Confronting Russian Aggression: The Voices of Ukrainian Women

The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security hosted an expert discussion February 7, 2022, on the critical situation in Ukraine as Russia escalated its threat of invasion. Panelists shared their analysis of the situation and key recommendations (below) for the international community, regional organizations and transnational civil society networks.

“We have faced the threat of Russian aggression over and over for only one reason: over and over, Ukrainians are making the civilizational choice that we want to be who we always have been. We want to be European. We want to be free and democratic. This is one of the values we share with the United States.” – Amb. Oksana Markarova

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Providing Financial and Economic Support

  • The United States and the international community, particularly the International Monetary Fund (IMF), must provide financial and economic support to Ukraine. Russia’s continued aggression has significantly impaired the Ukrainian economy and has driven away investors and businesses, despite 95 percent of the country open for business. 
  • International donors and NGOs operating on the ground should redirect resources and activities to reflect the current needs of the Ukrainian people. Innovative programs, such as the Partnership Fund for Resilient Ukraine, should be people-centered, gender-sensitive and work with communities to advance local resilience and preparedness.
  • Target aid to the millions of women across the country, particularly internally-displaced persons, who suffer the worst impacts of COVID-19 and the economic consequences of war. Especially in the East, many self-employed women are the breadwinners of the family, whose micro-businesses will suffer significantly in the case of escalation. 

Engaging Regional and International Allies

  • Leverage the unprecedented level of support and cooperation from the United States and European partners who value Ukraine’s democratic aspirations. In September, Ukraine signed the Framework Agreement on Defense, which forms the basis for the cooperation to strengthen Ukraine’s defensive capabilities.  
  • Regional and international partners should maintain open lines of communication and frequent high-level visits to deter escalation of hostilities and present a unified front in support of Ukraine. 
  • Diplomatic weight must be put on opening up internal checkpoints. Continued closure is a humanitarian and human rights disaster, which must be prioritized alongside discussions to renegotiate the European security architecture.

“I want to ask all those who care about Ukraine and about democracy and peace in Europe to be louder. We all need to be more persistent, and we need to push harder. We in Ukraine need the support of the international community in building our independent, democratic country. A country for us, for our parents, and for our children. If the world gives up on Ukraine, the consequences will be terrible.”- Natalia Karbowska 

Ensuring Women’s Participation and Leadership

  • Women must be represented at the highest levels of strategy and national decision-making in Ukraine. Those who are assessing and reporting on the current security situation are almost exclusively men, which erases women from the crisis narrative and hinders their ability to prepare.
  • Advancing women’s full participation in Track I and Track II negotiations is necessary to advance a more comprehensive approach to security. Ukraine’s recent elections saw a 12.6 percent decrease in women’s representation in local councils. Women’s meaningful participation is critical to national security, and provides a significant value-add across all areas of governance, finance, and peacebuilding.  

Advancing Inclusive Security

  • The OSCE should create a Regional Action Plan on 1325 to ensure a coordinated regional response to implementing the Women, Peace and Security agenda. UNSCR 1325 is a critical instrument for setting standards and developing subregional action plans to ensure wide-reaching impact. 
  • Gender should be mainstreamed in all internationally-supported programs and security responses in Ukraine. Government and civil society support in implementing strategic goal two of NAP 1325, as with the Ukrainian Women’s Fund and Canadian-funded projects, is key to designing a gender-responsive system for identifying and responding to security challenges. 
  • Emotional security should be included as a critical dimension in the UNDP’s classification of security. Enhancing emotional security and the feeling of safety is essential to security broadly, especially in the current era of hybrid warfare. Initiating high-level, multilateral discussions on expanded security classifications is critical to ensuring a sense of safety and preparedness.

“According to the analytical estimates a Russian invasion of Ukraine can cause a migration crisis spurring up to five million Ukrainian refugees in Europe where the majority would be women and girls. We must do everything possible to prevent this. The Women, Peace and Security agenda is more relevant now more than ever before in Ukraine, in central and Eastern Europe and even globally.” – Kateryna Levchenko

Supporting Civil Society 

  • Providing support to civil society organizations across different regions of the country is critical to ensuring a comprehensive security approach. While the conflict is escalating on Ukraine’s Eastern border, support is also needed in the North at the Belarusian border, in the South along Russian-occupied Crimea and in the center and the West of Ukraine – where many women and families would flee in the event of a Russian invasion.
  • Bolster the capacity of women’s rights organizations and women activists, who are the voice of women at the local and community levels. This includes targeted funding, trainings, mentorship, and centering women’s groups in international discussions. 
  • Strengthen social infrastructure for domestic violence survivors, internally-displaced peoples, and women heads of households, who often suffer disproportionately from the impact of conflict and escalating aggression.     

Ensuring Monitoring and Accountability

  • International actors such as the OSCE and other third-party organizations must closely monitor and report on the human rights situation. In the event of a Russian provocation, in-country representatives are critical to documenting and disseminating the circumstances on the ground. 
  • Prepare and publish a joint statement on how current external security threats affect women in Ukraine. Public statements on the situation of women in the crisis are important steps for allowing Ukrainian women’s voices to be heard throughout the world. 

“Ukrainians get to define their fate. Ukrainians get to decide with whom they associate. With whom they get their security, with whom they trade and who their leaders are. These are Ukrainians’ decisions. Not the decisions for anyone else and certainly not the Russians.” – Amb. Bill Taylor

Raising Awareness and Reframing the Narrative

  • Western media narratives should center the Ukrainian people in reporting on the crisis. The dominant media narratives focus solely on geopolitical dynamics while overlooking the reality that Ukrainian men and women face on the ground. 
  • Spotlight the larger implications of the Russia crisis for advancing a peaceful and secure Europe and safeguarding the rule of law and international legal order. Deterring Russian aggression is not just about Ukrainian security, but stands as a bold symbol that countries can choose to be independent, democratic nations without fear of retaliation by autocratic regimes.

“The implications of this crisis Russia is creating around Ukraine’s borders are much larger. It’s not only about a peaceful and secure Ukraine. It’s about a peaceful and secure Europe. Also, ultimately, it’s about whether international law and the rule of international law is still something that we all can rely on in order to know that every country can actually feel secure within its borders.” – Amb. Oksana Markarova

The panel of Ukrainian policymakers, civil society leaders, U.S. and Canadian diplomats included Kateryna Pavlichenko, Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs, Ukraine; Amb. Oksana Markarova, Ambassador of Ukraine to the United States; Amb. Bill Taylor, Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine; Amb. Larisa Galadza, Ambassador of Canada to Ukraine; Kateryna Levchenko, Government Commissioner for Gender Policy, Ukraine; Olena Suslova, Founder, Women’s Information Consultative Center, Ukraine; Natalia Karbowsk, Director of Strategic Development, Ukrainian Women’s Fund; and the voices of grassroots women leaders across Ukraine.

Also Read “Ukraine: Legacy of Trauma, Generations of War, Future of Hope,” a Statement by the World Federation of Ukrainian Women’s Organizations”