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The Ukraine War and its Impact on Women

Jaqueline Singh, Fight! Revolutionary Women's Newspaper 11, March 2023

For more than a year, the Ukraine war has dominated the headlines. In the following, we want to make a brief sketch of the current situation and look at how the current situation affects women in order to finally look at the consequences of war for women in general. Before we get to that, let us briefly take a stand on the conflict.

From war of aggression to positional warfare

It is clear that the attack by Russian imperialism on Ukraine is to be condemned and that the will of the Ukrainian people to defend themselves is justified. At the same time, the events must also be seen in an international context. It is not taking place in a vacuum, but against the background of a crisis-like development of the imperialist world system and a struggle for the redivision of the world among the great powers.

Thus, it is not just any dispute that happens to get more attention than the civil war in Yemen because the armed conflict is taking place in the West. It is also an expression of an exacerbated global situation and has the potential to draw more forces into armed conflict. Moreover, the conflict is apparently only taking place between Ukraine and Russia. But the fragile balance between pro-Western and pro-Russian economic and political elites in Ukraine and the balance between their nationalities was upset by the Maidan in 2014. At that time, the vacillating President Yanukovych, who was leaning towards Russia, was replaced by a clearly pro-Western government. In order to secure power, this government used many of the extreme right-wing and nationalist Maidan forces in its administration and security forces and also made political concessions to them. In the end, this also pre-programmed the armed clash with the population groups who felt threatened in their minority rights, especially in eastern Ukraine, and Russia used the internal civil war as a pretext for the incorporation of Crimea, where, however, a pro-Russian majority had been living for a long time.

Neither Putin nor NATO!

Thus, the territory of Ukraine became a bone of contention between Russian imperialism and NATO. There can be no real improvement for all parts of the population if one of these forces is politically subordinated. In this context, Putin’s stated reasons for his „special military operation“ are more than hypocritical. He is not interested in denazification, but in pushing back the influence of Western imperialism, which has grown stronger since 2014. This interest has become stronger above all due to the increase in international competition since the economic crisis around the pandemic and also due to Russia’s economic weakness.

On the other hand, it must be said that both the massive financial support and the arms deliveries on the part of the NATO allies are not being made out of pure altruism because the Ukrainian population cannot be seen to be suffering, but are aimed at consolidating Ukraine as a geostrategic sphere of influence as well as weakening Russian imperialism and massively reducing, if not making impossible, its ability to act as a world power. Of course, the West is not acting as a closed, unified bloc. Rather, the USA is proving to be the clear leading power, also over its European allies, for whom any stronger economic penetration of Russia is now a distant prospect.

Effects worldwide

Before we turn to the situation in Ukraine, let us look at the international consequences of the war. In addition to increased militarisation, the war and especially the massive sanctions have not only exacerbated the economic conflict with Russia, but also fuelled inflation and caused energy prices to skyrocket. The rising cost of oil and gas has had a significant impact on the energy poverty of women and girls and their already unequal access to it. This has been drastically worsened by the pandemic in particular, as those who had only recently gained access to energy have lost it due to inability to pay, including 15 million sub-Saharan Africans.

The war is now exacerbating this as the surge in energy prices over the last two years is the highest since the 1973 oil crisis. In addition, the war is causing a food crisis. The increase in food prices has been the highest since 2008, which is due to the fact that both Russia and Ukraine are key grain producers. Countries such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Eritrea or Somalia import over 90% of their grain from these two countries. In addition, Ukraine is a major wheat supplier to the World Food Programme (WFP), which supports 115.5 million people in more than 120 countries.

Before the war

Although it is not possible to draw a complete picture of the situation of women here, we will give a brief, general overview. Before the war, women accounted for 54% of the total population and about 48% of the total labour force. A precise breakdown of how high women’s labour participation is in different industries is not available. However, the ILO provided a rough overview in 2008, showing that women were predominantly employed in the care sector and in industrial production (, p. 31).

Legal equality existed formally in terms of equal pay for equal work. Nevertheless, there was a rather high gender pay gap of 27 – 33 % in the period 2003 – 2012. This is due to the fact that women often work in the lower paid professions. But there were also differences within occupational groups. For example, the largest gender pay gaps were found in the financial sector, while the smallest were in agriculture, where wages are, however, generally much lower than in all other sectors of the Ukrainian economy.


In war, women are particularly exposed to violence, alongside bombs, foreign armies right on their doorstep, fear and shortages in electricity or food supplies. No wonder, then, that several million people, mostly women and children, have fled since the war began. According to the UN, 5.3 million of them are internally displaced, that is, have fled within the country. This exacerbates the situation, as more than 1.5 million people have already been forced to relocate since 2014 due to the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Two thirds of them were women and children, who have since suffered from difficult access to health care, housing and employment.

In addition, around 8 million people have fled across Ukrainian borders since February 2022. Of these, more than 80 % are women and children, which is partly due to the fact that the Ukrainian government has banned men between the ages of 18 and 60 from leaving the country. Women are particularly exposed to sexual violence while fleeing. For example, searches for keywords such as „escort“, „porn“ or „rape“ in connection with the word „Ukrainian“ increased by 600 %, while „Ukraine refugee porn“ emerged as a trend search, according to the OSCE Office of the Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings in Vienna. (…).

