“Feminists about the war” is a series of informal feminist talks. First-hand testimonies and thoughts of women active in civic activism before and during the full-scale Russia’s invasion are equally important as reports about political decisions.
In this material you can read the conversation in text format. Also, you can watch the podcast with English subtitles on our YouTube.
In the second episode:
Daryna Mizina — digital activism coordinator in Amnesty International Ukraine.
Yana Pekun — gender equality and social inclusion expert consultant. Podcaster at Radio Scovoroda and author of the YouTube channel “Yana PRO”. Stays in Lviv.
Viktoriya Karpa — lawyer, human rights defender, lecturer, head of the center JurFem Education. Had lived in Lviv, temporarily relocated to Spain, plans to return to Lviv.
The conversation was recorded in June 2022.
The world “before” and “after” the full-scale russian invasion.
Yana: Hi girls. Today we got together to talk. I am Yana Pekun, I am a gender equality and social inclusion expert consultant. I currently work as a municipal consultant on prevention of gender-based violence. in the United Nations Population Fund.
I am also a podcaster — that’s my awesome hobby, I like it a lot. Let’s get acquainted.
Viktoriya: I am Viktoriya Karpa. I’m a lawyer, a feminist, a human rights defender. I’m also the head of the center JurFem Education, the education department of the NGO “Ukrainian Women Lawyers Association “Jurfem”.
In a nutshell, what we’re doing: we create various specialized gender sensitive education programs for further legal education. I am also a lecturer and a facilitator specializing in these matters including prevention of gender-based violence. That’s why I am really happy to be here with you today.
Daryna: Nice to meet you. I am Daryna Mizina, or Dasha Mizina, whatever suits you I am a digital activism coordinator in the Ukrainian branch of the human rights organization Amnesty International. Prior to this I worked in “Gender in details” and in other projects aimed at promotion of equality.
I also hosted a sex-ed podcast “11-A” (currently on hiatus) that was aimed at youth and teens. So I am acquainted with podcasts as well.
Yana: I guess it would be great to discuss what were our lives like prior to the full-scale invasion… What were the origins of our activism, how it looked like, as activism can be very diverse. I am often asked: “You are so polite in expressing your views, you are way too liberal — are you even a feminist?”
And I’m like: well, actually, I am. So, I want us to tell how our “before” was like. As our life was divided into “before” and “after” — we need to admit that.
Viktoriya: You know, I want to respond right away. About my journey to feminism — and for me it began not with the feminism itself, but with the human rights activism.
As I was studying in the faculty of law, I was wondering: why aren’t the rights realized, why aren’t they defended, why is there discrimination? And that was probably the moment when I realized that feminism is necessary and began professing feminism.
As for how everything changed… I am going to say right away that I was lucky enough to be able to get back to work one day after the beginning of the war. Obviously, I mean getting back to work technically. Morally and mentally it was all different.
My story goes as follows: on February 4 I came to Spain as a tourist, and Spanish landscapes still are behind me. On February 23 we went to the mountains, to the Spanish town of Mijas. I went hiking in the mountains, and I remember thinking: Lord, I rested so well, better than ever,
I rested morally. And ironically, on February 24 it (the full-scale invasion — edit.) happened. And I wanted to say that for me the most complicated part of getting back to work… Was organizing that first event, as I am responsible for organizing events.
And right away, no more than few days into the war we needed to ensure that lawyers would be competent in the context of international humanitarian and criminal law. We even joked that up until February 24 not everyone of us knew where Hague is.
And in a way we were really lucky not to know where Hague is. When we organized this first event — webinar with the expert that focused on the differences between the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice, the lawyers, our members came to that webinar. I was nervous as I was thinking if it was appropriate to organize an education webinar literally a week after February 24
However, when it happened, we were so happy, It’s not that I felt like getting back to normal. I felt that they didn’t get to destroy anything inside of us. Ourselves, our knowledge, our company, that much we kept.
And when I opened Zoom and saw the faces of our lawyers that were commenting, saying that we would move forward today just like… during World War II… It was arguably my strongest motivation. That’s it.
Yana: Hey, listen, you addressed many interesting topics, and I want to discuss all of them, to go deeper. Prior to the full-scale invasion that educational sphere of yours it must have been pursuing some particular goals, and now they have changed. Or did they?
