The Part Of Ukraine's Military Uniform That Makes No Sense

A photograph of female Ukrainian soldiers rehearsing for an upcoming parade has caused nationwide controversy and outrage. As reported by CNN, soldiers have been rehearsing precision marching for an upcoming parade celebrating the 30th anniversary of Ukraine's independence from the former Soviet Union. After a month of twice-daily training, female soldiers had to switch from the traditional boots in which they had been practicing to the high-heeled pumps that are part of women's dress uniforms. Ivanna Medvid, a cadet at the Military Institute of the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kiev, told Army Inform, the news agency of the defense ministry, "Today, for the first time, training takes place in high-heeled shoes. It's a little harder than in boots, but we try." 

The decision that female soldiers would march in high heels caught the attention of the Ukrainian parliament. Several members, including deputy chairperson Elena Kondratyuk, called upon defense minister Andrei Taran to reevaluate making women march in heels. A group of government employees, including vice prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration of Ukraine Olga Stefanishina and minister for veterans' affairs Yulia Laputina, signed a joint statement criticizing the regulation which read in part, "Shoes with heels are incompatible with the combat capability of soldiers, and a 'Prussian' step on a parade in such shoes is a deliberate harm to the health of soldiers." After Stefanishina posted the statement to her Facebook page, the Ukrainian defense ministry responded by posting a series of photos of female soldiers from other countries wearing high heels.

Why would any soldier march in high heels?

Per CNN, Stefanishina and those who cosigned her statement responded to the photos of female soldiers from other NATO member countries in high heels with the observation that while heels were sometimes part of military dress uniforms, soldiers don't wear heels while marching in parades. Furthermore, the 57,000 women who serve in the Ukrainian military are subject to NATO standards "under which the principle of equality of rights and obligations of servicemen, regardless of gender, applies unconditionally."

As reported by The New York Times, the high-heeled marching orders also led to a demonstration in front of the Ministry of Defense as well as feedback from female military cadets who were "skeptical" about the required footwear. Just five years ago, the United Nations published a study on Ukrainian women in the military, "Invisible Battalion," that included findings of female soldiers having to wear male uniforms and footwear as well as endure harrassment, with one soldier reporting, "Every man I met at the battalion said I should be at home, giving birth to children." Since the report, the Ukrainian military has opened formerly unavailable combat jobs to women and some conditions have improved, but per the study's co-author Anna Kvit, "Women still face poor recognition, discrimination, and inadequate uniforms and shoes."

The protests and criticism regarding women having to march in heels seem to have worked. Andrei Taran released a statement on July 3rd declaring "'improved' and 'ergonomic' shoes would be made available 'in the shortest possible time.'"