The Ukrainian women defending their country need more than flowers – they need proper supplies. (Credit: RawPixel)

“Try to go to the toilet in the woods at 4 degrees Fahrenheit.”

This harrowing scenario is an all-too-common problem for Ukrainian women fighting to defend their country in the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian War, which began February 2022. It’s just one of many difficulties they’re struggling to live with, according to a new report from The Daily Beast.

These aren’t just inconveniences. “All of us got cystitis or inflammation of the ovaries and back pain” due to the lack of toilet facilities, a 24-year-old soldier who asked to be identified as Julia told the publication. “After a year of the war, we have a bouquet of all sorts of health issues.”

Women soldiers also report difficulties ranging from securing menstrual hygiene products to being outfitted in ill-fitting uniforms that create their own safety hazards. Julia’s older sister, Alina, talked of “stumbl[ing] in men’s shoes that are too big” and running in “huge pants” that hinder their ability to move quickly in high-pressure situations.

Worse still, they add, are the bulletproof vests. Soldiers struggle to make them fit properly around their breasts, leaving them with a choice between wearing inadequate gear, or removing a garment intended to save their lives in active war zones. 

“If I take the army armor off and get wounded or get killed, there would be no compensation paid to me or my family,” Alina points out. “Our lives, our security often depend on what we wear on our body and our feet, how healthy we are.”

During a recent press conference on the subject, Oleksii Reznikov, the Ukrainian defense minister, assured members of the press that “models of body armor and helmets for women are already being tested in combat units.” Once they’re ready, those new uniforms will be ordered and distributed, The Daily Beast reported.

In the meantime, a Ukrainian charity called Zemliachky, which aims to uplift Ukrainian servicewomen, is providing a small cache of lighter uniforms designed to fit women’s bodies. A petite soldier who identified herself as Runa received one of them, and immediately felt the difference.

“It fits perfectly even for me, whose size is hard to find,” she added.

The group is also providing tools called “feminine urinary directors,” which creates an alternative way to relieve themselves standing up. Ksenia Draganyuk, a volunteer with Zemliachky, stressed the importance of this resource, noting that “when we asked all our girl soldiers about their health issues, 90 percent of them complained of cystitis and yeast infections.”

But more is still needed to help the estimated 60,000 women serving in the nation’s military, says the charity’s founder, Andriy Kolesnyk. “We need just $1 million to dress up all of our women defenders in the right-sized uniforms this summer,” he said to The Daily Beast. “Both their effectiveness and security depend on how freely they can move, run, crawl, load weapons or operate a drone.”

Kolesnyk added: “We have shortages for every single item … [and] so far nobody has managed to actually help.”