Viktoriya: Personally for me the first months changed so many things, that now I am trying to elicit these stories from everyone. And what exactly changed?
I guess all three of us have kept the main focus of our work, that being gender equality, gender-based violence. I will tell you how it went for me. We had a list of topics that we wanted to base our educational products on. These were different topics. Some of them were outright gender sensitive and dealt with women’s rights.
However, after February 24 we simply hid that document in the folder and filled the new document with new topics. They were conflict-related sexualized violence, helping the victims, communicating with victims, investigating cases like that…
Even though before that most of us didn’t even know where Hague is, so to say. So I guess, I kept the main focus, but now we understand that our first priority, at least when it comes to our domain, is strengthening expertise in that sphere.
“We’ve done so much for the protection of human rights in Ukraine”
Yana: Thank you, thank you for sharing. We are going to return to that stories,
because I think they are worth discussing here. Dasha, what changed for you? Or perhaps you want to describe your active day before and after the beginning of war?
Daryna: Actually, my story is similar to Victoria’s, as I was also in Spain when the full-scale war started. I wanted to escape from one winter month in order to preserve my mental health.
And March 8 was coming close. I guess, all of us know, that March 8 is always an enormous, immeasurable amount of work. Lots of planning and alike… so I wanted… to rest a while, to recharge a bit.
I always said that I wished for March 8 to be a holiday for me as well, I mean, for me as an activist. I wished I could join the Women’s March as an ordinary participant, but instead I had to run around and work, like, a lot. And now I wished to work a lot on March 8. Instead I got stuck abroad, worrying about my family and my country.
My workload has considerably increased in the first days, as our team was in Ukraine — everyone but me, And I shouldered a great amount of communication, data verification…
Since the beginning of the full-scale war, we in Amnesty International have been monitoring and verifying war crimes. That is extremely complicated, so I guess I know where Hague is.
So, we… I mean in the first days it was terribly difficult… as it was all going through me… I tried to support people, support the ones that were leaving, no one was sure what and how will happen next, what to do, how to do, where to go, to go or to stay?
And since then it has become part of my everyday life with an enormous amount of work assignments. My day is now similar to yours: I wake up in the morning and write to my friends and family: “how are you?”. I call them.
About the survivors
Daryna: But I can say what frightened me the most since February 24… one of my first thoughts was… that we worked so hard, and we’ve done so much for the protection of human rights in Ukraine, for gender equality, education, feminism, LGBT rights etc… And now here come the people that simply destroy it all.
An I obviously have dozens of friends and acquaintances that work in different spheres of the non-governmental organizations, whose organizations protect rights of people in Donbas, rights of internally displaced persons etc.
And you see, when you know how it works from the inside, you know how much has been done, and how complicated it was, and how much we changed — pre-2014 Ukraine and Ukraine in 2022 are completely different. And it hit me really hard. Moreover, everything I’ve been waiting for was another horrible thing…
… I was waiting for the news concerning rape and sexualized violence. And when they started to appear, I remember myself browsing through the news, I wanted to verify right away, to see the scope, to understand what happens, to react in some way etc.
Initially, as I remember, there were nothing but some vague rumors. Someone told something to someone… At some point, a few days after attention was brought to cases of sexualized violence I remember that someone (I don’t remember who it was), a person on Instagram wrote about dozens of thousands of cases…
And everyone was reposting it, and I was like “wait, stop”. I also tried to speak with my friends to “educate” them in a way. And that really was one of the most frightening news and one of the most frightening periods.
Applying feminist lens, women rights lens, ens of gender-based crimes and sexualized violence… helps to understand how frightening it is. Already in the first weeks the human rights infrastructure deteriorated. and it’s not that it was working 100 percent in the first place.
And then other things arose. They also became quite frightening when looked through the lenses I usually work with. These are, for instances, domestic violence cases, because you understand that no one works with them now. The police are busy, and the state we’re in, actually, any critical state, enhances these crimes.
Yana: I’m glad you finished on this note — not literally, of course, as… I actually work with this issue, and for me… I’m going to reflect upon it right away and describe my activism before the war and after its beginning.
It just so happened that I put on pause my work where I consulted the city about the system of interaction of the subjects that provide services for the victims. And I focused on consulting the youth centers, helping them to become gender sensitive, explaining how to base project activities on certain inclusive approaches, how to implement them etc.
