Photos: The women who transformed Ukraine’s police force by Annalisa Merelli

At the end of 2014, Ekaterine Zguladze was assigned a task many had thought unrealistic: Implement police reforms in Ukraine, where citizens have associated the militsiya with corruption and inefficiency for decades. But Zguladze had accomplished something similar before—in her native Georgia, where she had led police reforms that earned her praise across the border—and made her as qualified as anyone to bring change to Ukraine’s police.

Eka Zguladze at a meeting with senior Ukrainian officials in Kiev.

Ekaterine Zguladze at a meeting with senior Ukrainian officials in Kyiv.

She was also the perfect face for the transformation to come: An attractive woman in her thirties, married to Raphaël Glucksmann, a writer and filmmaker son of the noted French philosopher André Glucksmann, she had the approval of the West and the pedigree of an ambassador of change.

Eka Zguladze playing with her son Alexander, three-years old, at their home in Kiev.

Ekaterine Zguladze playing with her three-year-old son, Alexander, at their home in Kyiv.

And so, Zguladze was given Ukrainian citizenship, a prestigious title—first deputy minister of internal affairs—and an extensive list of challenges to work on, a job that could take years to complete. The first, visible step was to recruit a patrol police to act alongside (and eventually replace) the existing police force—a new group that could inspire more trust than the incumbent police force. Beginning with Kiev, the new patrol had to hit the streets by July 2015, which put the recruitment work under a tight deadline.

In two weeks, as many as 34,000 applied to the selection, and about 2,000 were chosen. Of them, 500 were women.

Prospective female police recruits lining up for strentgh and endurance exams at Kiev Police Academy.

Prospective female police recruits lining up for strength and endurance exams at the Kyiv Police Academy.

Xenia, 27, Kyiv Police Academy cadet, doing her nails on her break from classes.

Xenia, 27, a Kyiv Police Academy cadet, doing her nails on her break from classes.

Kyiv Police Academy cadets practicing gun safety at a firing range

Kyiv Police Academy cadets practicing gun safety at a firing range.

Tatiana Dyakova practicing gun safety at a firing range

Tatiana Dyakova practicing gun safety at a firing range.

Irina Zelinskaya, 28, Kyiv police academy cadet, at the gym with her sparing partner Natasha

Irina Zelinskaya, 28, Kyiv Police Academy cadet, at the gym with her sparring partner, Natasha.

Kyiv Police Academy cadets practice self-defense

Kyiv Police Academy cadets practice self-defense.

The US helped finance the training and trained the trainers; other countries including Australia and France pitched in, for instance buying part of the equipment. After 10 weeks—a fraction of the four years previously required to become part of the Ukrainian militsiya—the new patrol was ready to graduate and take service. These were young women and men, most of them highly educated, which likely related to the high unemployment and underemployment amongst those who entered the program.

A female cadet getting ready for graduating Kyiv Police Academy.

A female cadet getting ready to graduate.

Oksana Kapitanska gets ready for her first shift as a Kyiv patrolwoman

Oksana Kapitanska gets ready for her first shift as a Kyiv patrolwoman.

Graduation ceremony for Kyiv Police Academy instructors

Graduation ceremony for Kyiv Police Academy instructors.

Tatiana Dyakova gets ready for graduation

Tatiana Dyakova gets ready for graduation.

Cadets pose for pictures in their new uniforms and gear.

Cadets pose for pictures in their new uniforms and gear.

Photographer Misha Friedman, who documented the process from the beginning and was there when the new recruits started patrolling the streets of Kiev, tells Quartz the public’s reaction was overwhelmingly positive. The policewomen, in particular, instinctively provoked people’s trust, and curiosity.

Anna Ierygina during her first night patrol.

Anna Ierygina during her first night patrol.

Tourists pose for pictures with newly formed Kyiv Police

Tourists pose for pictures with newly formed Kyiv Police.

Tourists pose for pictures with newly formed Kyiv Police.

Tourists pose for pictures with newly formed Kyiv Police.

But novelty aside, the impact of the newly trained police force, even while the larger police reform is still in the making, has been sizable. Despite being objectively undertrained and with no experience to speak of, Kiev’s 2,000 new police officers responded to more than 4,000 calls in the first three days of activity—about twice as much as the militsiya that they replaced had addressed just the previous week, Friedman tells Quartz. This, says Friedman, is likely due to a higher level of trust and, especially in cases of domestic or gender violence, increased comfort in reporting complaints to women, while the previous police force was predominantly male. As Friedman tells Quartz, the female members of the Patrol Police, who make up 25% of the force, have been paired with male officers; this means that about half the new patrol teams have a woman. And that makes the likelihood of encountering a female officer in Kiev one of the highest in the world.

Eka Zguladze addresses Kyiv Police before their swear in ceremony on Sofiiskaya Square in central Kyiv

Eka Zguladze addresses Kyiv Police before their swear in ceremony on Sofiiskaya Square in central Kyiv.

The Patrol Police is now being recruited in other cities, and while this is just the begging of Zguladze’s reform—the most superficial layer, in a way—it’s definitely a promising beginning.

Reporting for this story was partially funded by the Pulitzer Center.

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