in-arms. She fought for gender equality in our military and became the head of the Women’s Veteran’s Movement. Without Andriana’s efforts and advocacy, Ukrainian women still would not be assigned to combat positions. Without this, women would remain listed on army unit rosters as cooks and cleaners . . . as I once was.
In 2022 Andriana returned to the frontlines. She was seriously wounded recently, and now she is undergoing complex treatment and rehabilitation.
Iryna Yurchenko, Conductor, Ukrainian Railways
By Elina Beketova, Democracy Fellow, Center for European Policy Analysis
“We have tea and even cookies!” this phrase from Iryna, the conductor of the train that evacuated passengers from Kyiv to Uzhhorod on the western side of Ukraine, seemed surreal. It was something from our previous lives. The whole week I had been hiding from missiles in a basement or in the metro, accepting the new reality of the full-scale invasion by Russia. This phrase gave some feeling of normality.
Iryna Yurchenko, a train conductor of Ukrzaliznytsia, is a symbol of resilience and courage for me. She did her job with selfless devotion, asking whether people were safe, or if anyone needed help. Later, we would learn that Iryna is the mother of Dmytro Orest Kozatskyi from Azovstal, who defended Mariupol and then was in captivity. I believe that Ukraine will win people are heroes, even when they think they’re doing nothing special.
Olena Shevchenko, Head of Organization, Insight
By Sarah Krajewski, Program Officer, Communications, Center for European Policy Analysis
Olena Shevchenko, the founder of Women’s March Ukraine and head of the Kyiv-based NGO Insight, is a true inspiration to me. Insight provides psychological, legal, and domestic support for LGBT+ Ukrainians who are facing increased threats of suppression due to Russia’s full-scale invasion. Her actions to uplift women and the LGBT+ community demonstrates that efforts to protect human rights continue and are a vital part of Ukraine’s ongoing fight for victory. I admire her bravery and perseverance in selflessly supporting marginalized communities.
As Pride month (June) is around the corner, it is likely that Kyiv Pride will once again take place elsewhere. But back home, the efforts of those like Olena Shevchenko in organizing continued solidarity and support for Ukraine’s LGBT+ community remain key.
Tetiana Isaieva, Founder, Gender Museum, Museum of Women’s and Gender History, Ukraine
Elena Davlikanova, Democracy Fellow, Center for European Policy Analysis
There are people who have realized their mission and live in accordance with it. Tetiana is such a person to me. She is the founder of the first Ukrainian museum dedicated to women’s and gender history. The museum consists of more than 4000 exhibits about gender constructs and stereotypes in society. As Tetiana says: “I see my mission in a visualization of the invisible and unknown women’s history – HerStory.”
Since the launch of Russia’s full-scale invasion, Tetiana has gathered stories of women – those in the army, volunteers, medics, entrepreneurs, those who survived the shelling and the occupation, and those who did not. She created a kaleidoscope of women’s collective experience in the hardest times in the history of independent Ukraine. “HerStory of the War” is a collection of personal stories about the war, about women, their thoughts, feelings, experiences, losses, about life destroyed by the war, about faith and love for life, for the people, for Ukraine. These stories are women’s truths about the war.
Sabrina Tavernise, Co-host of “The Daily.”, The New York Times
By SaraJane Rzegocki, Program Officer, Democratic Resilience Program, Center for European Policy Analysis
Every morning I listen to “The Daily” podcast and I trust Sabrina Tavernise to provide important perspectives from Russia’s war in Ukraine. Throughout the war, she has been on the ground in Ukraine. From traveling with Ukrainian refugees to understanding weapon shipments to Ukraine, she has asked key questions to better understand the impact of the war. What inspires me most about Sabrina is her sincerity. She values every voice and wants to speak with locals who have been directly affected by the war to get their stories out to the world.
International Women’s Day was officially recognized by the UN in 1977 but has its origins in organized labor movements, particularly those at the beginning of the 20th Century. The day is now an important time to remember the ongoing struggle for equality and social justice for women around the world.
Krista Viksnins is a Program Officer with the Transatlantic Defense and Security Program at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA). Her interests include Baltic security, cyberwarfare, the rule of law, and congressional relations. Krista received her J.D. from the University of St. Thomas School of Law and her B.A. in Political Science and Spanish from St. Olaf College. She is also a licensed attorney.
Lera Burlakova is a Democracy Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA.) She is a journalist and former soldier from Ukraine. She served in combat from 2014-2017 after joining the Ukrainian army following the Russian invasion of Crimea. Her war diary “Life P.S.” received the UN Women in Arts award in 2021.
Elina Beketova is a Democracy Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), focusing on the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine. She worked as a journalist, editor, and TV anchor for various news stations in Kharkiv and Kyiv, and currently contributes to the translator’s team of Ukrainska Pravda, the biggest Ukrainian online newspaper.
Sarah Krajewski is a Program Officer for Communications at the Center for European Policy Analysis. Sarah graduated from the University of York in 2019 with a BA in History and previously worked for a UK-based international development charity based. She can be found on LinkedIn here.
Elena Davlikanova is a Democracy Fellow with the Center for European Policy Analysis. Her work is focused on analyzing the racism phenomena and its consequences for Russia, Ukraine, and global peace. Among other initiatives, she facilitated the compilation of the book “100+ Stories of Women and Girls from Russia’s War against Ukraine”.
SaraJane Rzegocki is a Program Officer with the Democratic Resilience Program at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA). She holds an M.A. in Political Science with a concentration in European Union Policy Studies from James Madison University.
Europe’s Edge is CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.