Russian women have the reputation of being strong and demanding, but they can be sweet and caring when they want to be. Nationalistic by nature, Russian women have long been patriotic and willing to send their husbands and sons off to war. But this has come at a steep price to the country. Today, with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine failing dismally, the women of Russia are turning their backs on him and are calling for their male family members to be returned home from the front lines.
Russian men have died in large numbers in many wars since the time of the Cossacks, due to a variety of factors. The Cossacks, who were a semi-nomadic warrior class, were heavily involved in conflicts with neighboring powers, such as the Ottoman Empire and Poland. In the more recent history, during World War I and II, the Soviet Union suffered staggering losses, with an estimated 10 million military deaths and an additional 8-13 million civilian deaths. In addition to the devastating human toll, these conflicts also had a significant impact on the country’s economy and infrastructure. Furthermore, during the Cold War, the Soviet Union was involved in several armed conflicts, such as the Afghanistan war, which also caused many deaths of Russian men.
With this history in mind, it is easy to understand why females in Russia make up 54% of the population, while males only make up 46%. The problem is only getting worse. In 2022, roughly a million Russians left the country to escape the ravages of wartime living. More than 500,000 Russian citizens are estimated to have left Russia by the end of August 2022, and an additional 400,000 by early October. This number includes political refugees and economic migrants.
Unlike the case with Ukraine, where millions of women and children escaped to neighboring countries, most Russians who fled their country are men. Experts on global migration are calling the current mass exodus from Russia the largest since the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution when millions of intellectuals and economic elites fled the rise of the Soviet Union.
If Russia’s military operations continue in 2023, as is likely, Russia may see its lowest birthrate in modern history. In addition, total deaths in Russia average close to two million annually, though the number increased during the pandemic and approached 2.5 million last year. Now, that death toll has risen drastically and will continue to do so as real numbers are released.
A 2015 Pew Research Center article explains that “This region has been predominantly female since at least World War II, when many Soviet men died in battle or left the country to fight. In 1950, there were just 76.6 men per 100 women in the territory that is now Russia. That number rose steadily in subsequent decades, climbing to 88.4 by 1995 before declining again.”
The Pew research also shows that the population in Russia and the former USSR as a whole is older than that of the world. Most of these nations, including the most populous, also have low fertility rates compared with the global average. This skews the population’s gender ratio because older people are more likely to be female, while more younger people are male.
Younger men in the former Soviet Union also have an unusually high
mortality rate, which has deepened the population’s gender imbalance. One way to see this is to look at the life expectancy of men and women and the differences between those numbers. Russian women born from 2010 to 2015 are expected to live to age 75.6, while Russian men are expected to live to age 64.2 – a significant gap of 11.4 years.
Furthermore, alcoholism has long been a problem in the former USSR, especially for young men. A 2014 study in The Lancet medical journal found evidence that excess vodka use is a top killer in Russia, responsible for a disproportionate amount of deaths among Russian men.
A female activist affiliated with the feminist group Feminist Anti-War Resistance (FAR), said in an interview recently that angry women “can do anything.”
“Mobilisation [in Russia] currently resembles ethnic cleansing,” she lamented. “This is not new and not an idea I have come up with. There are lots of villages that have been completely emptied. Not a single man remains.”
Another organization, the Council of Soldiers’ Wives and Mothers, has partnered with FAR to combat the Russian government and fight for the men being sent to Ukraine where they are dying by the thousands.
Today, Russia’s women know they are paying the price for the war in Ukraine. For one, they are losing their husbands and sons. And two, they are the ones out protesting against the war since men are too worried about being arrested and then drafted. They have made an emotional appeal to Putin to cease sending their family members to the slaughter, and are demanding that the authorities return their underequipped and undertrained men.
But to no avail.
Dr. Jade McGlynn, a specialist in Russian memory and foreign policy at the Monterey Initiative in Russian Studies, notes that before September, the visible lack of such protests had led many to question why women were reacting differently to Russia’s war on Ukraine, as compared with the wars in Chechnya and Afghanistan. While factors such as the comparative weakness of civil society should not be overlooked, the key difference was that conscripts were sent to those conflicts, while until September contractors were sent to Ukraine.
McGlynn also points out that mothers of conscripts “hold a different moral authority to that of a contractor in Russian society. Many mothers of the contractors, rather than calling for peace, spent the early months of the war fomenting pro-war sentiment, touring schools, organising online and offline meetings with students to ‘form in their minds the correct picture of the world’. They urged children to show support to the soldiers and officers of the Russian armed forces and ‘separatists’ of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics who ‘fight fascism and Nazism in Ukraine.’”
The question today is how the Russian government will react to the protests. Russian wives and mothers have played a destabilizing role in other wars and they are now working to destabilize the current war against Ukraine. While many supported Putin’s initial moves, today they realize they are losing their sons and brothers for no reason other than to fulfill Putin’s maniacal desire to conquer Ukraine. Putin and his henchmen will attempt to assuage the women – while working to silence them as soon as possible. Putin needs their men to fight his ego war – even if it means he must destroy Russia’s entire male population once and for all.