Ariadne's thread, episode 3, transcription: On gender and war

Length of recording: 54 minutes

Participants: Anna Avdeeva and Maryna Shevtsova

Transcription notes:

AA: Anna Avdeeva

MS: Maryna Shevtsova

(-): an unrecognized word


AA: Hello, everyone. We continue this series of podcasts on the Russian war in Ukraine and Ukraine right now. And today in the studio, I will have a discussion with my Ukrainian colleague, Dr. Maryna Shevtsova, who is postdoctoral researcher at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, and a senior FWO fellow at Leuven, Belgium. And our major focus today would be gender and all the gender issues tightly bound to the current events. Maryna, hello.

MS: Yes, hello Anna, thank you very much for having me here. I'm looking forward to our discussion.

AA: Great, me too. And I think it's really important for us to be critical and to take this critical feminist position. And as gender scholars at the background, we could provide some not that obvious and apparent knowledge or ideas about what's going on and maybe even provide some kind of prognosis. So in order to start the discussion, I would like to start with your ideas about the masculinities, because to provide the context, in Russia right now, many Russian scholars, especially those of them who are dealing with gender studies, is thinking over and trying to comprehend the phenomenon of masculinities. Because what's going on from the Russian side is definitely a highly gendered phenomenon. And it brings up the question of dominant masculinity and masculinity discourse in contemporary Russian society. Because Putin himself symbolizes a really, what is called toxic masculinity. It's hyper masculine, quite vile and dominated. So in terms of Raewyn Connel we can say that it's like dominant masculinity. Yet while President Zelenskyy seems to be the symbol of new masculinity. He's younger, he's more open to the dialog and he is really inspiring for many people across the world and in Russia as well for those who are not supporting the war. And it really brings the discussion of what's next, which kind of masculinity will win in this situation and how does it look in Ukraine? What do Ukrainian scholars say about that?

MS: Thank you, Anna. I was actually a little bit surprised or taken by surprise when we started discussing masculinity comparing masculinity of the presidents, not because it's the wrong approach, actually it seems very obvious to do so now. But I just came to realize that when we discuss gendered aspects of war in Ukraine with Ukrainian colleagues, we discuss much more the situation on the ground and how…Well, I read somewhere a couple of days ago that war usually kind of cements traditional gender roles or conventional gender roles. And we now discuss more whether those roles have been challenged and whether it is promising for us. But I'm sure we'll discuss this today too, but now that you, you know, opened this interesting question with the masculinity of country leaders, I thought that yes, indeed. So apart from Zelenskyy, I don't know how familiar you are with this. We have now the whole list of new emerging leaders, leaders from different oblasts or regions of Ukraine and of course, especially those that are under fire. The mayor of Nikolaev, of the southern part of Ukraine, then we have counselor advisor to Zelenskyy, Arestovych, then we have of course the prime minister, for me more familiar is the governor of Dnipro oblast. And all of them now, of course thanks to their press secretaries or PR managers have changed their communication style and become much more open to the population following the strategy of Zelenskyy’s party. So they all now have Telegram channels, they record videos almost daily and they combine them. So now it's not only, of course, most importantly, this is an update always on the war situation. So all citizens, or maybe that's an exaggeration, but many Ukrainians try to wake up to, including myself, open the smartphone and see the video of, let’s say, (-) from the Dnipro area. And he, with this you know fatherly or this caring husband voice will tell you that in our region tonight, it was it was disturbing but it was alright, we are standing strong, go hug your beloved ones or he posts pictures of his dogs. So this is like, this is approachable a nicer but still of course I mean, this is still very masculine protective you know, sexualized because there are now a lot of memes about how you know, who are those men who gain our hearts. And I just saw that there is only one woman who’s videos we see from time to time, she's Iryna Vereshchuk, a vice premier and the minister of the issues of reintegration of temporarily occupied areas and she usually speaks about the need to evacuate or opening green corridors to evacuate those civilians from those areas. So you are right, and I think of course compared to probably Putin's masculinity this one is less toxic but still it is pretty conventional I would say. This image that we have is this very good owner, very good husband, father, who is there to protect you while you go do your work or take care of whatever you need to do.

