3 Ukrainian women describe their lives as volunteer fighters in the Russia-Ukraine war

Business Insider – Deutschland

3 Ukrainian women describe their lives as volunteer fighters in the Russia-Ukraine war

Julia Beil, Nathan Rennolds, Business Insider Deutschland – March 16, 2022

From left to right: Mila Makarova, Marharyta Ruvchachenko, Olga Kharchenko.
From left to right: Mila Makarova, Marharyta Ruvchachenko, Olga Kharchenko. 
  • Three women spoke to Insider about serving in Ukraine’s volunteer Territorial Defense Forces.
  • Mila Makarova and Marharyta Ruvchachenko are in the capital, Kyiv.
  • Olga Kharchenko trains fighters in first-aid medical care in Lviv in the west.
Marharyta Ruvchachenko, 25
Marharyta Ruvchachenko
Ruvchachenko said her PR experience has been useful to her in the military. 

It’s hard being single in war, said Marharyta Ruvchachenko. She often feels alone, saying she wants “that special” support” which sometimes only a partner or family can provide.

She joined the army when the war began, working as a paramedic and helping to coordinate a supply of medicine for Kyiv’s soldiers. She also helps the army to arrange the transport of helmets, bulletproof vests, and binoculars. 

“I’m constantly on the phone,” she said, “with helpers from Ukraine, from abroad, with soldiers.” Sometimes she even drives to the soldiers herself to deliver what they need.

Ruvchachenko has no medical training — only a first-aid course four years ago when she was a student studying literature at Kharkiv. 

She’s a writer and is enrolled in journalism at university in Kyiv. She also works for a Ukrainian newspaper and several PR agencies.

She didn’t expect the war, she said, “but I also didn’t have time to think long. I’m standing by because I’m needed.” 

Her PR experience has been useful to her in the military, she said. “Communication I can do.” 

She writes to well-known business people and founders to ask for donations or other help across social media channels. “I know that suits me better than others here.”

All the work distracts her from her anxiety, she said. “I’m not a scared woman now, I’m a strong woman. That helps me survive.”

Her family is still in her hometown of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine — her parents, grandparents, and 17-year-old sister. She’s afraid for them, “but I think they’re safe,” she added. 

She said her parents are worried for her since she joined Kyiv’s Territorial Defense Forces, but added: “They understand my decision.”

Since making the decision to stay in Kyiv, Ruvchachenko has carried a Kalashnikov rifle. 

“I never held a gun before the war, I never want to use it,” she said. “I don’t want to shoot at anyone. I really don’t.” 

Nor has she had to yet. She’s only seen or heard the Russian tanks, missiles, and explosions from a few miles away. 

She said the city resembles a ghost town in parts but there are still signs of life. “Kyiv is alive,” she said, “this isn’t Gotham City.

“Yesterday I saw a family walking on the street with their little daughter. And in a café next to the hospital, you can still get coffee to go.” 

She’s certain that Kyiv will return to normal soon, stressing that she believed in her people, in their president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and in the soldiers. “We must not give in to our fear,” she said. 

After the war, Ruvchachenko wants to open her own PR agency, travel to South America, and write about the stories of people around the world as a journalist. She also wants to get married and have children.

Mila Makarova, 36
Mila Makarova
Makarova works as a medic for the Ukrainian army in Kyiv. 

Normally, Mila Makarova said she’d feel terrible if she hadn’t jogged in two weeks. Keeping fit has always been important to her. 

Makarova is no longer worried about her fitness, but about how long she’ll stay healthy enough to provide medical care to others. “I hope I stay alive,” said Makarova, who works as a medic for the Ukrainian army in Kyiv.

There, she and her brigade are awaiting the Russian army. “They’re getting closer and closer,” Makarova said. “And we’re realistic.” 

They’re preparing for a situation similar to the one in Irpin, a town on the outskirts of Kyiv, which has endured continuous shelling by the Russian army for days.  

“We don’t expect anything good,” Makarova said of Kyiv. “The Russians could come any hour, any minute.”

Makarova has given first aid to traumatized and wounded people, people injured from shell or bomb fragments. She said she expected that she’d soon have to treat much more serious injuries. 

“I think that we’re dealing with a completely psychopathic group of people who have decided to use all the military ‘toys’ at their disposal. They fire them at peaceful people,” she said.

