By Alex Jones
THE TRAITOR, the career soldier, the librarian, and the amputee chef – meet the women who have put their lives on the line to defend Ukraine.
Remarkable photos from the frontline of the war between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian separatists, show the fearsome females who have devoted their lives to keep the ‘aggressors’, reportedly backed by Moscow, at bay.
The striking images include a former cook who lost her foot during a bombing raid, a championship brawler prepared to shoot at her own countrymen, and a mother-of-three beaming whilst cradling her assault rifle.
War came to Ukraine in 2014 and has not stopped since. Over 13,000 people have been killed as the eastern border of the European country has become a deadly no-man’s land. Government forces and pro-Russian separatists of the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic are fighting for control in the bloody skirmish.
Despite the Minsk ceasefire agreement – a notional deal designed to end the war peacefully in 2015 – conflict continues to affect everyday life; where the rat-a-tat echo of machine gun fire and the crack of a distant sniper shot are never far away.
As war has raged, reports suggest that over 10,000 women have signed up to protect Ukraine’s sovereignty.
Czech photographer David Tesinsky visited the warzone last year to meet the mothers, daughters and sisters who risk death every day to protect Ukraine’s identity.
“Some of the women I met were only 22 years old, many of them had been fighting against Russia since they were 18,” Tesinsky explained.
“The tensions in the Donetsk and Luhansk region are very evident and there are regular shootings, even today.
“I met some incredible soldiers, not least Yulia Tolopa. She’s 22 and has a daughter in Kiev.
“She’s actually a Russian national and has won a championship there in hand-to-hand combat.
“She came to Ukraine when the ‘Revolution of Dignity’ began, because she did not believe Russian propaganda and wanted to see what was really going on for herself.
“At the beginning of the war, she volunteered to the Ukrainian army’s Aidar battalion to help her Ukrainian friends who fight for freedom.
“She has fought in the hottest spots of the war and has been wounded twice.
“Because of her actions, Yulia is on the wanted list of the Federal Security Service of Russia (FSB), and has three criminal charges levelled against her.
“Her decision to fight for Ukraine also cost her family. She has lost all contact with them.”
Not surprisingly, Yulia has decided to make a life in Ukraine and has applied for citizenship.
Tesinsky also photographed a woman known only as ‘Nana’, a married 30-year-old Georgian solider who has been fighting Russia since her homeland was embroiled with a war with the country in 2008.
“Nana, who has three children, defends the integrity of Ukraine alongside her male colleagues,” continued the photographer.
“She performs combat missions and renders the first medical aid to the wounded.”
The next soldier to be photographed was perhaps the most unlikely candidate to pick up a gun before conflict began, considering her previous job as a librarian.
“Yulia Mykytenko is 22 years old and is a platoon commander,” added Tesinsky.
“She told me that at the start of the war she had a burning desire to defend her country and its values.
“Despite her training as a librarian, she volunteered to the Ukrainian army.
“During one of her first combat missions, Yulia met her future husband.
“After marriage, she continued her military service to protect her homeland fighting alongside her husband.
“Due to her personal qualities, courage and professionalism, Yulia became the platoon commander of the reconnaissance platoon when she was just 21 years old.”
But Tesinsky’s collection also shows the brutal nature of war.
Olya Benda lost her foot defending her country.
“She worked as a cook in one of the military brigades,” Tesinsky explained.
“She was wounded during the bombardment in the city of Avdeevka.
“The damage was so severe they had to amputate her foot.
“She returned to civilian life where she got married and now raises her son.”
For more of Tesinsky’s photos, visit https://tesinskyphoto.com/