AA: It's really interesting and here I am also thinking about the generational aspect, because Putin is much older than Zelenskyy and in his case and Putin's case, it would be logical to speak about him as the father of the nation, which he doesn't utilize, and he doesn't utilize that actually. So there is no discourse of him as a father, but his age doesn't make him more accessible, let's say, to the irregular Russians, especially like the Russians of my generation, which are in their like thirties while Zelenskyy being younger than Putin, he seems to be much more approachable, not as a peer person with whom you can like talk because he’s status position is really high. But yeah, this idea of like being more accessible what do I think about this? How does it feel for Ukrainian citizens, for Ukrainians, with such a young president I would say.

MS: I think it fits very well into this image, or this narrative about how now Ukrainians have tried to define themselves different from Russians. And the main point is, and we were talking about this last time, that in Russia they always had Tsar, so somebody who inherits his position while in Ukraine, we had Hetmans who were elected by Cossacks. Of course this is only a part of Ukraine that had Cossacks and not the major part of Ukraine, but this is the image that we historically like to identify ourselves with. This Cossack siege, which was actually quite patriarchal, sexist, exclusive and very problematic settlement, if we decide to be deconstruct it. At the same time it symbolizes freedom and the possibility to get rid of the authorities that don’t fulfill all the promises, that don't meet your expectations, so you have this (-) once in a while where the Cossacks just say ‘go away’ to the hetmans. So this figures of leaders who are there, unfortunately, and this is also that's what they're promising, we don't know whether it's true, but they say that if people will be unhappy with me and not satisfied, then I will leave because I'm here to serve the people. And, you know, the servant of the people was reached, Zelenskyy came to power. I think it satisfies people more. So there is this idea and I think in part it is illusion because you know, still I think they will be there in most of the case until the end of his term. But we know that the authorities are changing and next time we would choose some other president. And this is important also, the possibility to criticize power openly. And I think this is also maybe a different thing about the power of the leaders in Ukraine and also the governments because there was always a freedom or say freedom of criticism, of speech, of jokes. And this is again, and I always say that, this is a bit problematic because on the one hand, you can publicly criticize power, but it doesn't mean, you know, there have always been these jokes about corruption and about how all the politicians from different parties are actually drinking together, but then they are pretending that they are fighting each other in the parliament. So there was always this space to love those in power which makes them more, you know, less scary, more approachable, more human. And I think it might be not something that in late last years Russian leaders cultivate. I don't think you can easily love Putin.

AA: It's really interesting is what you are saying and it makes me think about gender order like how it is transformed, if it's transformed. Because in Russia, for instance, there has been recently this joke in polls about whom we all would like to see is the president if the elections if the elections are here and many people say vote for female characters. For instance there is Jekaterina Schulmann she is quite popular and well known lecturer who talks a lot about the current political situation in Russia. And she is PhD. In Political Science, I believe, if I'm not mistaken. Then suddenly people are ready to vote for Nabiullina, who is the Minister of Economic Development and Trade in Russia. So it's quite surprising that people are more willingly choosing female persons for leading positions than male. And for me it seems to be symbolizing the crisis of masculinity and existing gender order in Russia. Well, what about Ukraine? You have a quite strong and well known person also who is Iryna Vereshchuk and she is really visible in public space. What happens to gender order in Ukraine in this sense and in regards to political figures in power and who might be in power?

