Women’s leadership in wartime: contributing to victory at the local level


At the end of November, the Sixth Ukrainian Women's Congress Values ​​during the war was held. It was dedicated to the challenges faced by women during the war and the values ​​that help the Ukrainian society and global community overcomes these challenges.

As one of the partners of the Congress, the U-LEAD with Europe Programme initiated a special panel within the framework of the event – a panel dedicated to the topic: Women in local self-government. The role of women’s leadership, the contribution of municipalities to victory and the decisive role of women in this process will be one of the main topics of discussion.

“With the beginning of the full-scale war, the representatives of the local self-government took on a part of the military function as well. This is not only a completely new role, but also additional responsibility, the ability to work in stressful and often difficult circumstances, as well as the manifestation of leadership qualities and courage in the field. As we saw from the examples given, including during the Congress, Ukrainian women have plenty of such qualities," emphasized Kateryna Korenkova, Programme Monitoring Advisor and Coordinator for Gender Equality Direction in U-LEAD.

We have many examples of female leaders to follow and talk about, especially in wartime. We met these women during the Congress, others we already knew thanks to the She-LEADs Women's Leadership Network created by the U-LEAD Programme. Their stories are worthy of attention.

After all, despite military aggression, shelling, and sometimes the threat to their own lives, female leaders in municipalities remain on the ground, rising to the challenges of wartime, organising volunteer movements, managing the processes of rebuilding after destruction, helping the victims and staying in touch with the people in their municipalities 24/7.

Life on the border: with the municipality from the first moments of the war

Velyka Pysarivka in the Sumy oblast was among the first municipalities to feel the aggression of their neighbour, because on September 24 at 4 a.m., after the attack on the customs checkpoint, Russian military vehicles moved through its territory. The head of the municipality, Liudmila Biriukova, admits that in the first moments of the war, no one knew what to do, there were no algorithms or instructions, and the phone numbers of those responsible for guiding the municipality in an emergency like this were silent.

“I had to make quick decisions and set the tone for the municipality to avoid panic and help people feel as calm as possible in that situation. I remained in contact around the clock, constantly updating people via social media”.

Ms Biriukova rallied the population, organised a humanitarian hub to collect warm clothes and food, and already on February 26, volunteers of the Velyka Pysarivka municipality brought first aid to the neighbouring Okhtyrka municipality, which was under non-stop shelling. Assistance to neighbouring municipalities continues to this day. Velyka Pysarivka also helps de-occupied municipalities of the Kharkiv oblast.

From the first days, decisions had to be made regarding the analysis of destruction, resettlement of people and assistance to those who were left without a roof over their heads.

“The war brought destruction to the residential buildings, business infrastructure and the social sector. To date, we have examined more than 700 properties that were damaged or destroyed. The municipality was not ready for the attack and shelling. We could not financially help people who lost their homes, so we sought shelter for them in neighbouring villages. Some of them were temporarily housed in administrative premises,” said the head of the municipality.

The Velyka Pysarivka municipality shares about 50 km of a common border with the aggressor state and feels it: shelling and provocations by Russia are an almost everyday occurrence.

“But the popular mood in Velyka Pysarivka is optimistic. The war will end in victory,” Lyudmila Biryukova stressed.

Despite the constant threat, the municipality has been implementing its pre-war plans: a modern internal medicine department was recently opened and an X-ray machine was purchased. As early as in December, the municipality will purchase a new school bus. There is a need for it, because most of the municipal equipment was sent to the front lines from the first days of the war to bring victory closer.

“Our people are united for victory. Everyone who stayed at their workplace, managers and workers alike, took up volunteering and doing whatever job was needed at that time. I am grateful to the entrepreneurs of my municipality, agribusinesses, employees of the village council and every starosta who solved both military and civil issues in the area entrusted to them. Together we are a mighty, unstoppable force,” said Liudmila Biriukova.

