Ukrainian Women Heroes Inspire Children Suffering from Conflict

From an accomplished mathematician who spent six years in exile in Siberia, to a princess of Kyiv who outsmarted the Emperor Constantin, to a young activist who fought for women’s rights to education and equality — these little-known women of Ukrainian history are brought to life in a new book – Girl Power: Little Stories of Big Acts – written by renowned Ukrainian authors Kateryna Babkina and Mark Livin and illustrated by Yulia Tveritina and Anna Sarvira.

The book is targeted to children in Ukraine who have been affected by the ongoing conflict. In particular, girls who are especially affected because of their unequal status in society and their sex. In conflict, women of all ages experience displacement, loss of home and property, loss or involuntary disappearance of close relatives, poverty and family separation and disintegration, and victimization through acts of murder, terrorism, torture, involuntary disappearance, sexual slavery, and rape.

Due to the conflict currently in Ukraine there are 1404 widows, 2220 women lost their daughters and sons, and 229,000 children are IDPs (internally displaced persons).

Girl Power: Little Stories of Big Acts is intended to empower girls from conflict-affected Ukraine by telling the stories (adapted biographies) of successful Ukrainian women who managed to develop their communities and overcome hardships, including those caused by conflict and displacement.

“It is truly cool that the book tells about the founder of a charitable fund, a volunteer, a female in the military – these are females from the new history of Ukraine and it is cool, they are already in the books,” says Lyudmila Galychyna, an internally displaced young woman who received a copy of the book.

A large poster of the book cover with some sample illustrations from the book.
The launch event of Girl Power: Little Stories of Big Acts (сила Дівчат: маленькі історії великих вчинків)

“A lot of people fight for woman rights, but that isn’t that easy,” say the book’s authors.

“They are up against traditions and long years of discrimination, neglect of women’s rights, stereotypes, false traditions and judgments. This is the first book of stories about Ukrainian women who changed this world for the better despite the obstacles.”

Text and illustration for Nataliya Kobrynska
Nataliya Kobrynska was a women’s rights activist and supported women writers.

The book shows women in non-stereotypical roles (IT entrepreneurs, mathematicians, doctors, and soldiers, for example) and is designed for children to promote gender equality and to inspire those who have suffered and been displaced due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

Girl Power: Little Stories of Big Acts (сила девуаt) is inspired by the Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, a children’s book packed with 100 bedtime stories about the life of 100 extraordinary women from the past and the present, illustrated by 60 female artists from all over the world.

Internews staff members, together with the authors and the publishing house, selected the women to profile for Girl Power based on certain criteria: that the women be in non-stereotypical roles and that they promote gender equality; some should be from the past and some should be currently living; and women who helped start the feminist movement in Ukraine should be included. If the woman was still alive, she was contacted to ask if she wanted to be a part of the book and to make sure the details of her life were accurate.

Text and illustration for Nataliya Siedletska
Investigative journalist Natalia Siedletska.

One of the women featured in the book – Natalia Siedletska – is an investigative journalist who launched a popular TV program about political corruption and abuse. “I`m very much delighted to be included in a book,” she said. “In the world of unfair politics and corruption to receive such bright signs of support is priceless. It is a great honor and additional motivation for me!”

A woman with long blond hair holds a book and stands next to an illustration of herself.
Iryna Halay, alpinist and the first Ukrainian woman to reach Mount Everest, at the presentation with the illustration of her from the book.
Two girls holding books sit on their mothers' laps
Families at a presentation of the book in Kharkiv.

The book, of which 5,000 copies have been printed so far, will be distributed to conflict-affected communities in Ukraine — to the school libraries of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, government-controlled areas, through humanitarian partners of the Internews project Strengthening Conflict-Affected Community Communication for IDPs, and directly to the families that were affected.

“I liked this book about famous Ukrainian women, who changed the world for better. As I’m very interested in history, I paid special attention to Anna Yaroslavna, the daughter of Yaroslav Mudryy, the Kiev prince. Anna became the queen of France. The fact that was the most interesting for me is that French people had been surprised she was able to read and write back at that time, because most of them could not.” – Hennadiy Bulava, a visitor for Kramatorsk-based library (Donetsk oblast, conflict zone)

The book was presented in Kyiv, Kramatorsk (Donetsk Oblast) and Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city just 40 kilometers from the Russian border. Kharkiv saw violent clashes between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian groups.

Text and illustration for Emma
Emma Andievska, writer and artist

The book was published in partnership with Knygolove Publishing house and financed by the Global Affairs Canada (GAC). Canadian Ambassador Roman Waschuk spoke at the book launch event.

“This book is important because it shows for boys and girls that if to reach their goals was possible for women in my country and in our circumstances, it can be possible for me as well.”

A man stands being interviewed by a woman with a mic and a man with a video camera.
Canadian Ambassador Roman Waschuk is interviewed at the presentation by the top Ukrainian TV-channel 1+1.

Read 5 of the Girl Power stories that have been translated to English from the book.