MS: I think it would be very interesting to conduct such polls if we had such means to do such a research because of course, one thing is that this in military times and in wartime we have now, again, the demand for more traditional masculinity is still much higher. And I don't think that in wartimes, martial order many Ukrainians would be progressive or open enough to the idea to replace male leaders by women. But also because on the one hand this last Ukrainian parliament, the current one, is the best when it comes to gender equality because we finally have, there’s still a long way to go, but we have about 20% I believe of women in peace and we had five or four women ministers in the cabinet of ministers of 24, which still shows that it's only 20% in both cases but we don't have these strong female figures or strong women who you know would be there in the case of elections. So I know many ministers or women in peace post photos on Facebook, but still they are placed in the category of education, culture, humanitarian aid, helping to evacuate people and so on. And unfortunately our only strong female politician is Yulia Tymoshenko who is notorious figure. She went through all the various gender roles, you know on the spectrum of whatever a woman can fit in in Ukrainian politics. I remember there was this traditional hairstyle when she was having this huge campaign and there were a whole range of posters saying that ‘they are stealing, she is working, like they are just telling lies, she's working, they’re promising and she’s working.’ Of course everybody would think that ‘she’ is Yulia Tymoshenko because these were her posters but then in the end it said ‘she is Ukraine’. So this was like, okay, Yulia Tymoshenko is Ukraine.

AA: Okay!

MS: Ludovic was saying that the States is him so it's the same here. I think she has her strong base percent electorate that are always with her, they adore her, they voted for her but apart from them I think she lost popular trust and she never was into women's rights or into minority rights, she was always this populist central politician. Quite a strong one, it is just unfortunate for her, it didn't work out quite well and then they put her in prison. So since then, I think she never recovered, never regained her position. But yeah, so the answer would be I think maybe after war because of course feminists talk a lot about how a female leader would be a nice idea but as of now, I don't see at this level, at the highest level, I don't see such a possibility, unfortunately, for Ukraine.

AA: Mhm. In Russia this jokely voting for female candidates is actually a request, some kind of social request for a peaceful existence. And women are in this sense somehow associated with traditional femininity and peace, taking care of the loved ones and so on. Yet it also brings further the question of gender order and what will happen to gender order. So in this sense, for instance, in regard to Ukraine, I'm constantly thinking about this world war 2 which transformed gender order for at least for a moment, for several years in the Western Europe and Western countries, still, then there was some kind of backlash when women were involved, like they were employed on the different factories, they took various positions which previously were taken by men but the wartime required women to take these positions and  then they have been pushed back to the sphere of private, for instance, in the US. How do you see the future of gender ordering in the Ukraine?

MS: Mhm. Yes, about this I think a lot because already since the 2014 riots, since Euromaidan, we already see certain changes. And I wonder if you had the same situation with your Russian friends, but I remember in all my discussions until 2015, 2016, whenever I was talking about feminism with my male friends from Ukraine, they would say, okay, you want equal rights then women should go to military, women should go to the army. And the same argument was used by right wing groups for the cis-gender gay men. And now we actually have the highest rate of women in the Army, active army in Europe. We also have an open group of LGBTQ veterans and soldiers. So now this argument is kind of going away. And moreover, another thing is that when we see how some men are willing or unwilling to join the military forces, you know, we also see that, of course, it was predictable that not everyone is ready to go to the front and the front line. And so here I was thinking today before our conversation about how in peaceful times, we had this kind of excitement or admiration for the males who are, you know, taking care of kids, this engaged parents who take care of kids. And the guy would get all the praises for doing one third of all the job that his wife is doing. And the wife would be criticized because she is not perfect enough as a mother. And here a little bit you can see that the women are now being praised for joining the army while men are shamed because they don't want to do so. And there are many posters, one colleague of mine showed me a couple of days ago a big board in western Ukraine at the railway station where typically people come from all over Ukraine. And it says ‘leave your children and wives to us. We will take care of them, and you go back to work to defend the country’ Then we had this post on social media when a guy, for example, was detained, they were trying to cross the border, and they hid the guy with a box of children's stuff.

AA: Mhm.

