Introduction by Amandine Regamey and Brandon M. Schechter (17th Issue Editors)
Keywords :Armed Forces, Chechen War, Great Patriotic War, Afghanistan War, Local Wars, Women, Imperial Russia, Gender, Terrorism, Veterans, World War II, Red Army, World War I, Masculinities, female soldiers, Civil War
OutlineTop of page
- 1 Her picture adorns the cover of Anna Krylova's book Soviet women in combat. A history of violence o (...)
- 2 See for example http://airaces.narod.ru/snipers/w1/pavlichn.htm, http://tov-sergeant.livejournal.co (...)
- 3 The joint Ukrainian-Russian film by Sergei Mokritskii was released in March 2015 in Russia under th (...)
1The photographs that open this PIPSS issue are from two sources. On the left are two photographs of Liudmilla Pavlichenko, a sniper from Soviet Ukraine who fought in Odessa and Sebastopol in 1941-1942. She is credited with 309 kills, the highest score ever for a woman sniper, and was made Hero of the Soviet Union in 1943. After having toured the United States in 1942 to advocate for the opening of a second front, she became a military historian and was very active in Soviet veterans’ and women’s movements. As one of the most famous Soviet women soldiers she is frequently mentioned by historians1, she continues to have a presence on the internet2 and recently became the hero of a film about the battle of Sebastopol3.
- 4 T. Martseniuk, H. Hrytsenko, A. Kvit, M. Berlinska, Nevydymyi batal’ion : uchast’ zhinok u viiskovy (...)
2On the right we see images from a calendar dedicated to the women who serve in or alongside Ukrainian forces in Eastern Ukraine. The calendar was published by the Ukrainian Women Fund with the support of the Ukrainian Ministry of information in 2015, with the aim of highlighting women’s participation in the armed conflict. At the same time, a group of sociologists and feminist activists released a report entitled The Invisible Battalion4, which tackles the different issues raised by women’s integration in the Ukrainian army and their presence on the frontline.
3These images of women in uniform are striking in their variety – from those clearly attempting to preserve a sense of femininity to those emphasizing their combat roles. They also attest to the fact that women’s mobilization and participation in war has been a consistent aspect of modern military conflicts.
- 5 See for example the proceedings of a recent conference on "War and Gender" in this PIPSS issue. See (...)
4We chose to introduce our issue with these photographs not only because they are a sign of the deep historical roots, consistent participation and increasing visibility of women combatants in armed conflicts, but also because the Invisible Battalion report and a multitude of projects featuring women snipers of the Second World War on the internet and in film are characteristic of a growing attention by historians, sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists and indeed the general public to the question of armed women and women fighters all over the world, in conflicts past and present5. In dialogue with the existing literature on the subject (see bibliography) this 17th PIPSS issue contributes to the discussion on women in arms by analysing different aspects of women's participation in war, in the army and in political violence since the late nineteenth century in the Russian, Soviet and post-Soviet space.
- 6 Several cultural productions, books and films, were dedicated to these women in the 1920s and after (...)
5A historical approach allows first to trace the chronology and the different key moments of women’s participation, beginning from the revolutionary movements of the late Tsarist Empire and their terrorist activities (see Anke Hilbrenner’s article on Sofia Perovskaia). After the Tsarist “Women Battalion of Death” of World War I, headed by Maria Bochkareva (whose memoires are reviewed in this issue by Cloé Drieu), women were also active during the Civil War, especially in the ranks of the Red Army6.
- 7 See for example http://podvignaroda.ru/ and https://pamyat-naroda.ru/ (two projects by the Russian (...)
6The largest mobilization of women, though, was the Great Patriotic War, when nearly a million women served in the Red Army between 1941 and 1945. Selected official documents of the period have been made available on-line7 or in published archival collections (ie. RGASPI’s Women of the Great Patriotic War reviewed here by Kerstin Bischl), oral testimonies gathered in projects such as www.iremember.ru, and a growing body of scholarly literature is dedicated to women’s experience during the war (see bibliography). In this PIPSS issue, Brandon Schechter tackles more specifically the question of women’s relationships with men in the Red Army, while Marta Havryshko addresses the same problem of sexual harassment in the Ukrainian political and military organisations (UPA and OUN) who fought against the Soviet forces in Ukraine in the 1940s and 1950s.
7After World War II, women’s participation in the Army was drastically reduced, but some women found their place in this strictly limited context, mainly in administrative or medical positions. As Elena Lysak shows in her research note, they enlisted at a time when enrolment in the army did not necessarily mean an intention to go to war- despite the Soviet involvement in many contexts, war could be beyond the mental horizon of those women who served in the 1970s. By contrast the war in Afghanistan represented a new step, when women choose to join an Army deployed outside the borders of the Soviet Union: this experience is reflected in a video interview by Cloé Drieu and Elisabeth Sieca-Kozlowski with an “Afganka” from Moldova and in Anne Ducloux’s research note on a Muslim woman officer from Uzbekistan.
