President’s comments in annual state-of-the-nation address come as tensions with the West plunge to post-Cold War lows.
Ukrainian authorities have been slammed after official pictures showed women soldiers practising for next month’s military parade in heels.
Ukraine is preparing to stage the parade to mark 30 years of independence following the Soviet Union’s breakup, and the defence ministry on Thursday released photographs of fatigue-clad women soldiers marching in mid-heel black pumps.
“Today, for the first time, training takes place in heeled shoes,” cadet Ivanna Medvid was quoted as saying by the defence ministry’s information site ArmiaInform.
“It is slightly harder than in army boots but we are trying,” Medvid said.
The choice of footwear sparked a torrent of criticism on social media and in parliament, and led to accusations that women soldiers had been sexualised.
“The story of a parade in heels is a real disgrace,” commentator Vitaly Portnikov said on Facebook, arguing that some Ukrainian officials had a “medieval” mindset.
‘Sexism and misogyny’
Another commentator, Maria Shapranova, accused the defence ministry of “sexism and misogyny”.
“High heels is a mockery of women imposed by the beauty industry,” she said.
Several Ukrainian lawmakers close to Ukraine’s former president Petro Poroshenko showed up in parliament with pairs of shoes and encouraged the defence minister to wear high heels to the parade.
“It is hard to imagine a more idiotic, harmful idea,” said Inna Sovsun, a member of the Golos party, pointing to health risks.
She also said that Ukraine’s women soldiers – like men – were risking their lives and “do not deserve to be mocked”.
Ukraine has been battling Russian-backed separatists in the country’s east, in a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014.
Olena Kondratyuk, deputy speaker of the legislature, said authorities should publicly apologise for “humiliating” women and conduct an inquiry.
Kondratyuk said that more than 13,500 women had fought in the current conflict.
The current conflict
More than 31,000 women serve in the Ukrainian armed forces, including more than 4,000 of whom are officers.
Defence Minister Andriy Taran met a group of women cadets and listened to their issues with the footwear and promised them a new model, the defence ministry said on Saturday.
“The new, improved footwear should be better, more ergonomic and made in the shortest possible time,” the minister was quoted as saying.
The ministry’s statement did not include an apology, but expressed regret at the use of the footwear problem “by some political forces for banal politicking and self-publicity”.