MS: And as far as I know now, you can be imprisoned for trying to escape if you are a healthy man from 18 to 60 year old. So now you have this shaming in a way, of men who don't want to join territorial defense, who don't want to go to the military and praising women who do so. And this is very good that we acknowledge this struggle but then again who is a good Ukrainian? Who is a good Ukrainian citizen? the same was LGBTQ people, who are good gays or good lesbians? They are only good if they joined the military or if they collect money and deliver it out to the troops and show that they brought some strategic supplies. So you have to kind of justify your existence. So I think for some groups, if you're a woman, a mother, you took a small child away from the country, this is good. You could fit in, you’re fine, you don't need to prove anything to anyone. The same as if you're a guy and you went to fight at the front, you’re also fine, you are, as we said, following gender roles. And if you are in between, you have to prove all the time that you have the right to do so. Because also what I heard from women soldiers, they say it's not easy for us either because we're accused by our loved ones, our families. I’m not good enough as a mother because I left my son, I'm not good enough as a wife because I make my family cry. And there is a lot of manipulation in this and also, it's clear why it is problematic. I see many women now gaining positions in the middle level and I think that this empowerment to them in the middle level will continue. It's been there for the last eight years and will continue, but it seems to me that at the higher level, actually, it becomes now even more difficult for women because of what we said before, It's martial time, it's war, and it's when men should protect and take care. Some women can join the army, very good for them, but better is Iryna Vereshchuk  who just takes care of the population. So I mean, we definitely have to acknowledge these changes, but also notice where there is still, not even a glass ceiling, a very thick glass ceiling.

AA: And what about the public discussion right now in Ukraine, on female soldiers and female participation in the resistance to the Russian army?

MS: Well, it is there. I mean, it's been there since.. I don't know if you heard, last year there was a scandal. Yeah, it was last year. For the military parades there was a special group, there was one column of women supposed to march. And our Ministry of Defense bought them shoes and high heels. And somebody lucky noticed that. And they were they were like, okay, why are they supposed to wear high heels for the parade? Actually all the other men, they were in normal boots, and these women also when they are in the army they wear boots, they don't wear high heels. So there was this whole discussion. And then in the end, they bought them boots with lower heels, but still with heels. But you know, through such things some public attention was brought to the affected, like hello, we have women in the army, we have women actually going to the eastern part of Ukraine to fight. Also this big research project carried out by Tamara Martsenyuk, Anna Hrytsenko and a couple of others, Maria Berlinska, called Invisible Battalion. The first part was about women soldiers and women veterans and the second, more problematic in a sense of bringing to public discussion how it has been taken, was about sexual violence and sexual harassment in the army. And of course now…This discussion was growing slowly because of course it is problematic because the figure of the soldier or defender is sacred, so to blame them of doing such horrible things is politically difficult. People are afraid to talk about that. And now it becomes even worse because now it's Russian men who are coming, and I'm speaking about the discourse right, it is the Russian men who are coming and raping our women and killing our men. And you know we have this picture of the Russian soldiers hypothetically that carry the washing machine from the house, and then there is the Ukrainian soldiers that bring out cats from the house that is destroyed by bombing which is a very clear position and it's understandable. But we have to, of course, acknowledge that whatever army it is and whatever soldiers, there is violence, there is gender-based violence, there is rape. Unfortunately, it happens even with our soldiers, I'm sure. And there is now.. I’m not sure if there is research on that. I understand why this discussion won’t be in the media. It shouldn't be there now, for obvious reasons. But as scholars this is something we have to take into consideration. We have to collect somehow this data, because this is something that shouldn't be overlooked. But I don't know and I wanted to talk to you about this. How do we treat this as scholars? You know, because on the one hand we are scholars and on the other hand, we are representing our country. And now I can hardly imagine myself going to a conference elsewhere, and while the war is still there I know there is rape in the Ukrainian army.. like that would be very problematic for my career and for my reputation, you know?

