Wissot: Russian invaders no match for combat-ready women
Kyra Rudik, a member of the Ukrainian parliament, was planning to plant tulips in her backyard the week before Russian troops invaded her country. Today she is learning how to use a Kalishnikov and joining thousands of other Ukrainians who have never fired a gun in their lives. Now they form the backbone of Ukraine’s heroic resistance to Russian aggression.
She’s also part of Ukraine’s “formidable, not so-secret-weapon: women.” Ukrainian women were granted the right to fight in combat in 2016. Today Ukrainian women comprise 22.5 % of the country’s military. By comparison in the U.S., that figure is 14.4%.
For Ukrainians, the issue isn’t one of gender equity but of military necessity. In a war where civilian resistance will play a large part in the ultimate outcome, all hands on deck means all able-bodied men and women.
Among the citizen volunteers in this war are not only women but women of all ages. A video of 79-year-old Valentya Kostyantynovska, proudly holding her Kalishnikov, has gone viral. She is quoted as saying, “it was her dream to take up arms and fight for her country.”
The women bring a set of skills to the war that goes beyond the tools typically employed in military combat: they can use their voices to publicly scold and shame the very young and very inexperienced Russian soldiers entering their villages and towns. Addressing these young men as if they were their own sons and grandsons, the women tell them to call their mothers back in Russia and explain why they are fighting. Some employ intimidation tactics. One woman told a group of soldiers to put sunflower seeds in their pockets“ so they would grow when they died.”
Russia certainly has all the advantages when it comes to troop numbers and military might. But it lacks the one crucial element that Ukraine has going for it: a motive for fighting this war. The Russian invaders are there because Putin sent them. The Ukrainians are there because this is their homeland and they are willing to die to protect and preserve it.
These Ukrainians are not scared. They are angry, pissed at Putin for attacking them without cause and with no regard for civilian casualties. Collateral damage can’t be assessed when the entire population of a country is considered a military target.
Putin’s desire to attain dominion over Ukraine by decimating it may ultimately prove to be his undoing. It is one thing to defeat an adversary on the battlefield; it is another to govern an entire nation of hostile hostages once the military has accomplished its objectives. The Soviets experienced that in Afghanistan in the 1980s, as did we for the last two decades. Insurgencies favor the conquered more than the conqueror.
Ukrainians are no strangers to invasion and occupation. More than 8 million Ukrainians were killed by the Nazis during the Second World War. When the Germans first occupied Kyiv in 1940, they were treated most inhospitably by their Ukrainian captives. The Nazis quickly grabbed the city’s premier hotels for their headquarters until “those hotels started to blow up. They had been booby trapped.” The Russians can expect to encounter the same level of bloody resistance the Nazis received if their troops capture the three largest large population centers, Kyiv, Kharkiv and Odessa.
As one acute observer of the leverage held by saboteurs put it, “All it takes is a handful of assassinations to unsettle the whole occupation.”
While Putin is frustrated by the ineptitude of the Russian military, his soldiers are sure to be outmatched and outwitted by the formidable resistance which awaits them as occupiers. They may be prepared for armed hand-to-hand combat as they go street by street and block by block. But they certainly won’t expect to be fired upon from an open house window by a Kalishnikov toting grandmother hell bent on killing as many “Russkies “ as she can.
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.