There’s an incident that has already become legend, an older woman in the city of Henichesk, along the Sea of Azov in Ukraine, walked up to a group of Russians soldiers and the following exchange occurred: 

WOMAN: Who are you?

SOLDIER: We have exercises, please go away.

WOMAN: What kind of exercises? Are you Russian?

SOLDIER: Yes.

WOMAN: So, what the fuck are you doing here?

SOLDIER: Right now, our discussion will lead to nothing.

WOMAN: You are occupants. You are fascists! What the fuck are you doing on our land with all these guns?  Take these seeds and put them in your pockets, so at least sunflowers (the Ukrainian national flower, the yellow on the Ukrainian flag) will grow when you all lie down [dead] here.

SOLDIER: Right now, our discussion will lead to nothing.  Let’s not escalate this situation, please.

WOMAN: What situation?  Guys, guys. Put the sunflower seeds in your pockets, please. You lie down here with these seeds.  You came to my land.  Do you understand? You are occupiers. You are enemies.

SOLDIER: Yes.

WOMAN: And from this moment, you are cursed.  I’m telling you. 

The woman’s steely resolve will go down in the annals, an act of incredible bravery and defiance in the face of impossible odds. On its face, it seems like an extraordinary act, and it is, but it’s also emblematic of the Ukrainian peoples’ spirit and lust for freedom. A freedom we often pay lip service to while taking for granted in the United States; a freedom the Ukrainian people are willing to give their lives for. None exemplify this devotion more than the women warriors of Ukraine.  

In the aftermath of Russia’s successful 2014 invasion of Crimea, Ukraine began a thorough overhaul of its military.  It was immediately clear after Crimea that the Ukrainian military wasn’t up to the task of protecting its sovereign borders, especially in such a dangerous part of the world. The government of Ukraine implemented a series of changes meant to improve the readiness and efficacy of their military. They upgraded their weapons, modernized their equipment and, most critically, encouraged the women of Ukraine to join their ranks.  

Today, 15% of Ukrainian soldiers are women. These are not women in logistical support roles or other rear guard jobs. The female soldiers of Ukraine are frontline warriors, side by side with their male counterparts. They are officers and snipers (women tend to be better sharpshooters than men). They are critical combat warriors engaged in repelling the Russian hordes trying to steal their country.  

But they are not just professional combat soldiers. Since the war began, Ukrainian women have volunteered to join the Territorial Defense Forces (TDF) — urban defense battalions trained to defend their cities. These women are defending local infrastructure in towns and cities throughout Ukraine, using explosives, firearms and other defensive capabilities. They are ordinary citizens, not trained soldiers. Their terror is no doubt visceral and overwhelming, and though they are teachers, doctors, even ballerinas, they fight like warriors.

Lesya Vorotnyk

Lesya Vorotnyk, a dancer at the Kiev National Opera, demonstrated this with a photograph holding an AK-47 rifle, an image that quickly went viral, highlighting her commitment and courage.

Leading this fight for freedom is Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.  But he does not lead alone.  A few days ago, Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska sent out a message that read, ‘I will not have panic and tears. I will be calm and confident. My children are looking at me. I will be next to them. And next to my husband. And with you’. It’s a sentiment that embodies the spirit of Ukraine’s women; I will not panic, I will not wilt nor will I cower, I will fight for my children, my family and my country.”

Ukrainians have demonstrated an uncommon bravery, and none exemplify that more than the women of their nation. Whether they are combat soldiers, volunteers, ordinary civilians and mothers or political leaders, they have proven themselves to be among the most courageous warriors in history. They will be in our thoughts and prayers. And they will never be forgotten.

About the Author: Adam Kaufman is a native New Yorker, freelance writer and editor. Adam writes about topics closest to his heart, including politics, culture and mental health. He is currently working on a memoir based on real-time blogs from the road; about his experiences as a homeless man traveling the country. His work can be found at https://theadamkaufman.substack.com/

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