AA: Yeah, it's highly problematic and it's also a question for me. First of all, there is violence and sexual violence against women during the war time, it is underestimated and not that widely discussed. And we are lacking the public vocabulary and approaches to discuss it. Since we are lacking it somehow even in academic discourse, it's enormously hard to talk about it during the war time and talking about the violence, for instance, I would like to notice the discussion on sexual violence and rapes regarding the Russian army. Pro-Russian state mass media do not highlight this issue. So they try to hide it, to put it under the carpet, while more liberal and anti-state mass media like Medusa, they are trying to highlight it somehow, they bring it, they publish articles and some kind of reportage on this. They are trying to bring it into the public space and there should be some discussion but as far as I see, many public figures are lacking this language how to discuss it. And this brings us the memories of the red army during the World War Two. Still it is highly problematic to discuss this issue in Russia. It's enormously hard, at least in public space. I have been discussing it with my colleagues, with scholars, but it's a disastrous discussion if you come with it to the public space. And the other thing I was thinking while comprehending this Russian Ukrainian war is Alexievich and her work on women during World War Two. What I'm really concerned with is how these women who participated in the war, especially like from the Ukrainian side, who have been resisting the invasion, who've been protecting their homeland, how they will be treated and seen by.. they are of course citizens, because for me it was devastating to know that women who were resisting Nazis, who have been fighting against and who have been fighting for their homeland, have been treated badly and many women have to hide that they've been at the military service somehow. Yet, from what you say, I hear that the situation has changed and it's hardly possible that this will happen to Ukrainian nation later, that these women will be accused for some strange things or treated badly. How do you see it?

MS: Oh, so I think that, and this is of course only based on the experience we had with the veterans coming from the Eastern part of Ukraine and that war, the war there was so-called hybrid. Last years there were less victims and of course, well, Ukrainian media would always call this or almost always refer to this as a war with Russia. Still, people were used to that already. But of course, we had many veterans, men and women coming back. And on the one hand, you have this large public approval. So the larger discourse goes that all veterans are heroines, they are defenders, protectors. But just one month before the large scale invasion, I interviewed a veteran and also a volunteer working with veterans and soldiers in Dnipro, and this was a very sad interview because they said that women go through so much discrimination once they're back. It's extremely difficult to integrate into societal life because they are expected to somehow pick up where they left and become very good mothers, very good wives, somehow earn money but nobody wants to hire them. So there is large stigma. And I think it's a quite global, from what I see from Hollywood movies about veterans. There it seems like on the one hand, there is this honor on the paper and the media saying that these are our heroes, but when it comes to regular employers they don't want to hire veterans because they think they have PTSD, they have some problems with mental stability and so on. There are now good programs so I hope that with the help of the Western partners this will change and there will be some programs to support additional education for people coming back from war, to provide psychological support. Because it was never happening, during all these eight years they would have to look for such psychologists on their own, and it's expensive and we don't have enough. That's another thing that we would need, we don't have enough psychologist and psychotherapists that have experience with people that have survived the war, with people coming back from real fight. And then there is this accusation of leaving your family. So if a man leaves the family to go to fight, that's fine. If a woman…that is still, I think on a personal level, it is not encouraged. It's probably the same as telling your parents I want to be a PhD., I don't want to have kids and get married. So it's respected from the outside, but your family in most of the cases will still want to see grandkids. So yeah, I'm trying to make a joke here but of course, what I heard then was very, very sad and I hope it will be better now. I think it will be better if Western partners will pressure our government to that, because if again it is on the shoulders of the activists, volunteers and a few NGOs, then it's a drop in the sea because the efforts cannot satisfy the demand. But I hope because of course, Sweden, Finland, also the Netherlands, Canada, there are many countries that do fund such initiatives to support women. And I think now I hope that they will pressure governments to allocate funds and to help these women to get a well-deserved decent place in the society, good jobs, education, psychological support, whatever they need. Something else that I wanted to say is that I think many people don't think about, like, say society in general, I don’t think they think about that. Nobody thinks about how now everybody posts pictures saying like ‘thank you military forces of Ukraine, you are our heroes.’ But, you know, we send money to buy weapons, but I don't think there is this understanding that these people will come back. We need to make them feel welcome, we need to treat them with respect. I think it fades away, I don't know. Do you know how it was in the Soviet Union, for example? I heard of many veterans forgotten. And, you know, we have these images for ninth of May, I remember that once a year we would go with my classmates, in the nineties still, to bring some flowers and a postcard to the veterans. But I know most of the time the state didn't care much.

