The Amazons were a nation of all female warriors in the Ancient Greek civilization. They were independent and rebellious women who shunned the establishment of the times, rejecting marriage and the typical roles that came with it. By some accounts they weren’t even interested in relationships with males. By other accounts, they were married to men who performed what were considered females task while they themselves were out in the world serving as warriors and leaders. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, if an Amazonian woman wanted to get married, she had to kill an enemy in battle first. Towards the end of their run in Greece, they battled an all-male army and lost. They were placed on ships and cast off, ending up in what is modern day Ukraine.
Today in Ukraine, the social and political climate for women is not what it is for women in much of the developed world. Extreme gender oppression and sex trafficking is widespread. But there is a new tribe of women who claim to be modern day extensions of the Amazons, following in their footsteps, taking matters into their own hands and empowering themselves. They adhere to a strict training regimen that includes hand-to-hand combat and medieval weapons practice. When interviewed, it is not uncommon to hear them speak of the downfall of “man’s society.”
Secluded high up in the Carpathian Mountains, these women call themselves the Asgarda and they are seeking nothing short of complete Autonomy from men.
It has been said of Ukrainian women that there is a certain uneasiness to them. Many credit this to the widespread loss of independence they feel. With the rights of women in Eastern Europe not being equal to those of men, life poses many challenges.
The Asgarda, currently believed to have 150 or more members, have isolated themselves from men as a statement of female empowerment. Founded by Katerina Tarnouska, a single mother and former gym teacher, she serves as the squadron leader to the young women who look up to her as a pillar of strength. With her prominent facial features, solid bone structure, and a bicep displaying a tattoo of the symbol of the Ukrainian National Movement, she is no doubt formidable and has edge to spare. She firmly believes that the women under her command are heirs to the Amazons.
Her goal is to shape them into the best women they can be, meaning individuals who are educated, confident, have and pursue dreams, and do not allow things like being a wife and servicing a man to get in their way. She says that she does not want them to end up like their mothers and grandmothers did under the rule of the Soviets. At a time when Ukraine’s national identity is uncertain, there is no better time for young women with agile minds to take part in setting new standards and help pave the way for a better, more equal future. According to Tarnouska, the most effective way to make these women understand how strong they can be is to remind them of powerful women in history, like the Amazons, and their warrior heritage.
Tarnouska and her women take the history of the Amazons very literally, and their training very seriously.
Like the Amazons, the Asgarda live life according to ancient tribal traditions. Swords, knives, battleaxes and Soviet-style karate are just some of the weapons in their vast arsenal.
Starting at 4:30 AM, a small army of bikini-clad girls jumps into the freezing Dniester River for their morning swim. They will follow up with karate practice and push ups. Weapons training plays an important role in their regimen including nunchucks, pickaxes and evil looking scythes. They are often graced with the presence of visiting masters, including former Soviet karate champion Volodymyr Stepanovytch. When not learning how to kick butt, they practice yoga, ballet, handicrafts and take excursions to museums and historical sites. Most importantly, according to Tarnouska, they are provided with an alternative history on Ukraine; one that they would not get in a traditional school dominated by the male perspective.
Thanks to their empowerment, the have lofty ambitions including battling corruption in politics and having careers in business. Some of the girls have already found boyfriends who are supportive and believe in what they are doing with the Asgarda. Many came from backgrounds where they lacked confidence and feared sexual violence and the lure of drug use, which is rampant in Ukraine. Being a part of the Asgarda has allowed them to put such negative things in their past.
The existence of the Asgarda and other similar groups shows how far Ukraine has come since the days of the Soviet regime. But many question if they can last.
The Asgarda, with its charismatic leader, small following, regimented daily life and defensive separation from a society that is seen as the enemy, has all of the telltale signs of a fanatical movement. Throw hand-to-hand combat and weapons training into the equation and they are creating a highly combustible cocktail of anarchy.
History has shown us that most fanatical movements eventually crumble under their own grandiosity. But in places like Ukraine, where sexual trafficking is rampant and predators are constantly preying, the enemy is real and groups like Asgarda hope to one day wield enough power to end the suffering for good.