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If we don’t stand up now, our kids will be forced to do it later, says Marta Iuzkiv, a territorial defence reservist.

In a special interview for Eastern Flank , she explains how Putin’s partisans inspired her to join the battalion, why she’s looking forward to weekly shooting practice, and if she has an emergency plan in case of a full-scale military action.

The material was prepared as a part of the East Flank program, a joint project by Censor.NET and the Independent Anti-Corruption Commission (NAKO).

What was your reaction to the news about military registration for women?

It is no longer applicable to me as I’m already registered, but my reaction was simple, as I think it’s a very timely and reasonable step. Most people in my circle found it positive, too. At the same time, I see huge opposition from people who don’t understand it as it wasn’t communicated well. The information about the duty to register was published prior to any explanation about the registration procedure itself.

Where were you when the war started in 2014?

I was in Kyiv; two of my kids were under seven. The war came as a big surprise for me even though I was actively participating in EuroMaidan and I was carefully following the situation. For me, it was surreal.

What did you do at EuroMaidan?

First, we lived near the Maidan [Kyiv’s Independence Square], so we came there every critical night, December 9 and 11, then in January, and all Sunday gatherings. During the night, my husband stood on the barricades and I assisted at the medical point. On January 23, my elder son was arrested by the Berkut, so the next day we were searching for him at police stations. Fortunately, he was fine. As we were told, the Berkut first arrested those who posed any danger, but my son was just a skinny student. So they kept him for a little while and let him go. After the January 16th laws, I realized that they would destroy us one by one unless we stood up.

Following the annexation of the Crimea and the start of the war in the Donbas, I started volunteering, mainly by donating money. I also hosted a family of my friends with kids who fled Donetsk.

You joined the territorial defence. Why did you choose it over the volunteer movement or the Armed Forces?

I think not everyone’s ready. If it wasn’t for two elderly mothers, mine and my husband’s, and two small kids... Probably I wasn’t ready to leave them. Territorial defence is a great alternative for people who would like to be ready but cannot go to the front line for some reason. At the same time, sometimes I still regret my decision to stay.

When did you decide to join the territorial defence and sign the contract?

I didn’t even know there was such a thing. I was prompted by the article Partisans for Putin published on Ukrainska Pravda during another escalation at the Ukrainian border when Russia brought their troops to it. I got the necessary contact information, gathered all the papers, and went to sign the contract within a week. It was rather quick.

What should happen to a person to turn them from a passive witness to an active participant in the war?

It is not about active or passive participation in the war. We’ve been in an open war for over seven years and we’ve been fighting for our identity for more than 300 years. My civic position had been developing step by step since the age of 18. It only takes a bit of activism in any sphere to be called a citizen, like helping cancer survivors, homeless animals, the army, veterans.

My son is three times younger than yours but I’m still worried about protecting kids against a full-scale threat. How do you feel when you think about it, as you will be going to fight then?

I also think about it but it’s impossible to imagine a full-scale invasion or bombings before it happens. What I know for sure is that I don’t wish to live under an occupation. Our kids will be forced to do it for sure unless we stand up now. It would be good to protect them from such a development. We will evacuate our elderly moms and kids and my husband and I will stay here. Now, we know where to go and what to do.

Had you ever held an assault rifle in your hands or had any military training before you joined the territorial defence?

I finished a Soviet school and we had some military training. We practiced shooting and disassembling AK assault rifles. However, that was a long time ago, so weapons have always been a terra incognita for me. It was very unusual to take it in my hands. I took some courses at the military department of the medical university. Again, that was in the 1990s and it was so quite different from today. It was hard to imagine what the Army looks like from inside. In the territorial defence, they understand that we are civilian members, so they take a bit of a different approach to the training. But actually, at the beginning, it took me about an hour to dissemble, clean, and assemble the rifle.

We study moving, interacting in big and small groups, guarding facilities, ambush and counter-ambush techniques. We also have shooting days and tactical medicine lessons. Of course, I like medicine best as I graduated from the Kyiv Medical University with a specialization in anesthesiology and intensive care, but I joined academia almost immediately after my internship.

Now I work in clinical trials. Before that, I worked on issues of pathophysiology at the Bohomolets Institute of Physiology. My current project is related to cancer, it is about clinical trials of drugs before they enter the market.

Before you were sent to the training, there were some problems related to ‘lack of appropriate conditions for women.’ How was it settled?

Our full names were submitted in advance, so they could tell who was a man or a woman. However, our commander called half a day before the training. He apologized and said he is not allowed to take women to the training as the area is not equipped in an appropriate manner. It was a field training area with a tent camp. We got very upset and tried to convince him that we didn’t need any special conditions. Probably, there are certain military rules that toilets and showers should be provided. Our fellow unit member Oleksiy said that we cannot just forget the matter as it is total gender discrimination and it should be resolved. So he approached the Gender Advisor of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. In the morning, they said go ahead and we joined the training. Indeed, there were designated toilets and separate showers at the training area.

Is there any gender discrimination in your unit? Do women get easier assignments or all are equal?

We are different from regular units. Women are highly motivated. I think it equally applies to all women who join the army today. In our unit, nobody was forced to join it. All of us came voluntarily. Therefore, both men and women are motivated. Do we feel any discrimination? Quite the opposite, there is a feeling that we are a family where all members are equal. Probably, our men are often prompted to offer us a hand, but it is just a reasonable sense of delicacy, nothing more.

You are raising three sons, giving them an example or model of a strong and independent woman capable of disassembling an AK rifle and defending her home and country. Going outside, they see a totally different picture, like the March 8 International Women’s Day holiday at school, men’s and women’s roles in society, etc. How do you explain to them that their mother is like this, but some women and girls are different?

I believe that rules of etiquette should be preserved, like letting a woman go first, offering her a hand. These are just good manners. My children are very well aware that there are no men's or women’s duties. They can perform any kind of work and they must do it. There is no such thing as women cooking borshch while men are defending the land. Yes, guys can face different things, but we discuss it in detail at home.

If a woman is not ready to stand on equal ground with men, it’s her personal choice, she is still captured by patriarchal stereotypes. However, we should fight it as a society.

By Iryna Sampan

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