In the words of Yuliia Kirillova: “At war, there is no place for stereotypes”
Yuliia Kirillova is a woman veteran from Kyiv, Ukraine and Co-founder of the Women’s Veteran Movement (WVM), an organization delivering humanitarian aid to de-occupied territories and war hot spots across Ukraine. She studied public management and administration at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. After returning from the war, she was able to successfully adapt to the new reality, find herself and support others. She’s currently teaching mediation and conflict resolution at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and fighting for women's rights in the army and beyond.
The war for me started in 2014, when I was 20 years old. I became a volunteer paramedic and traveled to all hot spots in eastern Ukraine. I was wounded and had to retire. But worse than the injury was the fact that my husband, a military serviceman, died during artillery shelling.
Active work and volunteering helped me find the strength to go on. At the same time, I was studying to become a lawyer. I was recovering from trauma and trying to start a new life. But when I would say at a job interview that I was in the army, it would always cause surprise in the room, because many people believe that a woman doesn’t belong in the army. The work for the WVM, which I co-founded, really saved me.
People often say about women in service: ‘She joined the army to find a husband.’ But today, women are getting much more visibility and respect, also thanks to the WVM. We constantly work on advocating for these changes: formal introduction of combat positions for women, the name of the national holiday – the Day of Women and Men Defenders of Ukraine, etc. Society must understand that we have the right to do this and that. At war, there is no place for stereotypes.
At the beginning of the full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation into Ukraine, I was involved in the evacuation of the wounded, and teaching first aid skills. Now, I teach mediation at a university. I love my work, but my key priority today is the social and psychological rehabilitation of women and men veterans as well as women’s leadership. Together with colleagues from the WVM, we recently completed developing the programme of the Unified Standard of Rehabilitation for Veterans. We are also engaged in business-development projects, so that women returning from the front can learn how to start their own businesses.
I urge women veterans to join the WVM because sisterhood is very important today. You might not find your best friends here, but we respect each other; and united by the same goal, we can do so much more.”
Together with UN Women Ukraine, the Women's Veteran Movement implements the “From the strong to the strong” project, where women veterans help civilians overcome anxiety and fear, learn necessary survival skills in conditions of active combat and support psychological health. The activity is implemented within the UN Women project “Transformative Approaches to Achieving Gender Equality in Ukraine” with the support of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration of Ukraine and funded by the Government of Sweden.