International support to municipalities and integration of IDPs

In the first days of the war, a significant number of people were forced to flee their homes and become internally displaced persons (IDPs). People travelled from the eastern oblasts, from Kyiv, Chernihiv, Zhytomyr in search of a safe place to stay for themselves and their families. They were welcomed in Dnipro, Cherkasy and the western oblasts of the country.

"Under the leadership of Nataliia Katriuk, the Mamaivtsi municipality of the Chernivtsi oblast has accepted a significant number of IDPs, launched numerous volunteer initiatives and is building new and attracting already established international connections to provide support to those who need it.“In the first days of the war, we had to recover very quickly. My phone was ringing almost 24/7, and people were coming to us. We accepted about 2,800 IDPs, which is about 14% of our population. Another 1,500 passed through our municipality. We have a densely populated sector and there are no abandoned houses, so our first priority was accommodating people in kindergartens and schools, creating shelters. There was not enough space, but our restaurants came to the rescue, accommodating people in banquet halls. And after the first months of the war, we faced another issue arose: finding a place for permanent residence of IDPs and their integration into our community life,” said Nataliia Katriuk.

Ms Katriuk told us how in their search for permanent housing for IDPs, they came across an old three-story building that needed capital investments. Through her connections with partner and international organisations, the head of the municipality managed to attract more than 6 million hryvnias for its restoration. Everything — water supply, electricity, toilets and bathrooms — had to be restored, rooms were furnished, and appliances were purchased. And already on September 1 of this year, the municipality opened St Olga’s Shelter.

“We concluded housing contracts with the residents of the Shelter. The only thing they have to pay for on their own is utilities, as well as take care of their own food. Until now, we provided them with breakfasts, lunches and dinners. We continue to provide food for their children in kindergartens and schools,” Ms Katriuk said.

As head of the Mamaivtsi municipality, Nataliia Katriuk is also in charge of the integration of IDPs and their children into community life. According to her, some internally displaced children are in need of external care. This is how the idea was born to create a Children’s Rehabilitation Centre on the basis of the shelter.

“We have already equipped the office using our budget funds and with the support of international partners. The opening is scheduled on December 1. The office will include a social café that is to employ young internally displaced people. We plan to hire a therapist and a social worker — also from among IDPs — to work in the office.”

Another project implemented by Ms Katriuk is the creation of a social taxi. The municipality is currently waiting for international assistance in purchasing the necessary transport. A social taxi will run once a day throughout the entire municipality, transporting people for free to the central estate, Administrative Service Centre and hospital:

“People should feel our care,” the head of the municipality emphasised.

Support for the Armed Forces of Ukraine from the municipality in the rear

In the Dnipropetrovsk oblast, the village of Tomakivka, under the leadership of its deputy head, Tamara Shcherbiak, set up a volunteer sewing workshop on the basis of the Center for Social Assistance. The workshop makes clothes for soldiers and gives them to the Armed Forces free of charge.

“A local seamstress, Natalia Lebeeva, came up with the idea of a sewing workshop. She came to the village council on the first day of the war and said that she could not just sit back and offered to set up such a workshop and help our guys in the Armed Forces. We supported her idea, and already on March 16, the workshop was opened in our cultural centre,” said Ms Shcherbiak.

There are seven people working in the workshop, including five volunteers. Over the past 4 months, 100 sets of uniforms have been produced and handed over to the army.

"We are buying fabrics, zippers, accessories and looking for additional funding. In addition to uniforms, the workshop has already started sewing thermal underwear, which we provide to the Kherson direction, as well as chest rigs, bags and vests, which we provide to different units,” said Tamara Shcherbiak.

In addition to the sewing workshop, people of the municipality make trench candles, warm socks, canned food and cookies for the soldiers and have been weaving camouflage nets since the first days of the war.

“Everyone from our municipality joins in defeating the enemy. And I am grateful to all of them for these initiatives,” added Ms Shcherbak.

Support of de-occupied municipalities and military units

We can learn from the experience of the head of the Dobroslav settlement municipality of the Odesa oblast, Liudmyla Prokopechko. Even in wartime, she implements mechanisms of public participation in her municipality.

