These women are veterans of the Second World War in Belarus. They are almost 90. The war started for them in 1941 when they were 16-18. They were born in all parts of the Soviet Union. As a result of the fall of the Soviet Union they are all Belarussians now. Belarussian propaganda uses them as examples of good patriots and citizens.

This project was inspired by Svetlana Alekseyevich’s book “War’s Unwomanly Face” (1985). All these women all different nationalities were fighting in World War II for their homeland (the Soviet Union). The war was difficult for them. They were very young when the war had started (16-18) and they had to learn plenty of things that were necessary during the war. They were nurses, truck drivers, communications workers, and they were partisans (mostly those who lived in the country). Most of them went to the army as volunteers to defend their homeland. They had to fight and to share difficult living conditions with men soldiers.

They experienced hard times also when the war was over. They had to rebuilt their lives in a country ruined by the war. They often did not come back to their countries of birth, they stayed in Belarus where they happened to be when the war was finished.

They were not treated better than ordinary citizens. They were often treated as freaks or prostitutes because they were in the army with men. Most of them wanted to marry someone and to have children – to behave as “normal women”.

Their stories deserve to be known. This is a work in progress.

— Agnieszka Rayss

Editor’s Note: Agnieszka Rayss submitted this work to the 2013 LensCulture Exposure Awards. This series was one of 25 finalists.