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Pregnant Ukrainian Soldiers Request Uniforms to Fit Growing Bellies

  • A Ukrainian charity is helping to outfit the country’s pregnant female soldiers.
  • Zemliachky’s co-founders told Insider the group has helped thousands of women since the war began.
  • Pregnant soldiers continue to serve in non-combat roles until they’re 7 months pregnant, the founders said.

In the fight to defend their country from Russian invaders, nothing can stop Ukraine’s dedicated female soldiers — not even pregnancy.

Since the war began nearly a year-and-a-half ago, a Ukrainian charity organization based in Kyiv has bought and sent approximately 30 special-made uniforms to pregnant soldiers serving in the country’s army, the group’s co-founders, Andriy Kolesnyk and Ksenia Drahaniuk, told Insider, highlighting the incredible lengths to which Ukraine’s women are going amid war.

“Most of the women who joined the Ukraine army had just a normal, civil life,” Kolesnyk said. “But they had a feeling they wanted to defend their country, their borders, their children, and other Ukrainian children.”

The married couple co-founded Zemliachky, a nonprofit organization that both documents female Ukrainian soldiers’ unique experiences and outfits those women with battlefield necessities, such as hygiene products, military uniforms, and properly-fitting boots.

There are now more than 60,000 women in Ukraine’s army, including at least 5,000 in combat units, members of Ukraine’s Parliament have said. Life for this relatively small minority of Ukrainian soldiers is made all the more difficult by a lack of accessible female resources, Insider previously reported.

Several female Ukrainian soldiers pose for a photo while holding their Zemliachky humanitarian boxes.

Zemliachky has supported thousands of women since the war began.

Courtesy of Zemliachky

Wartime pregnancies

It was one female soldier in particular — a sniper to whom Zemliachky had previously sent aid — who reached back out to the organization and inquired about a uniform that could accommodate her pregnancy, the founders said.

When a soldier finds out she’s pregnant, she’s immediately removed from any combat roles, though Kolesnyk said the sniper first hid her pregnancy for nearly three months as she sought to continue her frontline duties. The danger and discomfort of hours on her stomach near the frontlines, however, eventually convinced her to pull back, he said.

After Zemliachky posted about the military uniform pants they sent her that can adjust to fit a growing belly, Kolesnyk said more requests from pregnant soldiers started to come.

Pregnant women enlisted in Ukraine’s army continue to serve up to seven months into their pregnancy, the couple said, necessitating uniforms that fit like “a second skin.”

“Imagine if we take all the men in all the armies in the world and give them female uniforms,” Kolesnyk said. “Why should females wear their uniforms? They do the same job, hold the same positions in the army. They should work in comfort.”

Armor, ammunition, and weddings

Kolesnyk and Drahaniuk said they were inspired to launch Zemliachky after Kolesnyk’s sister, Anastasia, enlisted last year and soon sent the couple a laundry list of basic items she was lacking. The duo sent Anastasia Zemliachky’s first ever “humanitarian box” featuring a collection of 30 different female hygiene products and medicines.

As the couple began posting about the nonprofit’s work on social media, their following grew, and word-of-mouth chatter among female soldiers soon brought in more and more requests, they said.

“The more people get to know us, the more they can tell their friends that this foundation supports women, and any female soldier can write to us on Instagram,” Kolesnyk said.

In the months since they started, the organization has supported thousands of women in the army, sending more than $200 million worth of armor, ammunition, helmets, clothing, shoes, first aid kits, and hygiene products to female soldiers scattered throughout Ukraine, according to the Zemliachky website.

In addition to outfitting Ukraine’s female soldiers, Zemliachky also helps organize weddings and honeymoons for Ukrainian service members, and offers women in the army access to 10 free therapy sessions.

The exuberant photos of women posing in their new uniforms and the videos of joy-filled weddings make the work worthwhile, Kolesnyk and Drahaniuk said. But the heartwarming moments are oft-tempered by the realities of war.

“There are hundreds of sad stories behind every one inspiring story,” Kolesnyk said. “There are situations when we get requests for a uniform for a pregnant woman, but when we make it, we do not send it because we get a message that this woman lost her child.”

The couple also described instances of sending out humanitarian boxes to female soldiers only for the items to be returned — the women in need no longer alive to use them.

“There are a lot of inspiring stories, but we can’t say they’re always inspiring because we are talking about war,” Kolesnyk said. “All these stories will be called inspiring when we achieve victory.”

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