8These contributions remind us also how important it is not to reduce the Soviet experience to that of Russia, to shift the gaze and to address these issues from the point of view of the different Soviet Republics. This is the task set by Lucia Direnberger, who shows how the representations of women’s ability to take arms changed from the Soviet time to the post-civil war period in Tajikistan.
9Local war of the 1990s and 2000s, especially as they were perceived as defensive wars or as wars against a risk of annihilation, also sparked women’s mobilization, be it in Nagorno-Karabakh (see Nona Shahnazarian’s case study on the war experience of a woman and her interview with a woman colonel), in Chechnya (see Paul Murphys’ Allahs’ Angels reviewed by Amandine Regamey and her research note on the legend of women snipers) or more recently Ukraine.
10The articles, research notes, interviews and book reviews gathered here by PIPSS, beyond the differences in historical context, raise several issues that echo the problems faced by women combatants around the world. At the same time, they encourage us to consider what is specific to the Soviet and post-Soviet situation, both in the policies of mobilizing women and in women's trajectories.
- 8 Pravda, 26 June 1941; quoted by A. Krylova, op. cit, p 101.
11During the Second World war, total war compelled all belligerent nations to mobilize women to replace men on the home front. “Do the job he left behind”, “free a man to fight” claimed US posters calling women to work in factories (1943). According to the same logic, five days after the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Pravda headlines claimed that “Wives, sisters, daughters are replacing their husbands, brothers, fathers in factories and kolkhozes”8. This logic of progressively replacing men, freeing them to serve at the front had a corollary in the progressive replacement of men by women in the army, by entrusting medical, supply and support functions to women.
- 9 "Postanovlenie N. 1488. O mobilizatsii devushek-komsomolok v chasti PVO", 25 March 1942, available (...)
- 10 All these decrees are available on-line on http://www.soldat.ru/doc/gko/.
12The United States created women support and auxiliary corps (WAAC, WAVE, WAC) and the British the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). This logic of replacing men with women was taken furthest in the successive decrees made by the Soviet military. Early in 1942, when the high level of casualties forced the army to resort to new and massive mobilizations, the State Defense Committee (GKO) decided to “mobilize young Komsomol women in the anti-aircrafts units”9 and specified at the same time how to use the male soldiers made available; shortly afterwards, decree N°1618 (18th of April 1942) is taken “to replace men with women in rear area units and institutions of the Red Army Air Force”10.
- 11 G. De Groot, "Whose Finger on the Trigger? Mixed Antiaircraft Batteries and the Female Combat Taboo (...)
13It is worth noting that the first decree on women mobilization is related to anti-aircraft units: when granted the possibility to take arms, women are assigned first to the defence of the inner territory. The same rationale can be seen in Great Britain, where women also served from 1941 in mixed anti-aircraft batteries; the difference, though, is that in Great Britain they were not allowed to pull the trigger and fire the guns11.
- 12 R. Pennington, Wings, Women and War. Soviet Airwomen in World War Two Combat, Lawrence, University (...)
14There was much less reluctance to grant women full-fledged access to the arms in the USSR, and this is one of the main differences between the Soviet and other Allies experiences. Apart from the well-known air force combat units formed in 1941 and from the Women's Voluntary Rifle Brigade created in 194312, women served as bombers, sappers, scouts, tank drivers, etc. Special attention was paid to snipers, with the creation of a Women sniper school in 1943 in Moscow. Moreover, unlike the US or the British army, women did not serve in separate women auxiliary units, but were integrated directly within the different army units.
- 13 A. Krylova, op. cit; O. Nikonova, Vospitanie patriotov : OSOAVIAKHIM i voennaia podgotovka naseleni (...)
15A conjunction of several factors may explain this Soviet particularity: unlike the United States and Great Britain, the Soviet Union fought a war on its own territory, and had lost millions of men in 1941-1942. Moreover, as Anna Krylova has convincingly shown, even if a traditional vision of gender roles predominated under Stalin and motherhood was celebrated as a woman's main accomplishment, there was still some room for other gender scenarios, including the possibility for women to defend their countries with arms in hands. The Komsomol youth, men and women, were called to prepare for war by mastering parachuting, sniping and aviation13, and the role of Komsomol in encouraging women mobilization during the war so as to justify its own role as an institution still remains to be explored.
16However, even if Moscow led a different mobilization policy than its Allies during World War II, the policy of integrating women in the Red Army still raised significant questions and some reluctance on the army level. Will women be able to fight as men? Will the presence of women interfere with men's combat ability; will it embolden men, or, on the contrary, undermine their combat motivation? The presence of women also forced military commanders to manage the relations between men and women at the front, and Brandon Schechter shows how different approaches emerged during the war within the different institutions involved (military, Party, Komsomol).