AA: Yeah, I see what you mean because veterans are usually treated in some strange way during the peaceful times. And I’m also thinking right now about women in the Russian army. So there should be some women in the Russian army and women involved in the this war, participating in the invasion. Still they are invisible, so I haven't heard or met any mentioning of female soldiers. And it's really interesting how gendered this phenomenon still is, even though we are living in this post-feminist era and both Ukraine and Russia are post-socialist countries actually where it was said that the women question is solved, but we still see this very traditional gender role division. So women are supposed to take care of family while men are protecting their homeland. Men are soldiers while the women are more in the sphere of private. And it's visible, it becomes apparent even through the clothing, through the shoes, as you say. It really says a lot about how it is treated, how the female soldiers, how women are actually treated right now. So my question is still whether there is any possibility to change this gender order, whether this war has potential to transform at least anything in terms of gender.

MS: I think the potential is always there, but then the question is who will use this potential? Again, I see that so far it is on the shoulders of volunteers, human rights activists, feminist activists and scholars like ourselves. So if we give it voice, if we push for this agenda, if we problematize things, then there is some progress. Because this is not something, we have this saying in Ukrainian, (-) ‘It's not a good time for that’. And, of course, whenever it comes to such situations as wars and women's rights, (-) it's not a good time for that. Usually it is used to say that let's first solve this situation, let's fight Russia and then we will speak of women's rights, LGBTQ rights and whatever. And this is of course very wrong. But then we have to somehow carve space for ourselves for that. I was just thinking because I was looking up the position of Iryna Vereshchuk and I opened up Google looking for her. And I saw her picture next to the first lady, the wife of Volodymyr Zelenskyy and I was just thinking that I actually personally think she's the best first lady we had so far.

AA: Why?

MS: And I'm not a big fan. I never supported Zelenskyy, but I really liked his wife because I followed her on social media, I listened to her interviews because of course social media is not her product most probably, but the interview. And I like very much how she’s calm and what she's doing to promote Ukrainian language abroad. So, for example, she made this initiative with making Ukrainian audio guides in museums across the world, she is really involved in this ‘accessible cities’, So making the building accessible for people with restricted mobility and for people with disabilities. She works on changing the food at schools to make it healthier. But you see, I list all these typical questions and this is such typical questions for a woman in our society.I know thatvery  well from previous experience, because Zelenskyy was a public figure, a showman, for years and Olena actually wrote a lot of texts for the comedy show where he participated. She ran a lot of stuff, she's very educated, very smart, a very self-confident woman who had to, as it happens with first ladies all the time, she had to be moved backwards. And she got, because of being the wife of the president, so much hate online and from the media. For example, whatever she would dress, she would always be criticized for wearing something inappropriate, something ridiculous, even though she dresses in all of these very classy things. So, I mean, I’m far from knowing fashion, but you know very classy and very careful. They would be like ‘horrible, this is so boring, she’s so tasteless, why couldn't they buy her a normal dress?’ And she reacted always very calmly, she said okay, people can criticize. But just what I want to say that even there, you know, it makes me so upset because you have this brilliant mind apparently, who could have done much more, I'm sure, but who is not given space for that. And I know, digressing, that Hillary Clinton was hated and criticized a lot for interfering too much into politics when she was the wife of Bill Clinton. And I always think that if it were like 20 years later, maybe it wouldn’t have been him but her who would have run for presidency, been younger and would have won. So still I think, and I remember we were going and trying to protect Olena Zelenska at some cost, just because it is so unfair, you don't like your husband, but instead you criticize her dress and nobody cares what Zelenskyy wears. And now he's praised for wearing this simple T-shirt, right? And there are so many posts about that he has this hockey shirt that costs like $10. I mean, we don’t have to go further, you understand what I mean.

