From the Maidan to the Donbas: The Limitations on Choice for Women in Ukraine
‘I am normally a pacifist but this is a step I’ve had to take’, explained Mariya Berlins’ka about her decision to join the conflict in eastern Ukraine and become a drone operator. Since she started volunteering for the army, Berlins’ka has become a celebrity in Ukraine. Her daily schedule resembles that of a busy politician: a talk on the legal status of women in the army, an interview for a TV channel, a panel discussion on gender-based violence, another public debate. I first met Berlins’ka in April 2014 in Kyiv, immediately after the Maidan protests. Makeshift tents covered the central streets, paving stones were still upturned following street battles, and people were in a state of shock: no one had expected blood to be shed in Ukraine’s capital in peacetime. Berlins’ka was visibly shaken by what she had experienced. This was before the start of the full-scale conflict in eastern Ukraine, her involvement with the army, and her celebrity status. She could still choose to walk away from the barricades and go back to her old life as a graduate student. She did not.