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Ukrainian Defense Ministry Criticized As Sexist After Female Cadets March In High Heels

A handout photograph from the Ukrainian Defense Ministry showing female Ukrainian soldiers wearing high heels while taking part in a military parade rehearsal in Kyiv.
A handout photograph from the Ukrainian Defense Ministry showing female Ukrainian soldiers wearing high heels while taking part in a military parade rehearsal in Kyiv.

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry has been criticized after female soldiers marched in high heels during rehearsals for a parade next month to mark 30 years of independence following the breakup of the Soviet Union.

The controversy erupted after the women rehearsed for the parade earlier this week in Kyiv dressed in combat fatigues and black pumps with medium-high block heels.

The shoes caused a torrent of criticism on social media and in parliament on July 2 and led to accusations that women soldiers were being sexualized.

The woman, cadets at the Military Institute of the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, are preparing to march in the parade on August 24.

The Defense Ministry's information website on July 1 posted photos of the cadets wearing the high heels while marching in formation.

"Today, for the first time, training takes place in heeled shoes," cadet Ivanna Medvid was quoted as saying by the Defense Ministry's information website.

"It is slightly harder than in army boots but we are trying," Medvid added.

Dozens of critical comments were posted on Facebook, including accusations of "sexism and misogyny" and contempt for women among the leaders of the Defense Ministry.

Several Ukrainian female lawmakers showed up in parliament with pairs of high heels and encouraged the defense minister to wear them to the parade.

"It is hard to imagine a more idiotic, harmful idea," said Inna Sovsun, a member of the Golos party. She also said that Ukraine's women soldiers -- like men -- were risking their lives and "do not deserve to be mocked."

Olena Kondratyuk, deputy speaker of the legislature, said authorities should publicly apologize for "humiliating" women and conduct an inquiry to discover who made the decision on the shoes.

During an hour of questions for the government in parliament, she asked Defense Minister Andriy Taran if the choice of the shoes is how the ministry is bringing its ranks closer to NATO standards, according to RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service.

Kondratyuk said that more than 13,500 women had fought in the current conflict in eastern Ukraine, where the country has been battling Russian-backed separatists in a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014.

Overall, more than 31,000 women now serve in the Ukrainian armed forces, including more than 4,000 officers.

The press service of the Ukrainian armed forces told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service that high-heel shoes were chosen for female servicemen in accordance with an order from the minister of defense.

Taran announced on July 2 that the cadets would wear a different uniform in the parade, including a different type of shoe.

Marina Bardina a deputy with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s Servant of the People party, said that the shoes at the parade "will be different." She said the ministry had also agreed to work together to establish equality in the armed forces and support women in the service and that legislation had already been introduced to that end.

With reporting by AFP and the BBC
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    RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service

    RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service has seen its audience grow significantly since Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022 and is among the most cited media outlets in the country. Its bold, in-depth reporting from the front lines has won many accolades and awards. Its comprehensive coverage also includes award-winning reporting by the Donbas.Realities and Crimea.Realities projects and the Schemes investigative unit.