- 14 A. Regamey, "Nous allons à la chasse aux Fritz et aux myrtilles. Les lettres de la sniper Natalia K (...)
- 15 Interviewee n° 36 in T. Martseniuk and alii, Nevydymyi batal’ion op. cit., p 37.
17These questions are by no mean specific to the Soviet Union – and neither are practical considerations (where will women sleep? how to ensure them separate bath-houses and toilets?) which return recurrently since the war, often as a pretext to exclude women. Sniper Natalia Kovshova who arrived to the front in winter 1942 was asked by her commander to requalify as a nurse under the excuse that there was no place to accommodate her among soldiers14. A colonel interviewed by Elena Lysak remembers that during military exercises in the 1970s he invited a woman medic and “then the problems began” because he didn't know where she should sleep. And the Invisible battalion report on the contemporary Ukrainian army is full of testimonies of women explaining what kind of practical adaptations (showers, toilets, dormitories) had to be made to accommodate their presence in an Army where “nothing is made for women, as if they just do not exist”15.
- 16 T. Martseniuk and alii, Nevydymyi batal’ion op. cit., p 50.
- 17 T. Martseniuk, "'Henderna vіina' za vyznannia u ZSU: marsh 'Nevidimoho batal'ionu' ta vіdpovіd' Mіn (...)
- 18 Ukraine's Female Soldiers Fight For Equality On The Battlefield", Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty(...)
18To what extent do Soviet practices and modes of organization still have an impact in the post-soviet space? Even in Ukraine, which claims to want to break with the Soviet model, there still seems to be the influence of Soviet practices: “commanders who grew up and were trained under the Soviet Union and who have in the head this barrier that a woman is not a soldier, that a woman will not fight”16, lists of positions prohibited to women because they are too dangerous for their reproductive health17, etc. Many claimed during World War II no profanity should be uttered in the presence of “girls” – an Ukrainian military commander training women recruits in 2016 recounts this practice still in place after the collapse of the Soviet Union, noting that women are able to do everything men do, but “with men, I can swear as much as I like, but with women, I just don't have that right”18.
- 19 A. Nemtsova, "Sexist Russia’s Sexpot Spokeswomen", The Daily Beast, 26 March 2016, http://www.theda (...)
19A comparison between Russia and Ukraine, however, also serves to emphasize that the integration of women in the Army can be done along two different models. In Russia, as shown in this PIPSS issue, women integration in the military does not go together with an egalitarian discourse or with feminist claims; on the contrary, certain official statements declare gender equality as harmful. The official discourse on women in uniform may focus more on a motherly model of maternal responsibility (similar to the one held by a Tajik police woman officer in Direnberger) or on the contrary put forward the erotic potential of the body of women in uniform19.
- 20 T. Martseniuk, "Henderna vіina" op. cit.; Ukrainska Zhinocha Varta, "Ministerstvo oborony vyrishylo (...)
- 21 R. Puglisi, "A People’s Army: Civil Society as a Security Actor in Post-Maidan Ukraine", Instituto (...)
20By contrast, in Ukraine, the integration of women in the military, though directly linked with the ongoing war, is supported by a feminist mobilization and claims for equality. A “March of the Invisible battalion” has taken place in front of the Ministry of Defence, which has been openly criticized for discrimination against women and called upon to explain its position20. This investment of women in the military testifies more generally to the role of volunteers in support of the contemporary Ukrainian army21. Indeed, not all women represented on the “Invisible battalion” calendar are fighters: some of them are doctors, nurses, and more generally volunteers who provide a regular material support to the army. These differences between Ukraine and Russia reflect the different situations of civil societies, but are also strengthened by Ukraine's attempts to integrate the Western bloc and to move closer to NATO and its standards. Answering to the “Invisible battalion” protesters in January 2016, the Ukrainian army spokesman explained:
- 22 T. Martseniuk, "Henderna vіina" op. cit.
“Ukrainian Armed Forces move towards reform according to NATO standards. (…) If there are women in the armed forces of the countries which are part of NATO, so we will have female soldiers too.”22
21There may be, thus, certain Soviet and post-Soviet specificities in the way armed women are mobilized and integrated in the army. But if we address the issue of female fighters from the point of view of women experiences, we will find out that women in this region meet the same challenges as they do in many other contexts when they take arms and go to war.
22As a rule, women volunteer to serve and are not subjected to the draft. There may be several reasons behind women's voluntary engagement: patriotic feelings and the urge to defend their country (which can be so strong as to leave a flourishing business, as in Nona Shahnazarian’s interview with Elmira Aghaian); the necessity to ensure their own security against enemy armed groups that prey on civilians ; the will to follow some friends or a family member ; the logical continuation of a political commitment when the country is driven into war, etc. The contributions to these PIPSS issue also remind the importance of family (Lysak) and intergenerational (Shahnazarian) socialization.
- 23 B. Morrissey, When Women Kill. Questions of Agency and Subjectivity, Routlegde, London, New York 20 (...)
