oDR: Opinion

Why we as feminists must lobby for air defence for Ukraine

We are critical of militarisation, but we believe pacifism will kill and that Russia’s war crimes have left us with no option

Darya Tsymbalyuk Iryna Zamuruieva
16 March 2022, 4.20pm
A Ukrainian woman who fled Mariupol is comforted after handing her cat over to an animal shelter in Lviv
Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters/Alamy

As feminists, we are critical of militarisation. We do not support the military-industrial complex and international markets for weapons sales.

But Russia’s war against our homeland, Ukraine, has forced us into a situation where we believe the only ethical choice for us as feminists is to lobby for more air defence systems for our country.

Russia’s war crimes have left us no option but to campaign for more military aid to be able to defend ourselves and survive.

Why do we need better air defence?

Our home is under attack: though we now live in Scotland, both of us grew up in Ukraine and our parents and friends remain there, hiding in basements and metro stations, where their health is deteriorating from cold and lack of sleep, or defending their hometowns in territorial defence units.

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Russia has been razing Ukrainian cities to the ground. This is not the strategic targeting of military infrastructure, but the ruthless killing of civilians in cold blood.

On 9 March, the Russian army destroyed a maternity hospital in the southern port city of Mariupol. Four days later, one of the women wounded in the attack died, along with her unborn baby.

Debris of destroyed Mariupol buildings litters the streets as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues, 12 March

Debris from destroyed Mariupol buildings litters the streets as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues, 12 March

UPI/Alamy Live News

Since the beginning of the escalation and the siege of Mariupol, more than 2,200 civilians have been killed. An adviser to the mayor of Mariupol said the actual number of the victims could be much higher – up to 20,000 people.

While we were writing this piece, on 14 March, there were at least 22 missile attacks on the city. In the previous weeks, more than 100 bombs have been dropped on Mariupol, in what seems to be an attempt to completely erase the city from the face of the Earth.

The siege continues, and the city remains without water, electricity and heating. When humanitarian corridors have been organised to evacuate residents, Russia has shelled them too.

Mariupol is not the only city where civilians have been mercilessly targeted. On the other side of the country, Kharkiv has been shelled heavily for days, and around 600 residential buildings, including 50 schools, have been destroyed. The list goes on: the towns of Irpin and Bucha outside Kyiv, and Volnovakha in the Donetsk region. On 11 March, Russians reportedly shot women and children who had tried to flee a village, Peremoha, in the Kyiv region, killing at least seven people.

Nowhere in Ukraine is safe at the moment. Russian soldiers have been committing war crime after war crime. They will continue to do so if we do nothing to stop them.

Why is this an imperial war?

It is impossible to tell the history of Ukraine and the history of its struggle against Russia here. But a few things are important to understand the broader context of Russia’s imperial war against Ukraine.

First, for centuries, Russia has been coercing Ukraine into its political, economic and cultural space. The country has constructed Ukrainians as inferior, as “little Russians”, as a colonial Other. In his speech on 21 February 2022, Putin stated that Ukraine is not a real country. All over the world, indigenous people have experienced this kind of violence and intentional destruction by a coloniser.

Russia’s war against Ukraine is not only an attack on the country’s land and sovereignty, and it did not start in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea or the occupation of parts of Donbas. Russia has been leading a colonial war of slow violence against Ukraine for centuries, erasing us as a people, society and culture.

Artwork by Iryna Zamuruieva, produced in response to the situation in Ukraine

Artwork by Iryna Zamuruieva, produced in response to the situation in Ukraine

Iryna Zamuruieva. All rights reserved


Our understanding of feminism is an active intersectional struggle to dismantle all kinds of oppression. Our understanding of feminism is about helping the oppressed to survive.

The war in Ukraine presents us with a particular kind of oppression: Russia’s imperialism poses an existential threat to our homeland.

For us, dismantling Russian oppression starts with resistance. This resistance is of a very practical and down-to-earth nature: it means being able to first and foremost defend ourselves from the rockets and bombs dropped at us from the sky by the Russian military. The people of Ukraine have shown immense courage in defending their land and standing up against oppression. However, we will not last long on courage alone. With every moment it is increasingly clear that if we want Ukraine to be able to continue resisting, and if we want to stop the brutal murder of civilians, we have to support provisions of more air defence equipment to Ukraine.

pacifism kills.jpg
Iryna Zamuruieva and Darya Tsymbalyuk. All rights reserved

Calling for military support has not come as an easy decision for us. Yet, at this point, a pacifist stance perpetuates ongoing violence. Pacifism kills. Inaction kills. Each day of this war means more and more lives are lost – and not only human lives, but also lives of other species, with whole ecosystems ruptured and attacked.

What we need is an empathetic and involved response to the unjustly treated people, a response that pulses with rage and solidarity. Hesitating to support more weapons for Ukraine means supporting the perpetuation of war crimes from the privilege of one’s safety.

There is no neat blueprint for practising ethical politics. But at this moment, non-military aid is not enough. In the case of Ukraine now, it is not an abstract ethical question of supporting militarisation. It is a question of life or death, of allowing people on the ground to defend themselves and defend civilians from constant shelling by Russia.

Finally, feminist ethics requires a collective responsibility to help the victim. The people’s military and civilian mobilisation in Ukraine emphasises the clear divide between the victim – the people of Ukraine, violently attacked in their homes – and the aggressor, Russia, which commits brutal war crimes against a peaceful and sovereign people. This conflict is black and white, and the world has a responsibility to help the people of Ukraine defend themselves.

Artwork by Darya Tsymbalyuk, produced in response to the situation in Ukraine

Artwork by Darya Tsymbalyuk, produced in response to the situation in Ukraine

Darya Tsymbalyuk. All rights reserved

What can you do now?

While in the long run, we commit to continue building anti-capitalist, anti-imperial, intersectional feminist solidarity. Now we call for your support to put political pressure on Western governments to provide Ukraine with more air defence equipment.

If you are organising a demonstration or a campaign for Ukraine, please remember to raise the question about military aid for Ukraine. The conversation about weapons is a difficult one, so we ask you to talk to your friends and share this article. We recently organised a video discussion with people on the ground in Ukraine about Russian shelling and air assaults. We also ask you to write to your government representatives and we suggest some ideas here for what to include:

  • supply Ukraine with anti-air equipment, especially ones that would allow the targeting of high-altitude jets (or aircraft) during night time and in poor visibility
  • supply Ukraine with UAVs (drones) to aid in their fight on the ground
  • provide MiG and Sukhoi (SU) fighters which could be supplied to the Ukrainian Air Forces as these are the same planes that Ukrainian forces fly currently
  • provide logistical support to Ukraine to transport weapons to the country and across the country
  • declare that, in the event of Russia using biological and chemical weapons, a no-fly zone will be established
  • provide vital military and humanitarian supplies to Ukraine that will sustain the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ capabilities and alleviate civilian suffering; bulletproof vests (ballistic level 4 at minimum) and helmets are a priority
  • make sure sanctions are implemented thoroughly

Only together can we dismantle Russian oppression and stop the murder of civilians in Ukraine. The people of Ukraine are already fighting with all their power. Do not leave them alone in this struggle – help them to get the tools to defend themselves.

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