Makarova once wanted to become a tour guide, guiding tourists through European cities. 

“I love traveling,” she said. Before the war, she’d been to Africa, Asia, and many European countries.

The war put an end to this, however — a war that she believes really began in 2014, the year Vladimir Putin sent his troops to Crimea.

These events radically changed Makarova’s life. Instead of traveling the world, she’s been deeply involved with life in Ukraine instead.

She’s a member of various civil society initiatives, worked with international journalists as a translator in eastern Ukraine, trained as a paramedic, and now joined the military.

She said everyone can see how strong Ukrainian society is, how closely everyone stands together and cares for one another. 

“But the price for us is high,” she added. Many of her good friends have already died, she said. “Wonderful, smart people.” 

She really hopes to stay alive. “But I know that’s not certain.” 

Still, she won’t run away — she’s needed in Kyiv. “But I’m scared.”

Makarova’s boyfriend is on the other side of Kyiv’s Dnepr River and is also part of the Territorial Defense Forces.

“It is possible to get across the river, but it takes a long time,” Makarova said. 

Her commander is extremely reluctant to let her and her colleagues go that far — if the Russian army moved in, they wouldn’t be able to get back.

It would take “hard steps” to stop Russia. Why are people in the West afraid of risking a third world war, she asked. For Ukrainians, she said, it began long ago.

Olga Kharchenko, 36
Olga Kharchenko
Kharchenko served in the army before, from 2016 to 2019. 

A Cat, a dog, and weapons were the main things Olga Kharchenko’s parents packed in when they moved two weeks ago from their apartment in Kyiv to their workplace, the National Academy of Arts of Ukraine. 

The two now live, sleep, and work there. Kharchenko’s mother cooks in the academy for art students and soldiers from Kyiv’s Territorial Defense Forces, while her father guards the building outside, armed with a Kalashnikov.

Olga Kharchenko's parents in Kyiv
Olga Kharchenko’s mother and father (second and third from the left) in Kyiv. 

Their daughter is a medic about 342 miles to the west, in Lviv.

“Here in Lviv, I’m far from the front lines, so we don’t have any wounded to care for right now,” she said.

Instead, she’s currently filling masses of first aid kits for servicemen and women. Kharchenko is also an instructor, giving courses in “Tactical Combat Casualty Care” to the volunteer fighters, showing them how to provide first aid during a firefight.

Getting up early, lining up, being disciplined are nothing new for Kharchenko, who served in the army before, from 2016 to 2019.

She had a very different life before the Russian invasion. 

She studied art history in the academy – where her parents are now staying – and has worked as a game designer, a freelance journalist, and volunteered for an organization fighting for LGBTQ rights in Ukraine. 

Kharchenko rejoined the Territorial Defense Forces on February 28, four days after the invasion. 

The problems in Lviv are different to those in Kyiv. 

“Rents here have skyrocketed,” Kharchenko said, as hundreds of thousands of refugees have flocked to Lviv from all over the country, pushing the city in western Ukraine to the edge of its capacity. 

Her landlord has not increased her monthly rent, however, and even allowed her to have a key made to her apartment for all her friends. “My apartment has become a kind of camp for people who want to go further west because of that.” Right now, two relatives of a friend were living with her. 

Kharchenko had expected that Putin would attack Ukraine before the invasion, she said. Together with her father, she convinced her little sister early on to leave her home in Kyiv. 

“She fled to Prague on February 18,” Kharchenko said. “My sister didn’t believe until the very end that the war would come to Kyiv.”

When asked whether she felt prepared, she said no one can ever fully prepare for war, adding: “War always means shock, pain, and anger.”

Kharchenko didn’t want to make a prediction about what would happen, but added: “We will not give up.”

This is a translation of an article that originally appeared on Business Insider Deutschland on March 12, 2022. It has been edited for length.

Author: John Hanno

Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. Bogan High School. Worked in Alaska after the earthquake. Joined U.S. Army at 17. Sergeant, B Battery, 3rd Battalion, 84th Artillery, 7th Army. Member of 12 different unions, including 4 different locals of the I.B.E.W. Worked for fortune 50, 100 and 200 companies as an industrial electrician, electrical/electronic technician.