23Even if there is a priori no reason to distinguish between men and women incentives to engage voluntarily into the army or in armed groups, women's shift to war and violence are often attributed to private reasons. This is the case in particular for women terrorists, who were nicknamed in Chechnya the “black widows” as they were allegedly taking revenge for the death of their loved ones. Anke Hilbrenner shows that this kind of representations has roots deep in the past: in the later 19th century, the acts of women terrorists were read as essentially dictated by “emotions” rather than political motives. Even if women's violence still remains a social taboo23, the attempt to explain it by a longing to sacrifice or by the manifestation of a “male” character is no longer convincing.
24The question remains though of how to understand women’s motivations, and of what sources can help us to grasp their reasons. Should we look for the “real reasons” behind the explanations given by women, reasons that they may hesitate to acknowledge publicly (economic considerations and the need for the army allowance; the urgency of fleeing difficult family circumstances; the quest for a place in life)? Is the notion of “motivation” the most useful to understand women's decisions to go to war and integrate into an armed group or into the Army?
- 24 Interviewees 27 and 34 in T. Martseniuk and alii, Nevydymyi batal’ion, op cit., p. 35.
25Indeed, the concept of motivation may not be the best to explain how women come to take up arms: it presupposes a rational decision, while there may be a succession of small life turns or even no decision at all. Joining the army or going to the front can be an unconscious process, without real thinking. “A group of seven guys from my town were leaving. Two days before the departure I phoned and said that I’m going with them. I freaked out. Phoned my work, said that I won’t come any more, and left…” says one of the interviewees in the Invisible Battalion report, while another acknowledges that her aspiration “was not formulated, it was not formed, just one day I went to the base [of a military unit] and decided to stay and that’s all”24.
26Furthermore, the concept of “motivation” implies that there is a process of personal thinking resulting in a decision which is then implemented. But this reflexion is not so much a personal one, as it has to take into account the whole social context: the possibilities offered by the army, the reactions of the family circle and the surroundings, representations on gender roles and women fighters, etc. And once the decision (if there is such think as a decision) is taken, it cannot be directly “implemented”, but has to take into account once again all the aforementioned social context. In this regard, even if the reasons why women and men take up arms may be the same, their trajectories are different because the military context they fit into foresees a different role for men and women.
- 25 Interviewee 6 in T. Martseniuk and alii, Nevydymyi batal’ion, op cit., p 45.
27Before going further, one should note that women taking arms are not necessarily driven by an impulse to bend gender roles. On the contrary, they may feel compelled to take arms when they sense that men are not able any more to play their traditional role, the role of defender of the motherland. When she created the “Women Battalion of Death” in 1917, Maria Bochkareva’s aim was to compensate for the failure of men to fight for the Russian Empire; and some women who joined the Ukrainian armed forces after the beginning of the war in 2014 explained that “men, when they see a woman in war, they are ashamed, and if they are not at the front – they go to the front”25.
- 26 Declaration of Comrade Melkin in "Beseda tovarisha Kalinina s devushkami voinami. Stenogramma", 26 (...)
28However, whatever may be the reasons for women to go to the front, they all seem to be confronted by the same problems: defiance, condescension and the constant need to show what they are capable of. “We’ll see how you fight”, “we’ll see how you cope”, Satenik, the heroine of Nona Shahnazarian’s case study was told – and her experience echoes that of a pilot from the female air regiment created by famous pilot Marina Raskova, who remembered at the end of the war: “We met many difficulties during the war. In the beginning, when we arrived at the front, we were faced with the fact that we were not trusted”26.
29This distrust is particularly strong when women try to get out of traditionally female occupations (nurses, auxiliaries) to engage in fighting, but more generally they are summoned to prove that they can cope with the difficult material condition on the frontline.
30A number of recurring arguments (often maintained by women themselves) can thus be heard, regardless of the context, to justify and defend women's access to weapons. In 1944, a delegate of partisan units from the Karelian front thus declared during a Komsomol meeting:
- 27 Declaration by Comrade Makarova, "Materialy soveshchania devushek-partizanok, sostoiavshego v TsK V (...)
“Girls are not inferior to boys in carrying out combat tasks, girls are even more enduring than guys. Often the guys are so tired during marches that the girls even have to carry their belongings and their weapons. In a combat situation, a girl helps the wounded, and then shoots from his weapon.”27
- 28 See for example A. Fantz "Women in combat: More than a dozen nations already doing it", CNN, 20 Aug (...)
31Although the question of physical strength remains a much disputed issue, the idea that women can occupy combat functions is gaining traction, as a number of armies are integrating women into combat functions28. This image of the “professional woman soldier” is gaining ground in media representations. In Ukraine, together with the still dominant representation of the “caring helper”, women in the army are represented as real soldiers, as in this TV newsreel which began with the words:
- 29 “Zhіnky-vіis'kovі u zonі ATO voiuiut' na rіvnі z cholovіkamy”, TSN News, 9 November 2014, available (...)