It is still unclear to what extent Ukrainian women are more affected by sexualised violence than other groups of female refugees. However, it is clear that racist stereotypes that exist within the EU and sexualise Eastern European women contribute to this. The risk of experiencing sexual abuse or being trafficked is facilitated by unsafe escape routes or the practice in the UK, for example, where £350 is paid to host Ukrainian refugees.

To improve the situation for refugees, we need to advocate the following:

Open borders, safe escape routes and citizens‘ rights for all!

Instead of housing in camps: Decentralised accommodation through the expropriation of vacant housing, hotels and speculative properties!

No to division: recognition of educational qualifications as well as the right to use the mother tongue at offices for all refugees!

Even if the last demand is largely a reality for Ukrainian refugees arriving in Germany, it must be made in order to prevent further division between Ukrainian and other refugees. The fact that the issuing of work permits and other documentation for Ukrainians happened so quickly only shows what is actually possible when one’s own government has a direct interest in doing so. Therefore, this should be used to equalise the rights of other refugees.

Situation of those who stayed at home

However, not all of them were able to flee. Age, personal fitness, contacts in neighbouring or other European countries are other factors that make it more realistic to build a „new life“ in the medium or long term. On the other hand, those who are in need of care or who care for someone themselves are among the groups that find it particularly difficult to leave the country. There are success stories of groups such as about 180 deaf people who have made it to Berlin. But those who are bedridden or dependent on outside help have poor chances.

Women in particular also bear the main burden here. Even before the escalation of hostilities in February 2022, unpaid housework in Ukraine led to a massive additional burden. Women spent an average of 24.6 hours per week on reproductive activities, compared to 14.5 for men. According to the UN report „Rapid Gender Analyses in Ukraine“, respondents consistently state that since the beginning of the war, the amount of unpaid work has increased for both men and women. This is mainly because social services, medical and educational facilities, and childcare have been discontinued or reduced as a result of the war.

The loss of these infrastructures also leads to deterioration in all these areas. Pregnant women, for example, are exposed to a situation that is also conducive to infant deaths due to the loss of medical care. In order to make the situation on the ground somewhat bearable, we advocate:

Control and distribution of the delivered relief goods by democratically elected committees of the population! The representatives must be accountable and must be able to be elected and voted out of office at any time!

This can prevent food from being misappropriated across the board, as was the case with two leading ministry officials who were dismissed for this at the end of January. This is no small matter, as over one-third of the Ukrainian population is affected by severe food shortages. Many parts of the population are already integrated into aid structures – and they should control them themselves.

For one thing, the distribution committees can check in which regions not only more relief supplies are needed, but also where other structures such as canteens or other aid are still needed. On the other hand, these should be preserved as moments of collective reproductive work after the war and expanded nationwide. For only through the socialisation of domestic work, that is, the division of care work among all hands, can the double burden on women as well as the gender division of labour be ended. It is important to lay a foundation here to counteract future deteriorations.

Labour rights

This situation is exacerbated by the fact that, under the Zelensky government, massive attacks have been made on labour rights since the beginning of the war. On 24 March 2022, Law No.-2136-IX On the Organisation of Labour Relations under Martial Law came into force, which, among other things, raises working hours from 40 hours per week to 60, no longer prohibits work on weekends, holidays and non-working days, and allows enterprises to delay the payment of wages if it can be proved that war or „force majeure“ caused such a delay. The whole thing is accompanied by a ban on opposition parties that have links to Russia and a degradation of trade unions to bodies of „citizen control“ that monitor compliance with the law.

These tightening measures are only an intensified continuation of Zelensky’s neoliberal attacks on the working class. Already in 2020 there was an attempt to reform the labour law, which contained a massive weakening of labour and collective bargaining rights. Protests by the trade unions prevented what is now in practice.

Bettina Musiolek (Clean Clothes Campaign) outlines the practical implications in an interview with the GEW. It is true that the share of the textile industry in Ukraine’s GDP is small. However, according to Ukraine Invest, there are around 2,500 textile companies with more than 200,000 employees within the country, of which between 80 and 90 % of the total products are destined for export. The vast majority of their employees are women. They produce for brands such as Adidas, Benetton, Boss, S.Oliver, Tommy Hilfiger, Zara or retail groups like Picard or Aldi. These exploit the need brutally, as Musiolek explains:

„Most seamstresses will accept all this because they need the job. Demonstrating against the new law or going on strike is not an option for them – they are threatened with arrest under martial law. [ … ] Red lines are being crossed in the shadow of war. It is true that the labour law reform is only supposed to apply during martial law. But our Ukrainian trade union partners doubt that the points would be reversed after the war.“ (…)

This practically means that we have to defend ourselves against these attacks, which is easier written than done. It makes clear that the Ukrainian ruling class is not only a close ally of NATO but, like any other, also represents its class interests in war.