Ms Prokopechko started supporting the army back in 2014, when she went on numerous humanitarian missions to the Anti-Terrorist Operation zone. Under her leadership, in addition to the assistance of the Armed Forces, the municipality currently accepts people from the de-occupied territories of Ukraine and provides them with humanitarian assistance.

“Our entire community volunteers. Every Friday, we travel to the Mykolaiv and Kherson oblasts to bring them aid, providing the urgent needs of servicemen of the Armed Forces of Ukraine as well as the civilian population. We are currently taking care of many military units, most of which (28th Mechanised Brigade, 38th Anti Aircraft Missile Regiment, Odesa Coast Guard Unit) have been our friends for many years. It was quite easy to organise the aid collection, as we have been volunteering since 2014 and we have already established awareness and logistics. I am proud of my municipality, which in this difficult time is bringing our Victory closer with its care and daily volunteer work,” said Ms Prokopechko.

In addition to humanitarian aid, the Dobroslav municipality addresses the issues of the accommodation and integration of IDPs. To this end, the municipality is assisted by Ukrainian and international charitable organisations and foundations. Shelters for IDPs are created here, job fairs are held, business relocation opportunities are offered, and various projects are implemented to support the local population:

“Today, our main task is to minimise the problems created by the full-scale war to the municipality and its residents. We prepared in advance by purchasing solid fuel boilers and generators for wells and setting up Points of Invincibility, where people can warm up, drink hot tea, charge their phones and use the Internet. We are also stocking up on firewood for the most vulnerable groups of people and repairing highways so that ambulances and firefighters can arrive at their destination faster.”

Despite the war, the municipality is creating an investment map and developing a strategy for the development of territories. There are plans to create an industrial park after the war.

“The war will end with our victory. It will happen soon. Together with our defenders and all Ukrainians, we are approaching this day of our dreams, and we are also looking towards the future. And to achieve this great goal, we work together, as a united municipality,” Liudmyla Prokopechko emphasised.

U-LEAD’s support of women’s leadership in war

More than 50 speakers took part in the Sixth Ukrainian Women’s Congress, Values ​​During the War. In addition to stories about women’s leadership in municipalities and their contributions to victory, it was possible to hear about women’s participation in economic and social processes during the war, the experience of the women’s movement in Poland, about women and the media, as well as human rights. All these stories are available in the recording: the first part – https://cutt.ly/I1n1o98 , the second part – https://cutt.ly/91n1jjd

As noted above, U-LEAD was a partner of the Congress and will also continue to support female leaders under the She-LEADs Women’s Leadership Network. This was stated by Kateryna Korenkova.

“She-LEADs seeks to unite bright individuals and promotes the exchange of knowledge and experience, as well as strengthens cooperation between like-minded women of local self-government from all over the country. We work together with partner organisations and NGOs to achieve this goal, which is even more urgent in wartime.”

Among the latest joint cooperation initiatives, Kateryna names a joint project with YurFem, the Association of Women Lawyers of Ukraine.

“We tried to achieve the goal of supporting active women in local self-government. Our cooperation started last year. Thanks to her, a big educational course “Women’s Rights in My Municipality” was implemented. The full-scale war forced us to make some adjustments, and we offered the updated programme of the course “Women’s Rights in My Municipality: Challenges of War” as early as at the beginning of summer. The course brought together deputies from municipalities from all oblasts of Ukraine, activists, as well as lawyers.”

The course was later recorded, and now everyone can take the abridged online version and get a certificate. Together with the experts of the YurFem Analytical Centre, they developed the manual “My Gender-Sensitive Municipality” (available in Ukrainian only). It explains how to create gender-sensitive policies and provide gender-sensitive services in the municipality, referring to the European Charter of Equality of Women and Men in Local Life and Ukrainian legislation.

The plans for next year include the Women’s Leadership School project. It will aim to bring together active women from municipalities through mentoring, capacity-building activities, as well as small grants for the implementation of mini-projects aimed at supporting women in municipalities.


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