By MARY DURLAK
Published June 8, 2023
Leaving Ukraine for the U.S. wasn’t easy. “I postponed my visit twice,” says Nataliia Kalmykova, a visiting Fulbright scholar in the Department of Organization and Human Resources in the School of Management.
Kalmykova became the executive director of the Ukrainian Veterans Foundation (UVF) — a state-sponsored organization under the administration of the Ministry of Veterans Affairs of Ukraine — on Feb. 2, 2022. Just over three weeks later, Russia launched its invasion.
“How could I leave Ukraine to do research when my country was at war?” she asks.
The answer became clear as the number of active military members jumped from 250,000 before the war to 1.2 million today. “Seventy percent of our veterans re-enlisted,” Kalmykova says. “I know veterans with prosthetics who re-enlisted.” More than 100,000 civilians volunteered to enlist, too, including thousands of women.
As the war continued, Kalmykova, who has a longstanding interest in the military and veterans, eventually did leave Ukraine. She arrived at UB this past winter to research organizational culture, gender and diversity, and leadership.
“We have several faculty with expertise in these topics, so it was a perfect fit for this Fulbright placement,” says Kate Bezrukova, associate professor and chair of the Department of Organization and Human Resources.
Kalmykova’s Fulbright visit, which ends this month, focuses on female leadership in the military. But she is also working with the Veterans Administration and the U.S. Department of Labor to learn about the infrastructure the U.S. has developed to support veterans.
“We need to build a system like the Veteran’s Administration here,” she says. She is also interested in American programs that support veterans in business, such as preference to veteran-owned businesses in some government contracts. The UVF has already established a microfinancing program that supports about 200 veteran-owned businesses and a crisis hotline that has received more than 12,500 calls since the war began.
“So much is lost,” Kalmykova says, “so we need to make sure that programs are in place to help veterans and Ukraine rebuild.”
In May, Kalmykova took part in a conference, “Leadership Under Pressure: Rising to Today’s Business Challenges,” sponsored by the Center for Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness and the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, both within the School of Management. Her presentation, “Leadership Lessons from the War in Ukraine,” analyzed the experience of teams that have survived and developed under uncertainty and stress.
Supporting women’s right to serve in the military in any role remains firmly in Kalmykova’s focus. She identifies two main barriers that hold female soldiers back: a belief that women cannot be effective in combat, and a belief that women cannot lead. “This is changing as women take part in the war in Ukraine,” she explains.
Another barrier is that women are sometimes stigmatized for wanting to serve in the military. Even before the war, 20% of Ukraine’s military personnel were women.
“At the moment, we have 5,000 women on the front lines and 42,000 in active duty,” she says. In an article she co-authored with Bezrukova and Chester Spell, professor of management at Rutgers University School of Business, the authors note that war technology is changing drastically. As a result, arguments that an effective soldier needs physical strength and size are outdated. “War is pushing us to change,” Kalmykova notes.
She is also working with American veterans to establish connections between them and Ukrainian soldiers and veterans. She spoke at a fundraising event, “Heroes support heroes,” held in Washington, D.C., in April. And, in a LinkedIn post honoring Memorial Day, she drew attention to the families of Americans who died fighting in and for Ukraine. “When we attain victory,” she says, “the whole world can join us to celebrate.”