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Russian Women Partaking in the Military field during World War I: Individual Women Soldiers and the First Women’s Battalion of Death

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ABSTRACT

This article focuses on Russian women soldiers during World War I in terms of total war and the Russian February Revolution. The War took on a new aspect in 1914 as a result of two paradigm shifts: the emergence of the modern state and technological development. All the belligerent suffered setbacks stemming from this new conflict. For Russia, one of hardships was the deficiency of workers, many of whom had been drafted into the army. Inevitably, an increasing number of Russian women were employed in various sectors of industry. The expanding role of Russian women was not limited to industry, however. The participation of individual women in the military had already increased under the conditions of total war, but the military activity of Russian women entered a new phase after the February Revolution. Though the first all-female combat unit was established under the propaganda slogans of liberation and equality, it is more appropriate to locate its origins in the situation faced by the Provisional Government and the Russian army. The First Russian Women’s Battalion of Death was one of several measures that the Provisional Government took to carry out the June Offensive, which it hoped would reverse its military and political losses. The world saw the first female combat unit on May of 1917. In addition to its combat role, the battalion had the propagandistic mission of shaming male soldiers who were refusing to perform their duty. Though women soldiers seemed like a cost-effective way to wage war, all the battalion’s efforts were in vain when it confronted with reluctant mass soldiers. The military leadership of the Provisional Government cast doubt on the value of all-female combat units. Thus, the women’s battalion was destined to be disband even before Red October whether it would have proved women could be useful in combat.

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