The Amazing Ukrainian Woman
Ukrainian women have long been acclaimed for their physical beauty. Even in the Soviet days, women from Ukraine were considered the most beautiful of all the socialist republics. What is too often overlooked is that the Ukrainian woman is far more than just a pretty face. She must wear several masks – sometimes all at once. With the nation mobilised and many men off fighting a war in Eastern Ukraine, the roles of Ukrainian woman have become even more amplified.
Modern Ukrainian women have become leaders in virtually every sphere, even those long dominated by men. You’ll find highly influential female politicians, business leaders, reformers, and even warriors. At the same time, Ukrainian women are expected to keep up their more traditional roles as doting wives, loving mothers, and talented fashionistas. To mark International Women’s Day, we wanted to honour just a few of the roles Ukrainian women play in everyday life. These women are representative of hundreds of thousands of others that perform similar roles in their own communities across Ukraine. This is our way of saying Happy International Women’s Day to all of Ukraine’s amazing women.
“Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy; it is absolutely essential to it.” – American social activist Howard Zinn
The reformer actively seeks to bring about positive changes in their society. She organises non-profit events, protests issues she cares about, and vocally tackles the issues that matter to her. Anna Kalynchuk, the young lawyer from Lviv region, is just one example of many reformers in Ukraine. The 23-year-old was tapped last year to head the government’s anti-corruption office. Despite cries of inexperience, Kalynchuk had helped set-up the department she would head and was deputy head at the time of her appointment. Just a few years removed from graduation, she is a testament of what a commitment to a cause can bring about. Others deserving mention: 27-year-old Yulia Marushevska became an internet celebrity during the Euromaidan and is the ex-head of the Odesa Customs Service, while the protest group FEMEN has become renowned worldwide for shedding light on important women’s issues like sex tourism and sexism through topless protesting.
“We wanted the freedom to love. We wanted the freedom to choose. Now we have to fight for it.” – American author Lauren Oliver
The fighter is a woman not only ready to physically stand up for her beliefs, but she also has the will, courage, and determination to stand up for what she believes in. Perhaps the most well-known in Ukraine is former army pilot Nadiya Savchenko. The 35-year-old politician became famous for her vocal defiance while illegally imprisoned in Russia. But she made a name for herself long before that, becoming Ukraine’s first female pilot in a sphere that was more male-dominated than most. There are so many fighters to choose from in this country. We should mention journalist Tetiana Chornovol, whose investigative pieces nearly cost her her life in 2014, and all of the brave women fighting in the armed forces right now including former Lviv National University student Yana Zinkevych, who gave up her studies to become a decorated war hero.
“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” – Classical Greek philosopher Plato
The politician is a woman who stands up to reform the system from within. She not only understands the system in which she lives, but understands how to best represent the interests of her communities. Once again, there is no shortage of talented Ukrainian women to choose from, but let’s take Lviv region MP Hanna Hopko as an example. Hopko started out as a reformer, founding a NGO that specialised in anti-tobacco laws. She headed the party list of Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadoviy’s Self-Reliance Party and was elected to parliament in 2014, where she was subsequently named head of the Foreign Affairs committee. While no longer with the party, she is still an active legislator and co-founder of the ‘reanimation’ package of reforms. There are many Ukrainian women in positions of political power in Ukraine, including Svitlana Zalischuk, the former press secretary of the Presidential Secretariat and current co-chair of the Democratic Alliance Party, and Lesya Orobets, who was elected at 24 years old and finished runner-up to Vladimir Klitschko in the Kyiv mayoral election.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Former South African President Nelson Mandela
The academic is a woman interested in a scholarly understanding of how the world works. She offers her knowledge, experience, and wisdom to the world in order to make it a better place. Ukraine abounds with intelligent women, so it is arbitrary to choose only one. Yet Olga Brovarets, a leading researcher in the fields of molecular and quantum biophysics, seems a better choice than most. The 28-year-old doctor not only became the youngest PhD in Ukraine, she made a groundbreaking discovery in DNA mutation that will help fight against diseases like cancer. She has already won the President’s Prize for Young Scientists and has her eyes set on an even bigger prize – a Nobel. Other Ukrainian women worthy of mention in this category are the former world champion chess whiz from Lviv region, Mariya Muzychuk, lawyer and politician Olena Sotnyk, and famous investigative journalist Natalie Sedletska.
“Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.” – Classical Chinese philosopher Confucius
The artist is a woman that produces work of an artistic or aesthetic value. Her work acts as a healing force in life, as a place to find enjoyment from the tedium of routine. As is the theme of the Amazing Ukrainian Woman, there are no shortage of artists in Ukraine – and many here could just as easily fall into other categories. Let’s take Jamala for example. The Crimean songstress mesmerised Europe last year on the way to winning Eurovision 2016. But she has also advocated issues related to her Tartar heritage for years. The People’s Artist of Ukraine was recently nominated by Ukraine to be a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. Of the many talented women that deserve to be listed here, let’s highlight the beautiful Vera Brezhneva, who turned a stint with popular girl group Via Hra into a successful solo movie and music career; the venerable Tina Karol, who at 32 is already nearing 20 years in show business; and Yuliya Sanina, the outspoken front The Hardkiss and a judge on the Ukrainian X Factor.
“Sport has the power to change the world; it has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.” Former South African President Nelson Mandela
The athlete is much more than a woman that is proficient in her chosen physical activity. She is a validation of the idea that hard work pays off and a model and inspiration to those that would like to follow her. Ukrainian women have excelled at sport for years and it is frivolous to choose one over another. So let’s begin with 22-year-old tennis phenom Elina Svitolina. Svitolina is ranked #13 in the world, making her the top-ranked Ukrainian player of all-time. She made the French Open quarterfinals in 2015, knocked off #1-seeded Serena Williams at the 2016 Summer Olympics, and picked up her 5th WTA title this month after winning the Taiwan Open. Other superior Ukrainian athletes include Olympic gold medalist biathlete Olena Pidhrushna, two-time world champion fencer Olha Kharlan, and Paralympic champion swimmer Kateryna Istomina.
The Business Leader
“Starting and growing a business is as much about the innovation, drive, and determination of the people behind it as the product they sell.” – Canadian-American founder of PayPal, Space X, and Tesla, Elon Musk
The business leader is a woman that has the ability to set and achieve challenging goals. She has the wisdom and ability to take decisive actions and the intelligence and charisma to inspire others. Ukraine has no shortage of entrepreneurial women. Take for example the talented Olena Dats. The former model and graduate of the Lviv Academy of Arts has made quite a name for herself in the fashion world. Movie stars, including Sharon Stone, are regularly seen wearing her wares to red carpets around the world. Her modern collections with ethnic motifs have been featured at prestigious events in Paris, Beverly Hills, and the Cannes Film Festival. Of the many women worthwhile of mention in the category, let’s highlight 27-year-old economist and VP of Management Education at the Kyiv School of Economics Yuliya Tchikivska, and founder of the Lviv-based clothing company Aviatsiya Halychyny, Ulyana Barabash.
The Beauty Queen
“A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.” – Famous French fashion designer Coco Chanel
The beauty queen is a woman that is beautiful, glamorous, and stylish. She takes every effort to look as sexy, stylish, and chic as her wardrobe and pocketbook allow. Ukrainian women are famous for their physical beauty, so choosing a woman to highlight here is a little like picking an apple from a bucket full of apples. In fact, you could argue that many of the women we’ve already highlighted could fall under this category. Alas, let’s begin with Khrystyna Kots-Hotlib, the stunning 1.74m former Miss Ukraine Universe. Kots-Hotlib got her start with Via Hra and went on to get her Masters degree in International Economics. Arbitrary honourable mentions here go to Miss World Ukraine 2016 Oleksandra Kucherenko, TV presenter and popular diva Katarina Osadchaya, and the lovely Andriana Khasanshin, the first Miss Lviv to represent Ukraine at the Miss World pageant.
The Wife & Mother
“Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.” Charlotte Whitton, the first female mayor of a major Canadian city
There is no need to describe the integral roles that wives and mothers play in society. There is perhaps no time their roles are more obvious than when a nation is at war. Ukrainian wives and mothers raise the children, look after the house, pay the bills, fix the clothes, cook the meals, run the errands, and look after their husbands. They are the glue that holds society together. All wives and mothers deserve to be highlighted here, but for the sake of space, let’s start with Yuliya Kirilova. Kirilova lost both her husband and her cousin to the war and has since spent her time raising money for the effort and even signed up as a soldier. Maria Pohorilko is a Leopolitan musician and former Ukrainian Catholic University student that lost her fiancé Bohdan Solchanyk during the events of the Euromaidan. She eventually published a book of his poetry and recently found love and is happily married. Olga Reshetilova is a journalist, wife, and mother. She works as the Coordinator for the Media Initiative for Human Rights and yet still finds time to deliver assistance and tell the stories of the soldiers at the front lines.
The women highlighted in this article are a wonderful representation of the Amazing Ukrainian Woman. There are so many others that could have been included – the examples here are only meant to give an idea. Surely, you can find examples every day in your own lives. Interestingly, every woman featured in the article is under 40, so Ukraine has a very bright future ahead indeed. On behalf of Lviv Today, we would like to wish Happy International Women’s Day to women all across Ukraine.