Ukraine pays tribute to Russian women who fought on its side

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A guard of honor fires a three-shot salute into a clouded sky as friends and comrades-in-arms gather in Kyiv to say goodbye to a Russian woman killed while fighting on the Ukrainian side of the war against her country. did.

Olga Simonova, 34, was remembered for her courage and kindness at a funeral in the Ukrainian capital on Friday.

Simonova’s coffin was covered with a blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag, topped with a cute toy lion. Her name is “Simba” and she seems to be the main character in Disney’s animated cartoon “The Lion King”.

Just days before Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Simonova spoke to the Associated Press in a trench in the Donbass region. There, he served for years with Ukrainian soldiers fighting Russian-backed separatists.

Born in the Russian city of Chelyabinsk, Simonova had a keen interest in sports, excelling in both mountaineering and karate. She said she was always proud to fight for Russia.

But after reading about Russia’s war in Chechnya and its actions in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine and Crimea, which Russia annexed to Russia in 2014, she began to feel uncomfortable with her homeland.

Full of doubts: “Will I ever be able to raise the flag of my country, my hometown again?” Simonova made a life-changing decision. She traveled to Ukraine and took part in the conflict in Donbass on the Ukrainian side. At first she enlisted as a volunteer, then as a paramedic, and finally as an enlisted member of the military.

“I had this inner feeling that I could handle it and that what I was doing was right and necessary because I couldn’t turn a blind eye to the situation,” she said. “I had no choice but to buy a one-way ticket. I bought it and left.”

Simonova said she never hid her Russian origins from her colleagues and earned their trust by showing her commitment to Ukraine on the battlefield. She obtained Ukrainian citizenship in 2017.

She became a sergeant and commanded both infantry and artillery units.

Unmarried and childless, Simonova was recently relocated to the Kherson region in the south from the east, where Ukraine launched a counteroffensive against Russian forces, according to friends and colleagues. She died on Sept. 13 after her car hit a mine, they said.

“She was respected not only as a commander, but as a person,” said her former commander and friend Dmitro Karabinovsky.