“They hold their weapons as professionals (..) they can compete with the best-prepared men (…) They are competent in all kinds of defence means and weapons. (…) Because to defend your land is now also a women’s job”.29
32Still, the military is an overwhelmingly masculine institution, women have to negotiate their identities as women-soldiers. The problem of inadequate uniforms often comes up in the various testimonies (uniforms and especially boots too large, no women's underwear, etc.) – and raises the issue of women self-presentation as women and soldiers.
- 30 The self-presentation as "girl (that is "not yet sexually active" –Schechter) can still be utilized (...)
- 31 N. Durova, Cavalry Maiden. Journals of a Russian Officer in the Napoleonic Wars, Bloomington & Indi (...)
- 32 A. Regamey, op. cit.
- 33 Interviewee 4 in T. Martseniuk and alii, Nevydymyi batal’ion op. cit., p 50.
33Two antithetical strategies are often highlighted: to camouflage, look as much as a man as possible, or on the contrary to emphasize one's femininity with classic markers (makeup, nail polish, etc.). In reality, the number of strategies is much richer and more complex. The self-presentation as a “young boy” - that is a person without yet formed sexual characteristics30– was used in the beginning of the 19th century by the well-known Nadezhda Durova, who served in the Tsarist army and went to Borodino disguised as a Cossack31; during World War II, without trying to pretend to be men, young women such as sniper Natalia Kovshova could chose to be called “boys” (malchishki)32. But she also loved to joke about her being a “very frightening soldier” or asking all her family “to stand to attention to talk to her” – humour, indeed, is also a strategy used by women to negotiate their identity and overcome what can be thought as contradictions or stereotypes. “I joked, and asked for military boots with rhinestones” – says one of the women interviewed in the Invisible battalion report, “men's stereotypes absolutely don't bother me”33.
34Still, as both the Invisible battalion report and interviews with female soldiers conducted during the Great Patriotic War show, being a woman in a male environment raises the issue and the risk of sexual harassment. Different contributions to this 17th PIPSS issue tackle the problem of sexual harassment and sexual violence (Schechter, Havryshko), the lack of or contradictory positioning of military authorities and the importance of the local commanders in preventing or encouraging it. Firstly, because more often than not sexual harassment is exerted by officers on their direct subordinate women, who do not have the means to resist and in some cases are not even sure that they have a right to refuse. On the contrary, women often explain that they avoided sexual harassment thanks to the strict positions of the officers: “it depends on the commander, how he sets it” says Elmira Aghaian in her interview with Nona Shahnazarian. Sexual harassment also raises the question of women access to commanding position in armed groups. Marta Havryshko rightly points out that the small number of women in leadership positions in OUN and UPA made them more vulnerable.
- 34 C. Merridale, "Masculinity at war: Did gender matter in the Soviet army?", Journal of War & Culture (...)
35This reference to different positions held by women leads us to a last remark: the numerous common points in women trajectories in armed groups, in spite of different historical and geographical context, do not mean that women experiences are all the same. On the contrary – some factors may be crucial to explain their different trajectories and ability to adapt at the front: while women from rural or worker background groups may have mastered some useful skills (cutting wood, bringing water, etc.), and have had less difficulties to adapt to the difficult material conditions, women with education had an easier access to prestigious positions (snipers, gunners, pilots) – and thus more chances to assert their rights than the women who served as auxiliaries or nurses. And finally, while gender certainly did matter in the Red Army as it does matter now, gender was one of many aspects, including class, nationality and age, that impacted soldiers’ experiences and could serve as sources of inequality34.
36Finally, there seems to be a last common point in the trajectories of women fighters: their situation after the war. Indeed, war often appears as a period where gender roles are temporarily disrupted, to be restored, sometimes even more stringently, in the post-war period.
37War is undoubtedly a period where, in spite of the difficulties, women get new opportunities and acquire new competences. Satenik, interviewed by Nona Shahnazarian, never studied medicine but feels “as if [she] graduated from a medical faculty”. A girl who served in an anti-aircraft unit testified before USSR President Mikhail Kalinin in 1945 that
- 35 Declaration by Comrade Andronova, in "Beseda tovarishcha Kalinina s devushkami voinami. Stenogramma (...)
38“the Army transformed us completely. Before the Army we were naive, we didn't know anything (...). Now we have become firm, and it seems to me that now those girls who go on demobilization from our front, they are not going to get lost in life”.35
39Women who served in the army in different combat and non-combat positions can boast skills and competencies that they did not have before the war. What Oksana Kis writes about Ukrainian women who served in the Ukrainian Nationalist underground applies in fact to other contexts:
- 36 O. Kis, "National Femininity Used and Contested: Women’s Participation in the Nationalist Undergrou (...)
