Soldiers are becoming scarce: How Russia is recruiting women for the front

Russia is constantly looking for new soldiers for its war in Ukraine. There are now apparently increasing attempts to recruit women for the front. Advertising takes place in videos on the Internet – and in prisons.

Peaked cap in camouflage colors, Kalashnikov in hand, optimism in your voice: This is how “Walküre” presents itself on a Russian internet platform. The video with the young soldier was allegedly recorded in the “zone of military special operations,” as the war zone in Ukraine is called in Russia.

“Valkyrie” is actually called Natalia, she comes from the Ural Mountains and, like everyone in the “zone of military special operations”, has a battle name. “Demon” alias Julia from Donetsk sits next to her. “Demon is her state of mind,” jokes “Walküre” about her comrade. “She’s stubborn in her pursuit and it doesn’t matter that she’s a girl!” “Demon” nods. She wears a bulletproof vest.

Lots of money and good social benefits for fighting in the war

The video with the two women appeared on the Internet a few weeks ago and has since been viewed thousands of times. In the interview, which is accompanied by images of a shooting exercise, the young soldiers emphasize, among other things, how important it is for them to serve with weapons. The two are said to belong to the “Bors” battalion, which, according to Russian media, is a so-called volunteer combat unit subordinate to the Russian Ministry of Defense.

“Bors” is currently recruiting staff on a large Russian contact platform. We are primarily looking for drone pilots and snipers, but also paramedics and drivers. The contract that is being offered to those interested will have a term of six months, it is said, and will also include social benefits. Monthly salary: 220,000 rubles – the equivalent of almost 2,300 euros. By Russian standards that is a lot of money. The ad is formulated in a gender-neutral manner.

At the same time, another account called “kampffreundin” explicitly addresses women who are offered contracts with exactly the same conditions as “Bors”: the same duration, the same salary. Careers wanted here: female snipers and drone pilots. Coincidence? In her video, “Demon” Julia from “Bors” tells us that she is currently training to be a sniper and is also learning to operate a drone. “Walküre” Natalia works as a paramedic trainer.

The “Enchanting Army”

The two women are not isolated cases. In March of this year, on the occasion of International Women’s Day, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu proudly announced that around 44,500 women were currently serving in the army. 1,100 of them are taking direct part in “special military operations” in Ukraine, and one in three of them has been honored by the state. Another 1,300 studied at military colleges. Shoigu called them a “charming army.” Last year, 128 female soldiers from this “enchanting army” were honored for their special achievements, 24 of them for their participation in combat operations at the front.

According to the Russian news agency Ria Novosti, women serve in all branches of the Russian armed forces and hold a total of 150 professions.

From prison straight to war

However, Shoigu does not mention that more and more women are being recruited to serve as prisoners in Russian prisons, says Berlin-based human rights activist Olga Romanova in an interview with Deutsche Welle. Her non-governmental organization (NGO) “Russia Behind Bars” helps prisoners, including through legal assistance. She is well connected in Russia.

According to Russia Behind Bars, the first 50 imprisoned women were recruited exactly a year ago at a correctional facility in the Russian-annexed Ukrainian city of Luhansk. As a result, more women from prisons in Russia were recruited for the front, reports Romanowa. There are now thousands.

“Victim of Propaganda”

Unlike Shoigu, she does not call the women “an enchanting army,” but rather “victims of propaganda.” On the one hand they have moral motives, on the other hand they are attracted by the amount of money. In addition, their sentence would be waived upon their return from the war. Romanowa said that a large number of male prisoners were also being recruited for the front. In contrast to the men, who think more pragmatically, many women are firmly convinced that with their combat mission they are helping their home country in a difficult time: “For them it is the chance to start their lives over again and one day to return to their families as a better person and as a heroine with money.”

Romanowa has no personal contact with women who do not leave prisons but go to the front voluntarily. She suspects that most of them either followed their men to the front or came “from the organs of state power,” especially the police. They would see a “shower of gold suddenly raining down on them,” the activist speculates.

Equality in the most negative sense

When asked what the increased recruitment of women says about the state of Russian armed forces, Romanova states with bitter irony: “If I didn’t know the conditions in Russian prisons or at the front, I would talk about equality between men and women speak. Of course, these women are used as cannon fodder. In this respect they are actually equal to men.”

Romanowa hopes that in the end many women will decide against the war and a “misunderstood love of homeland”.

Jean Harris

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