Ryta Mazankova is a proud Ukrainian with a compassionate spirit, as well as being a wife, a mum, and the first female humanitarian deminer in Ukraine.
Since the start of the war, Ryta has been a keen volunteer in Donbass, supporting vulnerable groups of civilians affected by the war in Ukraine. To this day, she helps whoever she can, assisting orphans, internally displaced people and many others to access accommodation, food and clothes. In October 2017, Ryta’s voluntary work was officially recognised when she won a state award for her incredible contribution.
Before joining HALO in March 2017, Ryta worked in the construction industry, and has never been afraid of what are traditionally considered ‘male jobs’. Ryta has shown great strength of character in her work so far and looks set to have a flourishing career at HALO.
Interviewer: Ryta, what do your family members think about the work you’re doing in HALO?
Ryta: They are very happy about it, and they’re proud of me. In fact, my husband was the one who encouraged me to work here.
Interviewer: (smiling) Was he trying to get rid of you?
Ryta: (laughing) Oh no, no… It was a choice between me being a deminer with HALO and me working on an oil rig somewhere far from home… So he told me: “Go for it, become a deminer!"
Interviewer: What about your female friends? What do they think about your work for HALO?
Ryta: One of my friends is in the army, and she was so excited by this news that she wrote a special post on her Facebook page about how proud she is of me becoming the first female humanitarian deminer in Ukraine. The rest of my friends agree with her that it’s pretty cool!
Interviewer: How do you find it living away from your family?
Ryta: You can get used to anything. You just have to have a goal, and that helps you to get through a lot. I know how take care of myself, so I can cope with difficult living conditions.
Interviewer: Are there opportunities that this job has given to you or your family that you wouldn’t otherwise have had?
Ryta: I didn’t join HALO for the money at all, but for an entirely different reason. My husband has always been the main breadwinner in our family, so I just followed the call of my heart. Having said that, I am glad to be making more money now than I did before HALO—I can buy gifts for my family myself, and don’t have to ask my husband for money every time I want it. It’s a nice feeling of course!
Interviewer: What are your ambitions for the future?
Ryta: I really intend to work here long-term. Or as long as you’ll have me! I have a tendency to speak my mind and get myself in trouble, but that’s just me. (smiling)
Interviewer: If you could ask a fellow female deminer from around the world one question, what would it be?
Ryta: I don’t know… That’s a difficult question, because I don’t have any context or any friends from HALO abroad… Maybe I would ask her what she thought the most important advice would be that she could give me based on her experience… Like… what is the most important quality you should have to be successful at this job?
Interviewer: What words of advice would you give to women in general to encourage them to work for HALO and more generally in male dominated sectors?
Ryta: I would say that you should just be the biggest fan of the work that you’re doing, and the difference that you’re making for your country. If you like what you’re doing, you will always succeed in it. Just yesterday I watched the video by National Geographic about HALO in Angola, and heard the sound of the detector, and I physically felt how much I miss my job now! (HALO Ukraine’s demining operations are on stand down for the winter months.)
Interviewer: Have you ever been told that you’re doing a “man’s job”? If yes, how did that make you feel?
Ryta: To be honest, I have never been told that by anybody… The worst comment I hear is “But it’s so dangerous!” I always reply that you just have to pay attention and then it’s safe. If someone did say that it was a man’s job, I’d give examples of men doing a “woman’s job”, like being a cook… I don’t think that demining is a “man’s job” really.
Interviewer: In what ways would you say that demining is in fact a “woman’s job”?
Ryta: That’s obvious. You absolutely have to be a stayer for this job, spending a lot of time concentrating. I think women can have much greater reserves of endurance than men.
Interviewer: And the last question from me is how do you feel when other women are put off doing a job that’s perceived to be “male”?
Ryta: If you aren’t sure you want to do it, just don’t. When I was in construction, sometimes I had to work with a jackhammer. And I agree that generally operating such a piece of machinery is a male job, but I really liked that, because I felt physical fatigue, and I loved that feeling of my muscles being tired at the end of the day. I don’t like women talking about flowers and stuff. Honestly, I have only one flower at home, and it’s carnivorous - it eats flies!