‘Battle for democracy’: Ukrainian soldier mother opens up about life on the frontlines

She’s a younger mother with a grasp’s diploma in public coverage however spends her days and nights combating on the frontlines in Ukraine with “stingers and switchblades.”

Andriana Arekhta, 34, was in New York Tuesday and away from the battlefields however nonetheless haunted by the visions — and smells — of the carnage in her war-torn nation.

The worst, she mentioned, is discovering corpses of youngsters and youths who’ve been tortured by Russians. 

“Even when I am in the forests, in the fresh air, I can still smell the stench of burned houses and fresh corpses,” she mentioned.

Some of the tales that stick together with her embrace an 11-year previous boy who was whipped by a big group of Russian troopers in entrance of his mom — he survived however by no means spoke once more. She additionally mentioned she noticed a area stuffed with greater than 100 useless cows. 

As Ukraine begins to liberate a few of its occupied territory from Russian invaders — who depart behind a path of mass graves and battle crimes — Arekhta, a fight soldier, left the frontlines for Washington, DC.

Arekhta is certainly one of 4 feminine fighters at the moment talking earlier than locations just like the appropriations, armed forces and overseas relations committees on behalf of Ukraine’s military, wherein certainly one of each 4 fighters is a girl.

Andriana Arekhta mentioned she is haunted by the corpses and disturbing visions, in addition to smells, that fill the air when she walks via the forests. William Farrington

Her message is easy. 

“We need metal. We pay for it with our lives,” mentioned Arekhta, a particular forces weapons sergeant within the Ukrainian armed forces and head of the Women Veteran Movement.

She additionally needs to thank the US for the weapons the nation has already despatched. 

“Your weapons are saving lives,” she mentioned. 

But, she continues — as Putin threatens to begin drafting his residents — this isn’t nearly an unprovoked battle of aggression between Russia and Ukraine. 

“This is a battle for democracy itself. If we fall, Europe is next,” mentioned Arekhta. 

What do they want? More “HIMARSes, ammunition, armored vehicles, tanks, fighter jets and ground air defense.”

Arekhta was simply 2-years previous when the Soviet Union collapsed, however she had heard tales in regards to the perils of Soviet imperialism — her personal grandmother had been despatched to Siberia throughout the Communist period, she says. 

A destroyed bridge close to after a Russia’s shelling is seen Kytsivka, Ukraine is proven on Sept. 21, 2022. AFP by way of Getty Images

Ukrainian nationwide guard servicemen place the physique of a Ukrainian soldier in a bag at an space the place three different our bodies have been mendacity on the bottom in Ukraine. AP
Ukrainian nationwide guard servicemen stand subsequent to luggage containing the our bodies of seven Ukrainian troopers recovered from an space close to the border with Russia. AP

Arekhta, whose regular blue eyes have seen an excessive amount of, had accomplished her grasp’s and signed a contract to work in Japan when Russia invaded Crimea in 2014.fd

She labored as an activist after which joined her first fight battalion in May 2014. Like a lot of her fellow troopers — she didn’t inform her mother and father. Then a New York Times photographer took her image. 

“I wore a balaclava that covered my face. All you could see were my eyes, but my mother knew it was me,” she mentioned.

Arekhta met her husband, Max, on the frontlines.

“It was love at first sight,” she mentioned, including that she solely stopped combating in 2015, when she was 5 months pregnant with their son, Makar.

For the subsequent seven years, she labored as head of the Ukrainian veterans’ girls’s motion, as a United Nations advisor for veterans’ affairs and as a “military wife.”

Back then, girls weren’t formally allowed to be a part of a fight unit, so her paperwork listed her as a fight “seamstress.” 

But when Russia invaded Ukraine final February, Arekhta was again on the frontlines, combating together with her husband. One of their greatest pals, a “brother in arms” and godfather to Makar, was killed. 

“Now that I’m a mother, it’s harder to be on the frontline. Before it was easier to fight. Now I’m responsible for my baby,” she mentioned. 

But now that she is a mom, she additionally has extra to combat for.

Arekhta speaks at appropriations, armed forces and overseas relations committees for Ukraine’s military.William Farrington
Arekhta thanks the US for the weapons the nation has already despatched to assist Ukraine throughout the battle.William Farrington

When Arekhta began combating in 2014, she wore sneakers — there have been so few feminine fighters that they didn’t have boots or uniforms. That’s modified. Earlier this 12 months, for Valentine’s Day — simply earlier than Russia’s unprovoked full scale invasion — Arekhta’s husband gave her ammunition, which got here in helpful. 

But they nonetheless want extra, in addition to armored automobiles. 

“We call it the Toyota and Mitsubishi war. We need Hummers, or any kind of armored vehicles. They save lives,” she mentioned. 

Rescue staff and forensic police exhume our bodies from unidentified makeshift graves on the Pishanske cemetery on Sept. 21, 2022 in Izium, Ukraine. Getty Images

Arekhta carries a photograph of her cute son together with her on her cellphone, and she or he calls him every single day — when she will. He is together with her mother and father in western Ukraine and figuring out that he’s protected is a part of what fuels her combating spirit.

“I am fighting for him, and he is doing his part, baking cookies for the soldiers,” she mentioned with a smile.

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Despite the hardship and witnessing insufferable crimes, Arekhta’s son brings a sure sweetness to the battle.

“Makar asked for an ant farm for his birthday. But we were in Kiev and there was a blockade,” Arekhta mentioned. “We made an ant farm but couldn’t get it to him, so we sent photos and videos.”

The complete battalion was concerned as Makar counted the variety of ants from afar. 

As we walked in direction of Washington Square Park, a younger Ukrainian approached. He informed Arekhta, in Ukrainian, that he’s elevating cash and sending provides to Ukraine. Then he thanked her for her service.

Clearly, gender equality nonetheless has an extended approach to go — within the US and Ukraine.

Nevertheless, she mentioned, “the war has changed everything.”  

“As a woman, you need to work harder, but we are equal with our brothers in arms,” she mentioned, including that Ukraine will win — and rebuild itself from the ashes, for his or her youngsters. 

But, she mentioned, winter is coming, and even with out Russian bombs, Ukrainians with out electrical energy will die from chilly and hunger. 

“Please send more weapons. They will help us end the war faster before we lose even more young men and women,” she mentioned.

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