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As Crimea Tensions Escalates, Ukrainian Women, Too, Ready To Take Up Arms

Lviv resident Tetiana Turchina
LVIV, Ukraine -- As millions of women across the world looked forward to celebrating International Women's Day on March 8, Tetiana Turchina was in no mood for flowers, chocolate, and festivities.

The young Ukrainian woman watched with dismay as Russian troops took control of Crimea, the picturesque and strategic peninsula in southern Ukraine, one week ago.

With her country now facing the prospect of war, Turchina is raring for battle.

"Given what's going on in our country, I cannot just stand aside," she tells RFE/RL in her home city of Lviv, in western Ukraine. "Am I ready to defend my country and my people? Yes, I'm ready to shoot at the enemy."

Ukrainian men have been queuing up to enroll in the army since Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened on March 1 to invade Crimea.

Women, too, have answered their country's mobilization call.

Turchina, who runs a PR firm, was among the first to enlist in Lviv.

Unlike many women who have offered their help as nurses, Turchina, who is a seasoned judo fighter and hunter in her free time, has asked to serve in a combat unit.

"I've practiced sambo and judo professionally for 10 years," she says. "I know how to shoot and jump with a parachute. I'm familiar with extreme situations because I love extreme sports, rafting, and hiking. Sleeping in a tent surrounded by snow in minus-20-degrees-Celsius doesn't scare me."

Women have played an active role in the Euromaidan protests that led to the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych and, ultimately, to the standoff with Russia over Crimea.

But their participation has not been limited to doling out refreshments.

Women have served in the self-defense units created to defend the protest camp on Kyiv's Independence Square from riot police.

They have also stood on the barricades alongside men and worked as medics in battlefield conditions at the height of the deadly clashes with riot police.

And while many women advocate a peaceful resolution of the Crimean conflict, many, too, appear ready to take up arms like Turchina.

Turchina says that if her country slides into war, a lot more than Crimea will be at stake for Ukrainians.

"I've achieved much already, but there's a lot more I want to achieve," Turchina says. "If Russia seizes Ukraine, it won't be just one or two steps back for us -- it will be miles. So I'm not afraid of going into battle and risking my life. I'm afraid of living without a future."

Written in Prague by Claire Bigg based on reporting by RFE/RL Ukrainian Service correspondent Halyna Tereshchuk in Lviv
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    Halyna Tereshchuk

    Halyna Tereshchuk is a correspondent for RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. She graduated from Franko National University in Lviv and worked as a journalist at newspapers and TV stations for many years. She joined Radio Liberty in 2000.

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    Claire Bigg

    Claire Bigg covers Russia, Ukraine, and the post-Soviet world, with a focus on human rights, civil society, and social issues.