Merle Vimb and Eveliis Padar are two Estonian women who have decided to join the country’s defense units. Merle made the decision a few days after the start of the war in Ukraine, while Eveliis has been in the Defense League for over 10 years. The two spoke with Libertatea about the role of women in military conflict.
Neighboring Russia and living with the recent memory of the Soviet past, the Baltic States felt particularly vulnerable when Russia invaded Ukraine. In response to their anxiety, thousands of people decided to join voluntary defense units to learn to fight, to provide first aid, to survive in difficult conditions, or to defend their families in the event of war.
Among them is Merle Vimb, a 38-year-old woman who raises her children alone in a town near Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. Her husband works abroad and is away most of the time, and this has made her feel even more responsible for protecting her family in the event of a military conflict.
“I want to be prepared somehow”
A few days after the start of the war in Ukraine, Merle joined Naiskodukaitse, a voluntary women’s-only organization. In the event of war, women in the organization can choose whether to provide support behind the front or to go to war. In general, their role is to provide food, to provide first aid to the wounded in case of conflict, to organize donation campaigns.
“If you just stay home and read the news, you can go crazy. I thought that if something happens in Estonia, I want to be prepared somehow “, Merle Vimb tells Libertatea.
Joining the organization helped her to cope with the feeling of helplessness and the fear that she might become a burden. An unprepared civilian would not only not be able to protect himself during the war or protect his children, but would become a burden to someone else, she said.
During the interview, a baby cries from time to time. He’s her one-year-old son. His protection was her main motivation.
A country of 1.3 million people, Estonia declared independence from the Soviet Union on August 20, 1991, following a national referendum.
“Many women have registered because of the war in Ukraine, to be prepared in case something happens in Estonia. Many of them are over 30 years old. They are women my age, ”adds Merle.
He does not expect Russia to attack Estonia in the near future, but he believes things could deteriorate in the coming years.
Record number of enrollments in defense units
Naiskodukaitse, the organization in which Merle joined, is part of a larger structure called the Defense League, made up of volunteer reservists, men and women.
Unlike Naiskodukaitse, joining the Defense League brings an obligation to fight in case of war. Naiskodukaitse has more than 3,000 members, while the League has about 16,000 members.
In the first month after the start of the war in Ukraine, 635 applications arrived for registration in Naiskodukaitse, while the Defense League received over 900 applications. The same phenomenon took place in Latvia, a neighboring country, where the Latvian National Guard (Zemessardze) received 440 applications in just four days.
Local councilor in the Defense League
Eveliis Padar was not surprised by the large number of applications. As part of the Estonian Defense League for more than 10 years, with the rank of non-commissioned officer, the woman noticed this influx every time Russia attacked one of the post-Soviet countries, whether it was the war in Georgia or the war in Ukraine in 2014. .
“It simply came to our notice then pattern (print, no): a huge number of men and women want to join, ”says the woman. The 39-year-old is a local councilor in Tartu, an eastern Estonian town, and a think tank analyst.
“My child is experiencing exactly the same fears that I experienced when I was a child in the ’90s.”
He joined the Defense League when he was about 28 years old and worked as a sociologist in the Ministry of Defense.
“I was doing military sociology. We studied people who were professional soldiers, what their motivations were, why they joined the army, why they left. The subject has become very important to me. At one point I realized that I could offer something to my country, not just stay in a theoretical area of defense, that I could offer my service, “says Eveliis.
Over time, she spoke openly about her involvement in the military structure, so at the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, she received dozens of messages from women asking if she could join the League. In response to questions, she published an article in an Estonian feminist magazine.
“The political situation in Estonia has always been fragile since independence. Our big neighbor is not going anywhere. And what we still know in the field of international relations is that it is very unpredictable. My child is now experiencing exactly the same fears that I experienced when I was a child in the 1990’s. What about Russia? Will the Russian army invade us? ”Eveliis explains to Libertatea.
What you learn in training
At both organizations, the training takes place about once a month, but the training is slightly different between the Defense League and the Naiskodukaitse.
Enrolled in Naiskodukaitse in early March, Merle Vimb has so far completed two of the five compulsory modules. The first was an introduction to the history and structure of the organization, and the second was a practical training.
He learned self-defense techniques, how to protect yourself, if someone attacks you, but also how to put out a fire.
The woman believes that it is a basic training that should be mandatory for all women. “There is basic knowledge of self-defense, first aid, fire protection, practical things you may need in your daily life, not just in case of war,” explains Merle.
In his more than 10 years in the Defense League, Eveliis has trained thousands of hours. He advanced from soldier to non-commissioned officer in reserve. “Basic training lasts 3-4 years. At this stage you will acquire the skills to fight in a forest, to fight in the city, you will gain different tactical experience. Then the cycle starts again and you can move to a higher level “, she states.
It’s like in the army, except that all the participating members are volunteers, and the trainings take place on weekends. There are also many common trainings with the army. “The Defense League and the military are closely linked. We know what each one does and how we can fight together. ”
Eveliis says that during these trainings you learn a discipline that is essential in a conflict. Many people are scared of the military system, I think they will lose their individuality.
“It simply came to our notice then. You can’t be chaotic and act on your own. It is important to follow orders in times of crisis, because people who are at a higher level have a higher education “, she adds.
You learn things that you hope you will never apply
Joining the league is not a hobby, says Eveliis Padar. It means years of active training and the obligation to fight in the war, if one starts.
Most of us don’t like guns. We don’t like to crawl in the mud, to play war. We do this to know what to do in case something happens.
Since the start of the war in Ukraine, he has been in talks with several people who say that “the solution is to preach peace and be against the war.” Eveliis believes that this pacifist vision would make sense in an ideal world, but when you have a neighbor like Russia, it won’t help.
“If you live near a psychopathic country like Putin’s Russia, you can’t rely on pacifist ideas,” she said. “Russia has constantly shown us that you cannot expect it to behave logically, to respect international rules, to respect democracy,” Eveliis added.
Different views on the role of women in war
Although both have joined forces to defend the country, Merle and Eveliis have different views on the role of women in war.
Merle disagrees with the idea of making the army mandatory for women. But she believes that it is essential for all women to learn the basics of defense.
Estonia is a country with a population of 1.3 million people. Military service is compulsory in Estonia for men between the ages of 18 and 27.
“I don’t think we should have the same tasks as men. If war breaks out, who will protect our children? Who will stay with them, if both mothers and fathers go to war? ”, The woman wonders.
Eveliis sees things differently. “I think in Estonia we should look to Norway or Israel, where military service is also mandatory for women. In this way, we would provide training and knowledge to half of the population that is currently left out. All young men know what to do if a war starts, but most women have no idea how to defend themselves, ”she said.
Defending democracy is not about gender, she says.
“As a society, we should cultivate an understanding that the defense of democracy is the duty of all, not just men, soldiers, politicians or the reserve. It’s our responsibility, everyone’s. If you do not have the tools and knowledge to do this, what use are your pacifist visions? ”, Adds the counselor from Tartu.
Source From: Libertatea