Katerina never photographs her companions before going to the front. Consider it bad luck. Karina does not tell her mother that she is going to what she calls “Line Zero”. Iana uses social media to cheer up her family members.
On another day of war in eastern Ukraine, the three rest with their unit in a village before a new rotation begins. They agree to talk about their life on the front lines, the conflict they didn’t expect and the last five months that “felt like years”.
Katerina Novakivska, 29, is a deputy commander of a unit in Donbass, an industrial region the Russians are trying to control and where fighting is wreaking havoc. The young woman, originally from Vinnytsia (center), was short, dark, thin and blackeyed. She had just graduated from the Army Academy when the war started.
Katerina is primarily responsible for the moral and psychological support of the troupe. After the usual speech about the soldiers’ “satisfying spirit” and the legitimacy of their struggle, she explains that “the hardest thing for them is losing comrades” and for them to distance themselves from the horror stories.
“They trust me because there’s a lot they can’t say to their relatives,” says the deputy commander. Their greatest fear is being abandoned, killed, or injured on the battlefield.
Katerina remembers the fateful day of May 28, when 11 soldiers died and about 20 disappeared. In the noise of the invasion, men disappear and no one can tell what happened to them.
The subcommander admits that her biggest fear is being kidnapped by Russian soldiers. “But I’ve already planned everything,” he says, mentioning the possibility of committing suicide before it falls into enemy hands.
Katerina has a small scar on her nose left by an explosion in March and a lotus flower on her forearm, a tattoo done in the Russianoccupied town of Volnovakha in 2017 that she says “doesn’t exist anymore.” .
On social media, Iana Pazdri plays with the cliché of being a soldier, showing off her perfectly painted nails while driving an armored vehicle or wielding a weapon.
Iana, 35, has been fighting since the invasion of Ukraine began and, like her companions, has not seen her children for five months. “I volunteered because I’m a patriot and I thought I could be useful here,” she says, referring to the Army as a family.
Whenever she has time, Iana posts excerpts from her military life on Instagram and Tik Tok. “Some soldiers have to live on line zero, under fire,” he says, citing the term often used in Ukraine to refer to the front line. “But honestly, sometimes it’s hard.”
Dozens of soldiers are killed daily on the eastern Ukrainian front, where Russian forces made great strides in May and June, capturing virtually the entire Lugansk region. Since then, the front line has hardly moved, but artillery fighting has intensified.
Karina, a former textile worker of Tajik origin, joined the army in 2020 on a twoyear contract. She drives an armored vehicle at the front.
“When you’re in position, it’s hard to think about your teammates, hoping that nobody gets killed or injured, that you don’t get attacked yourself,” says the young woman, who is also a qualified mechanic.
Karina’s husband eagerly awaits her at home, but she points out: “No one tells me what to do.” When he calls his mother, he doesn’t say he’s at the front, “and she pretends he is believe,” he says.
Karina does not believe that the war will end any time soon. “The Russians have already conquered a lot of territory.” For Iana, defeat is not an option. “Whatever happens, we will win. We have no right to lose,” stresses the fighter, who plans to travel to the Caribbean and South America after the conflict.