So I was out of the loop concerning this process. And when February 24 came, I remember well how one kind colleague of mine texted me. The one I am working with in this sphere. She wrote: “Just imagine how the system must work now”.
I mean, I get what you. Dasha, are talking about. The focus… How complicated it was to reactivate at least some of the services that help victims. People affected by war — they need to… (and all of us are affected by war now)…
especially victims of violence — they need to have access to high-quality services.
I live in Lviv and I understand that my region is the part of the homefront that has to provide high-quality services. However, it is next to impossible to build up the system under crisis conditions. And we faced the problem you described — if prior to the full-scale invasion the system didn’t work 100%, now it is also extremely complicated.
And then I began working with police, with people that directly provide these services. Literally before our meeting, I talked with my mate who always says “Police are evil, they provide bad services. They always violate everything, and this is an awful disaster”. I always respond by saying: “Please refrain from generalizations, the police I work with are just awesome…”.
It’s a unit that focuses on countering domestic violence and helping the victims, They are great, they try really hard, they say: “It’s impossible to work under these conditions”.
And during the first months they felt outright fear, I still remember it
As I am a crisis manager, I was quite composed, I worked hard, volunteered whenever possible, and even helped the people around me to feel better about the situation. To reflect upon it, psychologically and emotionally, in order to get ready for the long battle.
I remember the first month, the second even, when it was so hard to admit that the war would be here for a while. I really wanted to say that it would be over soon, that we have to wait just for a while.
And then there was another interesting case that surprised me. After the photos from Bucha and Irpin, when the truth came out about the ways war crimes were perpetrated by the Russians. It turned out that all my professional activity didn’t prepare me for that. I was traumatized by these photos and couldn’t admit it for a really long time.
It seemed that something was off, and I divided my life into “before” and “after” — and that’s how trauma works, right? ТThat is why it’s important to remember that we are going through an enormous stressful experience that always stays with us. And in that context we get dozens of intensive, important events that make the history of every day.
The Istanbul convention: the path to ratification
Yana: And now, I guess, we need to discuss the ratification of the Istanbul convention and if our society was ready for it, okay?
We all understand that it was an informal requirement for joining the EU. And there were particular premises that made it possible.
In no way was our path toward the ratification of the convention easy. We must remember the activists that fought for its ratification for years.
It’s important to discuss it during the full-scale war, but I would love to discuss it earlier. Our social circles are probably similar. Still, we come from different backgrounds. How did people around you react to that?
Viktoriya: When you, Dasha, were speaking and you, Yana, as well, I thought about the two dimensions of the Istanbul convention — and I am going to tell you about them. And another thing about social circles —there were some comments on Facebook that really brought me back to ground, one of them being “Sharia in Ukraine, Coming soon” — and it was obvious that no one read the Istanbul convention.
And that Istanbul itself wasn’t obvious. As for how we took it, and about the two dimensions I mentioned… When Dasha spoke up about what was achieved in the human rights sphere and in protection of women’s rights — it was all put in jeopardy.
And here comes my first thought. When I heard that the timing is bad, why do we need it now etc. it was completely the opposite.
I see Ukraine as the defender — Ukraine defends its population and its borders. Furthermore, Ukraine defends everything Russia infringed upon: the rule of law, human rights and freedoms. And when we ratified the Istanbul convention, we proved once again that Ukraine is the defender. It’s the defender of women’s rights.
And it’s not that we took ten steps forward, we went several thousand kilometers away from the world of the patriarchal, violent Russia. And it’s a pity that it happened now, but on the other hand — It is relevant as never before. I didn’t know until very recently,
The preamble of the Istanbul convention mentions victims of sexualized violence in conflict. That means that victims are now protected by the convention.
And another thing that made me remember the Istanbul convention… When you, Yana, mentioned prejudice against police, I remembered two stories. My mom that is the school principal, and her school became a shelter for internally displaced persons.
One day she calls me and says: “You’re not going to believe it, there are two male and one female prosecutors that came here to gather their testimonies”.
And my mom was surprised by it. First thing that genuinely surprised her was the fact that they were using gender-specific nouns denoting women.
That school isn’t small, but it’s located in the village in the Lviv oblast. Secondly they immediately asked for a separate classroom to keep the conversation private. And she was amazed by the sensitivity they had.