“A great number of peasant women acquired a previously inaccessible education. They studied history, geography, nationalist ideology, espionage, journalism, publishing, and medicine in the underground. Thousands of young peasant girls—otherwise doomed to stay in their home villages for most of their lives—were able to travel around the region and beyond.”36
40In the case of Ukraine, these women had no opportunities to implement their new skills, as the movement to which they belonged was defeated and they themselves, more often than not, repressed. But even in case of victory, there seems to be little room for women and the new roles they have acquired in post-war societies.
- 37 R. Pennington, "'Do Not Speak of the Services you Rendered'. Women veterans of Aviation in the Sovi (...)
41Confronted with the necessity to reintegrate tens of thousands of men, who have learned to master the arms and can make use of violence, post-war states focus on this necessity and urge them to take back the place they occupied before the war – even it means sending women back to their pre-war activities and to traditional gender roles. What happened in the Soviet Union, where women soldiers were asked not to boast about their military deeds37 and where very few were able to stay in the military, is not an exception at all.
- 38 "Spravka o voprosakh, sviazannykh s demobilizatsiei iz Armii voennosluzhashchikh pervoi i vtoroi oc (...)
42Very common to all post-conflict situations also are the prejudices against women, who served in the army, and are accused of having serviced the men rather than served with the men. In post-war Soviet Union these rumours were so pervasive that a report emanating from Soviet forces in Germany in October 1945 worried about the mood of demobilized girls who had heard about how they were slandered back home and had resolved not to wear their medals for fear of being accused of not having earned them honestly38. Fifty years later, when Nona Shahnazarian investigated the military experience of Satenik, people remember her as “the lover of field Commander D.”.
- 39 O. Kis, op. cit., p 56.
43These rumours thus go together with a questioning of the military experience and military value of women. The erasure of women's role is particularly visible in the memory policy: in Western Ukraine for example, among all monuments, street names or others memory places established since 1991 to honour OUN and UPA, there is none celebrating women fighters39. And though there were women heroes of the Soviet Union after World War II, there is not a single woman listed in the memory books published in Uzbekistan (Ducloux) or Tajikistan (Direnberger). As Anne Ducloux reminds us, “Mamura”, about whom she writes is known not for her military deeds or her activity on the frontline (she served as propaganda officer) but for her love story with a Russian officer who converted to Islam.
44Thus, the dominant tone in the testimonies of women after the war is often one of disillusionment, as shown by the two women interviewed by Nona Shahazarian : “tomorrow is May 9, I was not invited anywhere” complains the first female colonel in the Caucasus , while the other interviewee was haunted by “the impression that all I had done… wasn’t needed by anybody”.
45While bullets and shrapnel find their victims indiscriminately, war affects men and women differently. Whether or not “War’s Face is Unwomanly” as Svetlana Alekseivich has famously claimed, is not for us to say. What is clear is that notions of gender have a profound impact on the mobilization, war time experience and demobilization of women. War and participation in asymmetrical violence provide women with opportunities to assert themselves in a variety of ways but also expose them to dangers both mortal and moral. Whether these dynamics of difference will be overcome is yet to be seen, but what is clear is that women will continue to have a significant role to play in conflicts in our region and around the world.
1 Her picture adorns the cover of Anna Krylova's book Soviet women in combat. A history of violence on the eastern front, New-York, Cambridge University Press, 2010; see also R. D. Markwick, E. Charon-Cardona, Soviet Women on the Frontline in the Second World War, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012 ; A. Froula, "Free a man to fight: the figure of the female soldier in World War II popular culture", Journal of War and Culture Studies, Vol. 2, # 2, 2009.
2 See for example http://airaces.narod.ru/snipers/w1/pavlichn.htm, http://tov-sergeant.livejournal.com/10655.html, http://www.narpolit.com/history/dzhentelmeny_pryatalis_za_eio_spinoiy_00-11-35.htm, https://www.proza.ru/2013/08/03/1616, http://top-antropos.com/history/20-century/item/1018-lyudmila-pavlichenko, etc. (all references last accessed 02 May 2016).
3 The joint Ukrainian-Russian film by Sergei Mokritskii was released in March 2015 in Russia under the title "Bitva za Sevastopol'" (The Battle for Sebastopol) and in Ukraine under the title "Nezlamna" (Unbreakable).
4 T. Martseniuk, H. Hrytsenko, A. Kvit, M. Berlinska, Nevydymyi batal’ion : uchast’ zhinok u viiskovykh diiakh v ATO, December 2015, available at http://uwf.kiev.ua/publications (last accessed 02 May 2016). English version at http://uwf.kiev.ua/files/Research_Invisible_battalion-EN.pdf (last accessed 02 May 2016). Quotes are from the ukrainian version, our translation.