AA: Yeah, I see what you mean and it is peculiar for me how the same things are discussed in regards to men and women because of recent memes on the wife of Medvechuk who has been caught by Ukrainian authorities and his wife was addressing Zelenskyy as far as I understood. And she was wearing this plain black sweater and then there were like multiple pictures of her wearing different traditional clothes depending to the president of which country she addresses. And on the one hand is funny, on the other hand, it's really saying a lot about how women and men are perceived. And in this regard, I'm thinking whether these traditional expectations regarding women's role and men's role has any potential to queer the existing gender order. Because I'm still thinking about these funny exit polls done by Russian anti-state mass media in their telegram channels about for whom you would vote if elections were held right now. On the one hand it's quite illustrative that many would vote for these female candidates like Schulmann or Nabiullina, it’s clearly this expectation of peace, it's definitely essentializing women. But it seems there is some potential to rebuild the existing gender order.

MS: But at least, or not at least but when I'm thinking about who our telegram channels would propose to Ukrainians, I can't recall good... I mean Schulmann’s phenomenon, right, it is quite interesting-

AA: Yes

MS: because I don’t know any Ukrainian, for example, or before that Russian public scholar, let's call it public scholar. She seems to have an opinion on everything and at the same time she is extremely, I don’t know, she probably reads a lot because she can cover whatever question and maybe it's not always the deepest coverage or maybe sometimes she's biased.

AA: Definitely

MS: But you know, still it's like you listen to her and she kind of gives you this image of a knowledgeable person, an expert in many things and you want to trust her. I’m not sure about Nabiullina, I never followed her much. But when I think in Ukraine, even this Oksana, what's her name? Oksana Marchenko, Medvechuks wife, she was a TV presenter. She was always very sexualized, so a lot of cleavage and a lot of makeup. So many Ukrainian popular public figures are actually TV presenters or talk show stars. And then, of course, even though we have an actor who became a president, they are not ones who I would love to offer as an alternative to him. We have the state prosecutor who is a woman, but she's not too popular because she was a bit reluctant to pursue some anti-corruption cases. But yeah, I wonder if we had some popular scholars like Schulman, then I think maybe Ukrainians would be more excited about female candidates. But I mean, I wouldn't say that she is a stereotypical woman, right? Even though she's more peaceful than Putin definitely, but she's doesn't use much makeup, she's this typical professor, so she's okay to be a potential president of Ukraine. Not Ukraine, I mean Russia.

AA: Yeah. But the thing is that she has been accused for two common done people in various crisis periods. And it's not really a popular opinion, but at least I've met it a couple of times. And through these coming down like regular people, she actually makes them less politicized. So when you are not that excited or concerned about something, you are not protesting, for instance, it's too much. And it's really about gender. How we are trapped in these gender norms, in these gender expectations and whatever position you take, trying to turn it out in a different way, you are coming back to this gender issue that…

MS: So about Tsikhanouskaya you know, who kind of stood up to Lukashenko and she is now somewhere in Europe, right? But I think she wasn't efficient enough in a sense to make all Belarussians stand up against Lukashenko. But at the same time, I do believe that probably many people actually do support Lukashenko in the same way like many people support Putin for their various reasons. But she was also this figure that was first blackmailed saying that they will do something to her children and to her husband, and then she changed her mind and she still decided to go for it and to try to mobilize people. What do you think of her?

