European Wilderness Society

Ukrainian women-foresters in the wartime

In November, 2022 Final conference of the International project “Forests in Women’s Hands” (Fem4Forest) was organized in Slovenia. 14 partners from 10 European countries studied and compared the role of women in the Danube Region, exchanged experiences and developed different tools to support women´s equal presence and competencies at the market.

One of the Fem4Forest partners is NGO FORZA from Ukraine, who is also a long-term partner of the European Wilderness Society. FORZA´s head, Lesya Loyko, hold a presentation on the Conference about the forest sector of Ukraine and women-foresters in wartime. Ms. Loyko kindly shared impressive stories about the Ukrainian forest sector during war and its brave female foresters. For her presentation, Ms.Loyko used information of Eco-inform.

Ukrainian forest sector in wartime

The forest sector of Ukraine is highly affected by war.

Military actions influenced 3 million hectares of forest lands, 20% of the forest areas are still under occupation. And this means that it is impossible to conduct forestry activities there. Even though part of the area is liberated, there are regional forest administrations and state forest enterprises that remain at the forefront of the war.

Foresters fight forest fires that are the results of bombings; the number of those tripled in comparison with last year. Approximately 700 000 hectares of forests are mined, and it is impossible to enter them and have any forestry activities before demining.

A lot of buildings of forest enterprises and other infrastructure is completely destroyed.
Based on the very preliminary estimations, the damage caused to state-owned forests and infrastructure as a result of russian aggression is estimated at 377 million euros.

Every seventh forester defends Ukraine from russian aggression on the front line. Unfortunately, some of them are killed and wounded. Others are working in the sector to support the defenders.

Ukrainian women foresters at war

More than 2 thousand foresters, mostly women with their children and elderly relatives, had to leave their homes, fleeing away from the war. Most of them moved to the Western part of Ukraine, some found shelter abroad.

The stories of female foresters are very different, but they are very illustrative. They are about young, middle-aged, and senior women living in different parts of Ukraine and abroad, whose lives are impacted to a bigger or lower extent by the ongoing war.

Vlada, 26, an assistant forester from Kharkiv region

Vlada was saving forests from fires caused by bombings, side by side with men. Her hometown Balaklia was occupied on March 2 and she had to escape. After several months of uncertainty, Vlada started to work at the forest enterprise close to the frontline. During her work there, she flighted 8 forest fires. It was pretty challenging and scary because it was 40 degrees hot, and the shelling didn’t stop.

I’m not just a girl, I’m a forester, also a defender of Ukraine!

assistant forester

Unbreakable Iryna, 40, forest engineer from Crimea

Iryna is a forestry engineer and until 2014 she lived and worked in Crimea. She had a good job, prospects, and career growth there. She has three children. When Crimea was annexed, she left the peninsula.

Since 2015, Iryna, whose nick is “Unbreakable,” together with her husband, has been defending Ukraine on the east, serving in the hottest spots on the front map. She began her military career with a volunteer battalion and later signed a contract with the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Currently, Iryna is the commander of a reconnaissance unit.

Talking of difficulties that she had to overcome in the Army, Iryna mentioned the stereotypes that still exist about women: they should stay at home, cook borsch, make varenyky and raise children. This is how she speaks about her motivation to defend our country:

I made this decision 7 years ago. Yes, it was scary, but war is always scary, especially when children die. We must fight for our future, for the future of our children. That is why I am in the army!

forest engineer

Tetyana, a forest master in the Carpathian region

Tetyana spends all her working time in the forest: on foot, driving a car, on horseback, and in winter by skiing. She has a gun permit, and she feels confident in the forest under any circumstances and in any weather.

She moved from russia to Ukraine in 2014 and this war is her personal pain. Tetyana is the mother of 12 children, 6 boys and 6 girls. But unfortunately, an enormous tragedy befell her family. Recently Tetyana lost in the war her 2 sons: Roman and Leonid, who were 20 and 24, defended Ukraine and died in one day. Despite the terrible grief, the family is holding on. Tetyana sees her future in protecting the Carpathian forests that became native to her and remembering about sons for the sake of other children

Valentyna, Professor, and Doctor of Science from Kharkiv

Valentyna made a research on the dynamics of forest insect populations, the impact of harmful insects on the condition and growth of trees, and forest protection. Kharkiv was and still is heavily bombed. When it became impossible for her to sleep at night in the basement, live with the fear that during the next bombing, she might not reach a safe place to hide, she started to look for opportunities to flee away from the war. Due to generosity  of the Czech University of Life Sciences Valentyna has the possibility to work there and continue her research.

Olena, master of forest from Carpathian region

Olena takes care of  7.7 hectares of forest. Her working day often begins with the first roosters and ends late at night. She has a lot of tasks – cares about the forest, participates in the planned felling, protects the forests from pests, plants seedlings and does many other things.

Besides, Olena takes care of her 3 kids, does the household work, cooks food, and supports her parents. In her tight schedule, she manages to find time to collect mountain herbs, berries, and mushrooms. These days Olena and her colleagues-foresters help Ukrainian defenders with non-timber products. They deliver them self-made canned mushrooms and berries, herbal teas, and provide other help. She calls these things “healing gifts of the Carpathians” to protect and support the health and immunity of our defenders at the front

New roles and challenges

As FORZA makes conclusions, the war brought female foresters and other women in Ukraine new roles and also new challenges. Women have to continue doing their professional work. But they also have to implement their traditional roles as mothers, daughters, and wives. Furthermore, they took new responsibilities beyond their professional boundaries: they defend their homeland; became volunteers helping the Army and the civilians to address their urgent needs  as well as providing humanitarian aid.

Ukraine is a powerful, independent, incredibly talented and extremely strong state. Stand with Ukraine in co-creating and rebuilding our country, and together we win!

Lesya Loyko
Head of NGO FORZA, Ukraine

If you are interested to watch Lesya´s presentation and are interested to immerse into the whole Conference atmosphere,  you can follow it on the Fem4Forest FB page:

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