6 Several cultural productions, books and films, were dedicated to these women in the 1920s and after. The best-known figure is Anka-Pulemetchitsa from the film Chapaev by the Vassiliev brothers (1934) – this fictional character was inspired in particular by a real Bolshevik militant, Anna Furmanova (see J. Morton, "Fighting for a Role: The Lives of Anka-Pulemetchitsa", BPS Working Papers Series, 2015, http://iseees.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/u4/2015_8-morton.pdf (last accessed 2 May 2016). See also the fictional figure of sharpshooter Mariutka, who falls in love with a White Army prisoner and finally kills him ("Sorok-Pervyi" (The Forty-First), novel by B. Lavrenev, 1924, and film by G. Chukhrai, 1956), and Klavdia Vavilova who leaves her new-born child with a family to continue the fighting ("V Gorode Berdycheve" (In the Town of Berdychev)", 1934, novel by V. Grossman, and film " Komissar" by Askoldov, 1967).
7 See for example http://podvignaroda.ru/ and https://pamyat-naroda.ru/ (two projects by the Russian Ministry of Defence). This of course does but very partially compensate the fact that the military archives (TsDAGO) still are not freely accessed to by researchers.
8 Pravda, 26 June 1941; quoted by A. Krylova, op. cit, p 101.
9 "Postanovlenie N. 1488. O mobilizatsii devushek-komsomolok v chasti PVO", 25 March 1942, available on http://teatrskazka.com/Raznoe/PostanovGKO/194203/gko_1488.html (last accessed 02 May 2016).
11 G. De Groot, "Whose Finger on the Trigger? Mixed Antiaircraft Batteries and the Female Combat Taboo " in War in History, Vol. 4, # 4, 1997; D. Campbell, “Women in Combat : The World War II Experience in the United States, Great Britain, Germany, and the Soviet Union”, The Journal of Military History, Vol. 57, # 2, 1993, pp. 301-323.
12 R. Pennington, Wings, Women and War. Soviet Airwomen in World War Two Combat, Lawrence, University Press of Kansas, 2001; R. D. Markwick, E. Charon-Cardona, “‘Our brigade will not be sent to the front’: Soviet Women under Arms in the Great Fatherland War, 1941–45", The Russian Review, vol. 68, # 2, April 2009, pp. 240–262.
13 A. Krylova, op. cit; O. Nikonova, Vospitanie patriotov : OSOAVIAKHIM i voennaia podgotovka naseleniia v ural'skoi provintsii, 1927-1941, Moscow, Novyi khronograf, 2010; S. Bernstein, Communist Upbringing under Stalin: The Political Socialization and Militarization of Soviet Youth, 1934-1941, Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Toronto, 2013, https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/bitstream/1807/70050/5/Bernstein_Seth_F_201311_PhD_thesis.pdf (last accessed 02 May 2016).
14 A. Regamey, "Nous allons à la chasse aux Fritz et aux myrtilles. Les lettres de la sniper Natalia Kovshova" in E. Koustova (ed.), Relater la guerre sur le front Est, Strasbourg, PUS, 2016 (forthcoming).
15 Interviewee n° 36 in T. Martseniuk and alii, Nevydymyi batal’ion op. cit., p 37.
16 T. Martseniuk and alii, Nevydymyi batal’ion op. cit., p 50.
17 T. Martseniuk, "'Henderna vіina' za vyznannia u ZSU: marsh 'Nevidimoho batal'ionu' ta vіdpovіd' Mіnoborony', Povaha, 1 February 2016, http://povaha.org.ua/henderna-vijna-za-vyznannya-u-zbrojnyh-sylah-marsh-nevydymoho-bataljonu-ta-vidpovid-ministerstva-oborony/ (last accessed 05 March 2016).
18 Ukraine's Female Soldiers Fight For Equality On The Battlefield", Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, 8 March 2016, http://www.rferl.org/media/video/ukraine-women-soldiers-military/27598616.html.
19 A. Nemtsova, "Sexist Russia’s Sexpot Spokeswomen", The Daily Beast, 26 March 2016, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/03/26/sexist-russia-s-sexpot-spokeswomen.html (last accessed 2 May 2016).
20 T. Martseniuk, "Henderna vіina" op. cit.; Ukrainska Zhinocha Varta, "Ministerstvo oborony vyrishylo shche raz vіdpovіsti UZhV", February 2016, http://uzv.org.ua/ministerstvo-oboroni-virishilo-shhe-raz-vidpovisti-uzhv/ (last accessed 2 May 2016). See also the facebook community "zhinky na viini", https://www.facebook.com/women.war/?fref=ts (last accessed 2 May 2016).
21 R. Puglisi, "A People’s Army: Civil Society as a Security Actor in Post-Maidan Ukraine", Instituto Affari Internazionale Working Papers, 15-23 July 2005, http://www.iai.it/en/pubblicazioni/peoples-army (last accessed 2 May 2016) ; I. Shukan, "Caring for Wounded Soldiers: The 'Sisters of Mercy' in Eastern Ukraine", Conference presentation (video), 11th Danyliw Seminar, 24 October 2015, http://www.danyliwseminar.com/#!ioulia-shukan/f5uuq (last accessed 2 May 2016).