And here we obviously have to admit that a lot of things has changed, starting from the changes in 2017. And once again, we have to appreciate the Istanbul convention for it. On the other hand, my reaction and reaction of people with similar backgrounds went like this.
Few days after the ratification I had to give a university lecture on women’s rights. My presentation always featured the slide saying that the Istanbul convention needs to be ratified.
My first thought was to delete this slide. But then I understood that on the contrary, I had to keep it and tell what needs to be changed. Even today we don’t understand how such cases should be examined.
The Istanbul convention: the work ahead
Viktoriya: There are no standards of the pre-trial investigation, we need to change our approach to proof. I think many changes are on the way. Not only will the codices be changed, but the by-laws as well, and that is what Lviv police will rely on.
Yana: I think that now is the perfect stage that will help us to build up that sensitive approach to victims. Dasha, what about you?
Daryna: I actually made a Tiktok video showing how happy we were in Amnesty when the Istanbul convention was ratified. I actually made a Tiktok video showing how happy we were in Amnesty when the Istanbul convention was ratified. For real?!
There were even some of my friends that aren’t engaged in activism, that have little to do with it, but that know a lot of things from me, and are curious in general, and open-minded. My friends were congratulating me, they were sending me the news, writing “Congrats” and I was thanking them.
It really felt like a holiday, and actually… I saw visible results of the work made by every person who campaigned for the ratification of the Istanbul convention.
I think that with the conditions we have now, a victory like that… you just want to cherish it inside you and bask in its rays for a bit, as every positive emotion is now thrice more valuable.
I also saw many comments on social media that went like “don’t count your chickens, we all understand that it was made because of our candidate status in EU, we’ll see how it would be implemented…”
And then I thought: does it really matter? It will turn some way. Yes, once again we are going to work hard, we are going to do lots of research… We are going to talk about that huge number of victims of domestic violence.
But right now why don’t we celebrate the good news? The ratification of the Istanbul convention will not do us any harm anyway. And I have no reasons to believe… In the words of my dad, “cross the bridge when we get to it”.
Let’s deal with it later. And actually, when I was listening to you, We made a huge step back in gender equality. The energy and resources of the human rights system are currently redirected.
I think that during the war we can’t reach the proper level of healthy empathy and understanding towards the victims of sexualized violence. It’s all black-and-white now. When we talk about a Russian soldier raping a Ukrainian woman or, God forbid, a Ukrainian child — everyone gets that she’s innocent, right?
But when we will work with cases that would be less black-and-white then, once again, I think we made that huge step back.
March 8 was an exemplary case that we all could see. Many Ukrainian celebrities, including Khlyvnyuk, lead singer of BoomBox, I adore him, but I still didn’t move past that case. So, yeah, he currently serves in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and he posted a story saying “I wish men fleeing the war happy March 8”.
And that happened in the country with one of the highest numbers of women serving in the Armed Forces… Of women involved in all the processes, peacemaking and others.
And that is the person that seems quite open-minded, And it is not some random dude either, one of those that came to your comments to write: “So what, now women can beat men? After the ratification of the Istanbul convention.”
I think it would be one of our biggest challenges — to speak up, to explain it again — well, no, actually, women fought in the war. You see how many are volunteering? You see how many are currently on the battlefront?
Even now I am communicating with several influencers, with people that are involved in communications in general, that launch social campaigns, I mean now. And someone, for example, decided to tell about women in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, so they filmed a short video about women in the Armed Forces.
And people in the comments are like: “Why do they have makeup on? Why are they so clean? So, they are not on the front line?” Etc. etc. It also shows that there is something to work on.
“Human rights are always about people’s lives”
Yana: I learned about the ratification of the Istanbul convention thanks to the woman that was a victim herself. We closed that case, she worked through everything. Everybody finds their own way to activism, each one has their own, personal reasons.
And that my acquaintance that allowed me to tell her story today, she came to the activism after she was sexually harassed in the public transport — and that case was really harsh, as it was something… there weren’t some minor actions, it was real sexual harassment.
Were the Istanbul convention implemented back then, we could prove it and hold him criminally liable. But the convention wasn’t ratified, and she experienced it… She chased him, she phoned her boyfriend, they apprehended this man in another bus, as he went away. Bus driver stopped, police came…
Everything went fine, and then boom — he was charged with hooliganism. And that was such an emblematic case for me. Afterwards she began… She often asked for my advice…
She delved deeper in the human rights activism, she didn’t understand why did it happen like that. She had a trauma as she didn’t feel protected by the state. “I didn’t understand where should I go to file the complaint, where should I scream and speak if things like that can happen in broad daylight. And I have no right to be defended,”.
