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Meet Ukraine’s female soldiers commanding all-male units and killing Russians

Thousands of Ukrainian women are fighting on the frontlines, battling both the Russian invaders and sexist attitudes within their own military ranks.

The vast majority of Ukrainian soldiers are male – roughly 85 per cent – but that has not stopped certain women, some with young children, fighting for the sovereignty of their own country.

Despite sexist attitudes within the military ranks, some of the women are operating as commanders of all-male units.

And some believe that when it comes to snipers, women are often more willing to pull the trigger, making them more effective.

As Ukraine’s counter offensive accelerates, the women throughout their ranks are proving invaluable to the advance.

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Andriana Arekhta, 35, is a special unit sergeant in the Ukrainian armed forces who was injured by a Russian mine in Kherson Oblast in December.

She joined one of the first volunteer battalions in 2014 during the war in Donbas, fighting for the Aidar unit.

Though she left the battalion eight years ago, becoming the United Nations Consultant on Gender Equality under the Ukrainian Ministry of Veterans’ Affairs, Russian bloggers still accuse her of “sadism” for her involvement.

When the full-scale war broke out last February, she then rejoined the military despite having a primary school-aged son.

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She told the BBC she wanted to fight to protect her boy’s future from the horrific occupation of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

In the eastern Donbas region, another woman named Iryna is involved as a sniper in the counter offensive.

She is commanding an all-male unit and described her role as “like playing with death” as she sometimes waits six hours just to fire one shot.

Evgeniya Emerald, 31, another Ukrainian female sniper, who is now looking after her three-month old baby, told how her whole body was shaking when she first realised she had to kill someone.

Unlike their male peers, the Ukrainian women have to contend with more than just their Russian invaders.

Ms Arekhta has co-founded a charity called Veteranka (Ukrainian Women Veterans Movement), which campaigns for equal rights for female military personnel, and for reforming Ukrainian army legislation to bring it in line with NATO’s.

In its current format, the Ukrainian military does not provide female attire and women are often forced to wear everything down to male underwear.

More seriously, female soldiers have reported instances of physical abuse, according to Arm Women Now charity that provides help to the Ukrainian female soldiers, and being ordered to make soup.

Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister, Hanna Malyar, acknowledged that there were a “few cases” of this but added they were in contrast to “hundreds of thousands” who had been mobilised.

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