22 T. Martseniuk, "Henderna vіina" op. cit.
23 B. Morrissey, When Women Kill. Questions of Agency and Subjectivity, Routlegde, London, New York 2003; L. Sjoberg, C. Gentry, Mothers, Monsters, Whores: Women’s Violence in Global Politics, London, Zed Books, 2007; C. Regina, La violence des femmes. Histoire d'un tabou social, Paris, Max Milo Edition, 2011; C. Cardi, G. Pruvost (eds.), Penser la violence des femmes, Paris, La Découverte, 2012.
24 Interviewees 27 and 34 in T. Martseniuk and alii, Nevydymyi batal’ion, op cit., p. 35.
25 Interviewee 6 in T. Martseniuk and alii, Nevydymyi batal’ion, op cit., p 45.
26 Declaration of Comrade Melkin in "Beseda tovarisha Kalinina s devushkami voinami. Stenogramma", 26 July 1945, RGASPI Fond M1 opis 5 delo 245, list 6.
27 Declaration by Comrade Makarova, "Materialy soveshchania devushek-partizanok, sostoiavshego v TsK VLKSM 19 ianvaria 1944 goda", RGASPI Fond M1 opis 53 delo 14, list 23.
28 See for example A. Fantz "Women in combat: More than a dozen nations already doing it", CNN, 20 August 2015, http://edition.cnn.com/2015/08/20/us/women-in-combat-globally; M. Rosenberg, D. Philipps, "All Combat Roles Now Open to Women, Defense Secretary Says", New York Times, 3 December 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/04/us/politics/combat-military-women-ash-carter.html?_r=0; A. Mulrine, "As Pentagon opens combat roles to women, what are special forces' concerns?", Christian Science Monitor, 30 December 2015, http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Military/2015/1230/As-Pentagon-opens-combat-roles-to-women-what-are-special-forces-concerns (all references last accessed 2 May 2016).
29 “Zhіnky-vіis'kovі u zonі ATO voiuiut' na rіvnі z cholovіkamy”, TSN News, 9 November 2014, available on http://tsn.ua/video/video-novini/zhinki-viyskovi-u-zoni-ato-voyuyut-na-rivni-z-cholovikami.html (last accessed 2 May 2016).
30 The self-presentation as "girl (that is "not yet sexually active" –Schechter) can still be utilized by the army. For example, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence posts photographs of women wearing hair-bows similar to those worn by girls at schools: https://www.facebook.com/theministryofdefence.ua/photos/pb.207023122693534.-2207520000.1441793064./956797147716124/?type=3&theater (last accessed 2 May 2016).
31 N. Durova, Cavalry Maiden. Journals of a Russian Officer in the Napoleonic Wars, Bloomington & Indianapolis, Indiana University Press, 1988.
32 A. Regamey, op. cit.
33 Interviewee 4 in T. Martseniuk and alii, Nevydymyi batal’ion op. cit., p 50.
34 C. Merridale, "Masculinity at war: Did gender matter in the Soviet army?", Journal of War & Culture Studies, Vol 5, # 3, p 310. Merridale concludes that it did not.
35 Declaration by Comrade Andronova, in "Beseda tovarishcha Kalinina s devushkami voinami. Stenogramma", 26 July 1945, RGASPI Fond M1 opis 5 delo 245, list 4.
36 O. Kis, "National Femininity Used and Contested: Women’s Participation in the Nationalist Underground in Western Ukraine during the 1940s-50s", East/West: Journal of Ukrainian Studies, Vol. 2, # 2, 2015.
37 R. Pennington, "'Do Not Speak of the Services you Rendered'. Women veterans of Aviation in the Soviet Union”, Journal of Slavic Military studies, Vol 9, # 1, 1996, pp. 120-151; A. Krylova, “‘The Healers of Wounded Souls’: The Crisis of Private Life in Soviet Literature, 1944-1946”, The Journal of Modern History, # 73, June 2001, pp. 307-331.
38 "Spravka o voprosakh, sviazannykh s demobilizatsiei iz Armii voennosluzhashchikh pervoi i vtoroi ocheredi, utverzhdena nachal'nikom politupravlenii Sovetskikh okkupatsionnykh voisk v Germanii General-leitenant Pronin" 11 October 1945, RGASPI Fond M1, opis 47 delo 193, list 49.
39 O. Kis, op. cit., p 56.Top of page
Amandine Regamey and Brandon M. Schechter, « Introduction by Amandine Regamey and Brandon M. Schechter (17th Issue Editors) », The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies [Online], Issue 17 | 2016, Online since 06 May 2016, connection on 22 February 2017. URL : http://pipss.revues.org/4256Top of page
CC BY-NC-ND 2.0Top of page