That case was indeed emblematic. And that was so symbolic that it was her who told me the news, she wrote: “You saw it? You saw it?! It happened!” And I really think that everybody that fell victim to such crimes that weren’t criminalized up until now, they have a reason to rejoice, as it is a great victory of ours.
When it comes to human rights, each victory means a lot — it is always about human life, about feelings, emotions, physical health and well-being. And these are complex phenomenas, it’s difficult to work with them — that is why this work is hard.
However, I understand that it’s our chance. Of course, it won’t be easy, but historically, it was never easy in Ukraine. Аnd we are warriors by nature — that is how things work, right?
As for the women in the Armed Forces and members of the LGBT+community I have another interesting case regarding this topic. I hosted a podcast “Social news digest” and discussed it. We uploaded it to TikTok.
It was the part where I talked about the case with Lesia Nikitiuk that organized “Beauty for everyone” flashmob. “Take a picture of yourself with your head washed and your face beautiful”…
Why isn’t it normal? Because, obviously, there are women in the Armed Forces, and that stigmatizes virtually everything: not only does it stigmatize women represented in the military structures, or in human rights structures anyway…
And apart from that I received many comments from LGBT+ people.
Dasha, coming back to what you said about Khlyvnyuk, the lead singer of BoomBox, how we overestimate them at times. I liked how you said that not everyone has to form an opinion about everything — and it’s exactly about that.
It hurts so much when they get involved in some sphere like that — why should you do it? You sing so beautifully — so sing. It is also about stigma of sorts, as if they can’t voice their own thoughts.
Not at all! But maybe they should inquire about it for a bit, make a quick search, read some info. If you want to join the influencers, you need to understand what we are talking about.
Though you have to agree that thanks to the popularity of TikTok our community reacts much better when it comes to cases of discrimination, or to problematic statements. And that is about the activist movement that is currently forming. It’s an awesome tool we can use.
About the future of feminism in Ukraine
Yana: What are your general expectations and, maybe, warnings about achievements of the feminist movement and, potentially, about our work?
We discussed our fears, Dasha told us about the step back — it is the same question, but there are also the upsides… Let’s discuss both upsides and downsides, in order to strike a balance.
Daryna: You mentioned the upsides, but I wanted to begin from the downsides anyway.
Viktoriya: After Yana mentioned Lesia Nikitiuk, I simply can’t begin by listing the upsides. Still, I will turn it into an upside, as for me this case is also very cruel and not empathetic towards women.
But you know, I have this joke about the Istanbul convention, that it is the first European document, that states that it is all rooted in the gender stereotypes, and that is what I constantly repeat in my lectures, all these socially constructed differences et cetera — they are all harmful, and now you can simply say: “Well, it is mentioned in the Istanbul convention we ratified”.
I think that we need to talk about women, roughly, in three contexts. There are women in the military that face prejudice. There are women that fall victims of sexualized violence — and I think that good old victim blaming…
Dasha put it perfectly in words: today — OK, violence was perpetrated by the Russian soldier. But later victim blaming won’t disappear anywhere. Even now we hear that “it was all her fault, she didn’t flee the city even though she could evacuate” and it shows that the problem is relevant.
It’s a communication problem that will never go anywhere, but we need to deal with it as quickly as possible. Retraumatization is highly possible.
And speaking about women that fled the country… I read an interview with a lawyer who is the head of the legal firm. And the progress is huge. On the other hand, legal firms are quite patriarchal oftentimes because of their male workers.
And he said that “we are going to focus on men” — I am exaggerating, but the point is similar. “We are going to employ men, as they are most affected by the war. They are subject to conscription etc., while for women it’s easy, they went abroad, their opportunities are countless, that’s why we are going to focus on men,” — and he puts it like he saves, helps etc.
And for real, that’s total bullshit. It makes no sense for me. Who can cross the Ukrainian border today is another question. I want to ask another thing: how can one downplay the whole evacuation process from such dangerous territories as Mariupol? And even from Lviv?
You are saving yourself, your family — and you face awful problems abroad.