AA: I think it's one of the pieces of the picture which I can see and which I can grasp, but from which I cannot comprehend the whole yet. This need for a female is clearly the reaction towards these masculine politics, which cannot be handled any longer by people. So people try to revert it, absolutely, as far as I see. And I wonder whether it's about feminism and feminist agenda per se, mostly I see it as the reaction against. That’s the point, so we are so against the current militaristic masculinist politics that we are ready to vote for female candidates and make a female candidate a president. Just to resist what happens, just to resist the violence. So women figures are seen as a savior, as a person who can help to resist the state violence. And I think it's quite illustrative and it provides much more space. And while it doesn't contain so much feminist discourse on it, it gives this actual space for women to come into power and to change something, to make the world different. And on this note, finalizing our discussion today, I would like to discuss with you the possibility of solidarity for women in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. I was reading a lot recently about Yugoslavian feminists and grassroot organizations working at the war period, and I was amazed. They identify themselves actually as Yugoslav and feminist, so it's not my definition. But women from Bosnia, from Serbia, from Croatia at that time found it necessary to cooperate, to share information, to share materials, knowledge, foods, all kind of resources that they had in order to resist the war and the politics and support each other. So I wonder if this kind of solidarity is possible right now. Because I see many Russian feminists who are supporting their Ukrainian sisters. Not only feminist, but lay women who are really hard turned to what's going on and who would like to contribute somehow to peacebuilding, and to support. But the question is whether Ukrainian women are willing to engage in any type of cooperation right now. So what do you think about possibility of solidarity?

MS: Yeah, that's a tough question because it's difficult to speak about all Ukrainian women or Ukrainian feminists because we have all these different movements. But I think one thing that immediately came to my mind is, what would be very important, I think there wouldn't be any umbrella term like post-Soviet or Eastern European feminists in this case, because this is what is particularly important for Ukrainian women now, not to be equal, called sister nations or brother nations. I think there is very much resistance and aggression towards this for obvious reasons. I do see, and it is much easier, even though Belarus kind of is at semi-war with Ukraine now, I think it is still much easier for Ukrainians to accept solidarity coming from Belarusians than from Russia. But I think this is the same as, but different example, looking vice versa as with the treatment of veterans. They are on the higher level seen as heroes but at the individual level marginalized and discriminated and so on. On the general level you see the maximum level of hatred or at least reluctance to trust the Russian population and some Russian groups and organizations in general. But if we look on the ground, we actually will see much cooperation and solidarity and discussion like ours, which is of course a tiny, tiny example. But here in Slovenia, where I am, there is very tight work between all Russian speaking groups, those who share the same political position. And I see also through social media cooperation between the LGBTQ organizations in Ukraine and Russia. So I think there is some space for feminists and for women's rights activists. But I’m only being cautious because from some groups there is this paternalistic or, how would you say, big sister attitude towards Ukraine or the Ukrainian language and culture. So if this is taken into consideration with respect and understanding that we have now huge trauma which won't be processed that easily, then of course. And I think we also need to think closer cooperation and rebuilding our societies from inside, changing them and building some new kinds of relations. Because, although it would be very nice to say let's put a wall between our two countries and we'll never speak again, and you live by yourself and we will be by ourselves. But realistically, it will not happen. People will be getting married, people will be moving back and forth for work. And in 100 years there will be new conflicts and new peaces and new things. So maybe there is a moment for us now to think what would be good for us when living together as a society, what kind of society we want to build, and try to carve our spaces. How does it sound?

AA: Yeah, it provides me some hope that there is space for solidarity. And definitely, while talking about sisterhood we should use the term as global feminists use sisterhood. And it's not like this elder sister, Russian elder sister and younger Ukrainian sister. It's definitely not the case here. And we should be really accurate and cautious with the language we use here.

MS: I’m nodding here, our listeners cannot see it but I’m actually nodding.

AA: Yeah. Maryna, thank you very much. We are running out of time and we have to finish right now. So thank you very much for this really inspiring talk and discussion. It’s really thought-provoking

MS: Thank you very much. I won’t be able to sleep tonight because I have too many thoughts now.

AA: So thank you. See you soon, I hope.

MS: Fingers crossed. Bye bye!

AA: Bye!