In Ukraine, these four women act on the front line against Russia

2:00 p.m., September 11, 2022, amended to 2:46 p.m., September 11, 2022

These are lands of blood. Those that the Russian soldiers tried to occupy before being repelled by the Ukrainian forces whose firepower, that day, was implacable. We are in Yahidne, nicknamed the martyr village, 150 kilometers north of kyiv, the capital. In March, a Russian battalion seized the locality and locked 350 residents in the basement of a school for almost a month. Another unit had taken up position in a sunflower seed farm to hide trucks full of weapons and ammunition. When the Ukrainian air force pounded the place, it was with surgical precision, with no possible way out for the enemy. Today, there are only gutted houses, charred tank wrecks. Yahidne continues to suffer and has turned into a veritable minefield in many places.

Natalia Sushchenko, 33, deminer

Don’t be fooled by the frail and petite silhouette of Natalia Sushchenko. This woman has nerves of steel. He needs it to handle the shells found in this former Russian army ammunition depot. A doctor by training, originally from Sloviansk, in the Donbass, she considers that she no longer has time to be afraid or to tremble. It is no longer the scalpel that she wields but Grad rockets, mines or even anti-tank missiles that she unearths. One of the few female deminers in Ukraine, she chose to participate in the war effort as dangerously as the soldiers on the front line. At 33, Natalia joined the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD). Its mission is to clean and secure the perimeter.

Until a few years ago, this profession was forbidden to women in this post-Soviet nation. It was not until 2018 that a law was finally passed by the Ukrainian parliament granting women the same status as men in the armed forces. Access to two-thirds of military posts is now based on this principle of equality, and numbers have doubled over the past eight years. While the Ukrainian army continues its counter-offensive started on August 29, the Ukrainian women are pilots, tankers, gunners. Or even deminers, like Natalia.

The least I can do to honor them is to keep calm and prevent others from being harmed by these death machines.

She has become a model who does not take her eyes off her “team leader”his team leader. ” He knows, she slips a bit admiringly. When we find a device, we withdraw and it alone will determine the level of danger to which we are exposed. Depending on his decision, we call on another team or we go back to pick him up. » This time it’s a 122 millimeter shell. They are two to lay it delicately in a blanket then four to transport it, including Natalia, towards the point of collection of the neutralized ammunition.

The FDS, which operates seven teams, has trained four women who are now operational. “I remember the bodies of the children torn apart by the bombs, she said without pathos. The least I can do to honor them is keep my composure and prevent others from being harmed by these engines of death. » She gets up, puts on her bulletproof vest, adjusts her wide peaked cap and joins her team. What Natalia doesn’t want is for the kids who still risk themselves in the nearby park to lose their life or a limb. “These are things I don’t want to see anymore. »

​Yuliia Paievska, 53 years old, first aider​

Yuliia Paievska is an unusual, tattooed and rough personality, who stood out during the hottest hours of the Maidan revolution in 2014. She is better known as “Taira” and for founding the Angels of Taira, an all-female rescue unit. At 53, she fears neither the front line where she officiates nor the images. Like the ones she stored on her cloud after spending three weeks in March in Mariupol hospital, in southern Ukraine. Luckily, this storage reflex.

Because when she finally tried to get out on March 16, by evacuating civilians, she was captured by the Russians, who confiscated everything she owned. She was detained for almost four months in Donetsk, in the occupied territories. “I went from one hell to another”, loose-t-it, without wanting to arouse pity. The lady is far too tough for that. She was locked in the basement because her phone was stuffed with photos and contacts and it was freaking out the Russians. “I used all my aikido and yoga techniques to detach myself from reality and from what surrounded me. »

I had the terrible power to say “this one, OK, we’ll operate on it, that one, don’t bother”

When we discuss with her the post-traumatic syndrome of combatants, she bursts out laughing. No, all she wants is to dive back into her pictures taken at the hospital. “These are the wounded that I had in my hands, she said, clinic, I had installed a GoPro on the top of my forehead to make the correct diagnosis. I had the terrible power to say “this one, OK, we’ll operate on it, that one, don’t bother”. » She feels that her small memory card harbors evidence of what may one day be tried as war crimes. Before finding herself prisoner of the Russians, she had managed to pass this card to a team of two journalists from the Associated Press agency still stuck in another hospital in the city. Since then, she has recovered her precious images, which she scrolls through on her new phone. “I don’t see them as a succession of horrors, she continues, but as a work tool. It’s combat medicine. » When she was finally released on June 17, it was President Zelensky himself who announced the good news. She then became a heroine in Ukraine.

Inna Gritchenko, 43, intelligence agent

Inna Gritchenko

(Karen Lajon/JDD)

To de-stress, Inna Gritchenko stands upright, legs apart, back straight. Then she draws her bow and shoots her arrow. At 43, this soldier in the Ukrainian intelligence services, in the department of communications and information technology, prefers to vent her rage on a target. “This target has no name or face, she says, laughing. War is never on my mind when I train at the Lvovsky brothers’ archery club. »

She prefers shade to light, especially since the Russians would not be unhappy to get their hands on her. She does not hide her nationalist streak and her former membership of Pravy Sektor (Right Sector), an ultranationalist political party coupled with a paramilitary militia. She shows off her upper back, a black ink tattoo of two AK-47 Kalashnikovs and a saber, which would immediately bring her death to the enemy. A career soldier like her husband, who is on the southern front, she enjoys a few hours of rest before leaving for secret areas. What she likes is questioning people. “I don’t need to torture physically, breaking people psychologically is much more effective. »​

Natalya, 33, sniper

On the front line, we are on video link with 33-year-old Natalya. She has no right to reveal her position. For her, the countdown has begun. The young woman, who sacrificed her private life for the uniform, is part of the counter-offensive. Assigned to a sniper unit, she admits that on August 16, when she was based in Bakhmout, Donbass, they were told to fold everything. Today, she is where it is. Like her male comrades. “There is no division of labor by gender, she says. We are all here with the same objective: to recover our territories. »

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In Ukraine, these four women act on the front line against Russia

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