I have no children, and for the third month I fight with the Spanish bureaucracy in order to get the card to be able to board the plane. And I imagine how difficult it is for women that went abroad along with their families.
Due to the stereotypes, women bear the whole burden of caring for their family. Often there are elderly parents, there are children — it is really complicated, it is financially hard.
And when you expect that when women goes abroad there is a whole French chateau awaiting for her and she goes there to have rest — it makes zero sense for me. However, nowadays there are people that express such views.
I really think that we shouldn’t divide the society, on the contrary, we have to stay together. We need to understand that we are united, under different conditions, and it’s difficult for everybody. And you simply can’t devalue the circumstances other women found themselves into.
And today there are mostly women that become internally displaced persons or refugees, or people that were granted temporary protection abroad.
Daryna: Actually, one month ago they said that lines of people wanting to return to Ukraine are now longer than lines of people leaving the country.
And I saw many posts, because I was in Spain for some time, spent some time in Germany, I browsed through the groups like “Ukrainians in Berlin” and like — and there are dozens of women writing: “Who’s driving to Ukraine, we have children and we want to return”.
There is only one thing I really know under given circumstances: trying to simplify things, to ease the pressure on your brain, on your mind, when a lot of things happen — you live, I don’t know, in 4 or 5 realities simultaneously, especially when you are safe, right? You are abroad, your reality dictates the need to deal with bureaucracy, сcommunicate with people, discover new culture.
On the other hand you are like: “Nah, all I want is to stay at home and browse the news, because otherwise I won’t be capable of doing anything”. In order to simplify things for myself, I try to avoid difficult questions.
Are Ukrainian women guilty, do Ukrainian women take it easier, do Ukrainian men take it harder… My only thought goes like this: the only enemy of ours is the country (Russia — edit.) that invaded us, that commits war crimes, that kills civilians, that kills our soldiers, that perpetrates violence in all possible forms.
And even when it will come to the post-war reconstruction, I would like to see the communication… See, I am addicted to words, I enjoy playing with words — that’s exactly why I’m doing what I’m doing…
I would like us to refrain from the statements such as “I won’t be having only veterans”, because they take it harder, right? Or “you’re a woman and you don’t give birth -—then what you’re doing? Why aren’t you helping your country?” I think that reproductive coercion will get much worse.
I want us to discuss some total unity and reconstruction, I want us to keep that unity. One of the most beautiful feelings I am constantly experiencing from the 24th of February is the sense of togetherness. I see many people refraining from the aggression in the comments, saying that they don’t want to have conflicts with each other. I see people refraining from aggression towards discriminated groups etc. They understand that we are all together in what is happening, and there is only one guilty party, right?
And I also wanted to say that questions like, is this the right time for the Istanbul convention? If I recall correctly, it was Yana who said that it is telling that during wartime Ukraine decided to ratify the Istanbul convention — even though it was required etc.
I think it proves that in our country human rights are highly valued and we go forward quickly. If someone told the 17 year old me that I would be a feminist, I would never believe them. That I will have the tattoos I have now, that I will talk with you and spend my evening like this.
But for real, in 2014 I was only 16, so I developed as a person in the post revolutionary Ukraine. That is totally… I think that no other country has experienced what we are living through.
We change so much, we got used to those changes, we move forward so quickly. During the past 8 years in the sphere of human rights, tolerance, inclusion we experienced what other countries did, countries that formed in other contexts and didn’t have Russia as a neighbor, right?
They spent decades walking that path and are still there. Come on! Today, in June 2022, peaceful state of USA decided to overturn the decision on abortions. No one is safe, unfortunately there is no ideal country regarding human rights.
There is no country that resolved the issue once and for all. I think that it’s amazing that the activist community in Ukraine is so strong. Now I see my friends and acquaintances going to different countries to bring the Ukrainian question to the spotlight — from different perspectives. And that is amazing, because we can finally show the world who we are.
Feminist pacifism and a war for independence
Daryna: I also wanted to add to the downside pile… I change the topics quickly but there are plenty of things to discuss.
I wanted to add that in my opinion the main challenge for the feminist community in times of full-scale war in Ukraine is really… We will have to work hard to completely reshape the feminist discourse on war.
There are plenty of pacifist ideas in theoretical and Western feminism. Ideas that define war as the game played by two privileged men that enter some sort of dick-measuring contest, and most vulnerable groups suffer even more.