Martial law here is directed very concretely against the wage earners and must be fought. The task of revolutionaries and progressive forces must be to show that war alone does not cancel out the class character, that not all Ukrainians can become equal before it and pursue the same interests. That is why we demand:

No to the attacks on labour law! For the immediate withdrawal of regulations such as the unilateral right of dismissal or the extension of working time!

Instead of unemployment and more hours, we need a reduction in working hours with full wage compensation!

For a minimum income for all, adjusted to inflation!

Expropriate without compensation all war profiteers, Ukrainian and imperialist companies, who enrich themselves at the expense of the masses, under workers‘ control!


The fact that violence against women increases in times of crisis is no longer a secret, at least since the corona pandemic. Current official figures are not available, but according to a study published by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in 2019, about 75 per cent of Ukrainian women reported having experienced some form of violence since the age of 15. One in three women reported having suffered physical forms of sexual violence.

The deteriorating economic situation may exacerbate this, and furthermore, as sexual violence and rape are often used as weapons of war in conflicts to demonstrate power over the enemy, Ukrainian women, in the midst of Russia’s military invasion of their country, are at increased risk of sexual and physical violence, abuse, rape and torture. To stand up against the increasing violence, we are advocating:

Democratically organised self-defence committees of the population that also have access to weapons!

Compensation payments to victims of violence as well as free access to therapeutic services even after the war!


It would be wrong to reduce the role of Ukrainian women to care and support work at the moment. It is estimated that between 15 – 22 % of the Ukrainian army is made up of women. Some even return from the safe countries to fight on the front lines. However, this is a recent development. Since 2014, women have been part of the Ukrainian army. Since 2016, they have also been allowed to do more than just classic auxiliary jobs like medical care or cooking.

However, the fact that they are now allowed to fight on the front lines does not mean that the military is turning into a place of equality. For example, although the number of female soldiers has increased, their mobilisation has been rather irregular. Moreover, it can be assumed that the classic division of labour in armies (women’s focus on auxiliary jobs) remains, despite their higher participation, which is accompanied by reports of sexist comments or the fact that women’s uniforms are fitted much worse. Moreover, the restriction of men’s freedom of movement through martial law has confirmed that it is women who have to bear the burden of caring for children and the elderly outside the army. To ensure real equality in the army, we advocate:

– Election and deselection of officers by soldiers‘ councils and their control over training and weapons!

– A campaign within the army for equality, but also against nationalism and chauvinism!

Women’s right to separate meetings!

Furthermore, it is central that soldiers also argue for waging war only as long as it is in self-defence and, for example, against the reconquest of Crimea or the People’s Republics. Rather, the people living there should decide where they want to live in the future and which state they want to belong to. Anything beyond that leads to a further prolongation of the war without addressing its real cause.


As is well known, the reactionary invasion of Russian imperialism is not the only factor in the war. On the contrary, it would be short-sighted to determine the character of a war independently of the international situation. The development that led to the invasion, and especially that since the reactionary invasion by Russia, confirms in several respects that in essence it is not merely a war of national defence, but that NATO’s political, economic and military influence at the international level is itself a decisive factor.

This means that the working classes in Russia as well as in the NATO countries must be won and mobilised above all for the struggle against the war aims of their own bourgeoisies. There, the main enemy is clearly at home.

In Ukraine, the situation is more differentiated. Here, the masses are victims of the Russian imperialist invasion. On the one hand, the inter-imperialist conflict plays a formative role, but on the other hand, there is also an important element of real national oppression. This means that revolutionaries have to defend the right of Ukraine to resist the Russian occupation, but without giving any form of support to the Zelensky government.

In Ukraine, therefore, the right to self-defence against the Russian invasion is an element of revolutionary politics, but in the event of the withdrawal of Russian troops, it should be clear that the struggle will continue afterwards. However, not with the aim of retaliating against Russia as the aggressor, but in the knowledge that NATO & Co. have not pledged that they will then leave Ukraine alone, but will integrate it into their sphere of power as an exploited semi-colony.

Besides a stronger military presence, it is likely that Western companies will be happy to rebuild the Ukrainian infrastructure, on the backs of the local population, which can be over-exploited as cheap labour. The legal foundations have already been laid. Such a struggle can only be successful if structures are built in the here and now that do not want to subordinate themselves to Zelensky’s pro-Western and neoliberal policies, but also have no interest in selling out to Putin’s regime. In regions like Crimea, Donetsk or Luhansk, referendums should be organised by the people, not by some great power.

In the West, in the EU and the USA, however, the workers‘ movement must above all mobilise against the imperialist aims of their „own“ imperialism and to sanctions and economic war against Russia. The US, German and other Western governments are not pursuing democratic and humanitarian interests. They do not care about Ukraine’s right to self-determination, let alone its democracy, as their years of collaborating with the ultra-right prove. For them, Ukraine is above all a front line on the geostrategic battlefield and also a reservoir of cheap labour and raw materials. What is needed here is to build solidarity and resistance that support the objective interests of the Ukrainian and Russian working classes, and not to ally with the power interests of their own governments.


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