The Russian Frunze Naval Academy, established in 1715 by Peter the Great, admitted its first female student last fall. Lyudmila Yolshina, 17, is the only woman out of 1,500 students and is the first woman to be admitted to a naval academy in Russia. Last February, the school’s commander announced that he would allow women to apply for admission to the academy. Sixty women applied, including Yolshina. The decision to admit women was later reversed in Moscow. Yolshina’s father encouraged her to write letters to Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev asking for a chance. Sergeyev made an exception for her.
Yolshina commutes to the school every evening because there are no barracks “suitable” for her. She is exempt from 24-hour watch duty, and attended a self-defense course and shooting courses for older cadets instead of attending summer boot camp. Yolshina, a hydrography major, said that there is little hazing and that most everyone is friendly.
Expressing his disdain toward the sole female student, Capt. Vasily Gavrilenko said, “One girl alone cannot ruin the navy. … It’s another question whether we have to take more. … Society is changing, but in my view women should still do what women do best — raising children, supporting their families, helping the sick. There is room for them in the navy, but not on the ship.”
Women in Russia have a long history of serving in the military when they are called upon. Women fought against Napolean, in the Russian civil war, the Revolution, and in WWI. In WWII, 800,000 women served as medical workers, soldiers, bomber pilots, tank drivers, snipers and artillery engineers. Eighty-six received the highest Russian combat medal, the Hero of the Soviet Union.
Currently, only 25,000 women serve in the Russian military, most as clerks and administrative assistants, comprising four-tenths of 1 percent of the military there. Women make up 20 percent of the U.S. military.