And I like the words of Tamara Zlobina, editor in chief of “Gender in details”.
She wrote that this discourse doesn’t take into account the defensive war, when you are fighting to protect yourself.
Feminist or not, right now it doesn’t divide us. There are no feminist communities that separated and told that “it’s all boys’ games and I refrain from playing them”.
It is no the kind of war that can be imagined by more privileged well-educated feminists from the western world…
Sending arms that would be used to kill civilians somewhere in the other country, in order to gain access to their natural resources, is different from helping Ukraine that defends itself from the aggressor.
For me the discourse about Ukrainian and Russian cultures, about our voices and contexts, Lately I’ve been trying to explain these things to Europeans, telling them about the position of power,
I mean there are men in a higher position of power and women in a lower position, right? As long as the humanity exists, there is some sort of unconditional trust, unconditional respect men are getting thanks to their higher position in power. Same rings true with the positions of Russia and Ukraine.
Nowadays no one can say that women are worse writers than men, right? Are Ukrainian writers worse than Russians? It still goes down to the fact that their country abused its power.
Yana: I really like our evening feminist gathering, we rock. We are going to have plenty of challenges in literally every sphere. There would be no Ukrainian family that would not be affected by the war in one or the other way.
We all became vulnerable, but getting back to the positions of power, there are vulnerable groups among us that are in even bigger need of protection right now. What looms over them is lack of opportunities, countless problems, lack of protection, financial problems etc.
I work in the inclusivity sphere, and working with disabled people is challenging, as well as helping them to integrate in the new environment — it’s a whole other topic that hurts me on the personal level, as it all is really complicated.
It’s extremely hard to integrate people, and that is relevant now, as there are many internally displaced persons that belong to different categories and thus require different approaches. And how can one create that approach while being in Ukraine, where no place is safe? Rockets may fall anywhere. It is really hard. And stories about people chased by the air attacks when they move to other places and cities, they are really frightening.
For me this war is full of the mysticism I can’t explain to myself. It is a historical reunion of Ukrainians that we fought for. Many people fought and gave their lives for it…
A friend of mine calls us the lost generation. On the contrary, I think that we are the generation that puts in all effort not to lose ourselves.
When it comes to the war challenges, we need to understand that we face one big challenge. We need to cut off all the ties with the aggressor state (russia — edit.) and to understand that we have nothing in common.
As for the feminist movement and the human rights contexts, there is an obvious problem that is going to arise after our victory, after our defenders will go home.
We will rebuild Ukraine: some people that went abroad are going to return to Ukraine, while some will stay. It’s another challenge we have to consider. PTSD that we all have is yet another challenge. Background stress never goes away, it doesn’t mean that it’s more difficult and we’re unlucky, no.I am talking about psychological context. What awaits us is a long, painful recovery that we have to take seriously.
It’s great that psychological help is widespread and works well. They didn’t have it during WWII, during any other war. We didn’t have access to high-quality psychological education, to deeper understanding, and self analysis.
I believe that during the war the minds of Ukrainians underwent complex transformations. It is obvious from many aspects — how we treat each other. What you, Dasha, said, how people try their best, put all their efforts, “don’t say it’s all ruined, hold on a little longer”.
“Russians are the ones to blame, they are guilty”, and that’s it — we should focus their aggression on them.
Our accents have changed: women in the Armed Forces, LGBT+ community in the Armed Forces also need to be discussed. I also believe that Bill 5488 will be publicly discussed. They are also incredibly important things — and they are relevant, terribly relevant.
There will never be better time for it. We need to fight for everything we fought for before. That’s what helps me stay a fanatical optimist, I can find upsides anywhere.
We also need to understand that we live and make history. Historic events happen every day — they are historic as they change the course of the upcoming events. Now Ukraine is in the center of the world, and we need to use it in our feminist activity, to do it right to do it like it was never done before.
I am grateful for that talk. I was glad to meet you, and I thank Feminist Workshop for having us here — it is really cool. I wish us patience and plenty of energy. We came into power, and we have a long way to go. Thank you for everything you’re doing, thank you for today’s talk.
Daryna: Wish you the same. I was glad to talk with you as well. I also wanted to add that we are going to use our power wisely.
Viktoriya: I was glad to talk with you. I am grateful to Feminist Workshop for bringing us here on the girls’ night.
This text was first published in “Feminist workshop”.