At 27, Diana Kidzhi is a chief mate – only second in command to the ship’s captain. She is the one who sets the path the gigantic vessel will take through the Arctic Ocean. Standing on the ship of the bridge, she is always surrounded by screens that relay information from several sensors.
A tiny white spot shows up as she looks through her binoculars. Kidzhi instantly identifies it as a polar bear and asks the bridge crew comprising (all mostly older men) to slow down. She did not want the bear’s hunting to get disturbed. They obey her command and the sound of ice cracking underneath the ship starts fading.
Kidzhi is the senior-most woman in Russia’s expanding nuclear icebreaker fleet — owned by Rosatom, the state’s atomic energy corporation. Moscow hopes that the Rosatom will be able to secure its supremacy over Arctic, especially now as the climate change makes it relatively more navigable.
One of the three chief mates on board the 50 Let Pobedy, Kidzhi is breaking stereotypes in a country where several male-dominated professions continue to be off the limits of women.
There are nine other women on the ship, employed in the infirmary, the kitchen, and as cleaners. The rest of the 95-member crew is men. Many crew members have reportedly said that they are not happy to follow orders coming from a woman.
Kidzhi has always been reluctant to talk about sexism. She instead chooses to focus on determination to excel in the job.
During her four-hour shifts in the mornings and evenings, Kidzhi is in charge of the ship. She heads the vessel as it sails through the Arctic for four long months. Like most crew members, Kidzhi hails from Saint Petersburg. Since her childhood days, she dreamt of working at the sea.
Earlier, Kidzhi wanted to be part of the Russian navy. But Saint Petersburg’s Naval Institute was still closed for women. However, another maritime university that specializes in commercial shipping opened up a course to women students when she completed her schooling.
Soon after graduating, Kidzhi had been invited to be part of an icebreaker fleet. In 2018, she eventually joined the “50 Years of Victory” and thus began her journey on a nuclear-powered ship. She kept rising through ranks on the icebreakers. Kidzhi has also sailed at the Arctic dozens of times and has also made nine trips to the Northern Pole.
Sergei Barinov, a deck officer (aged 56 years) on the same ice-breaker, says that it is Kidzhi’s age and not her gender that makes her an exception. He hopes that new icebreakers currently being built by Moscow will employ a greater number of young Russians. Another young woman is serving on another of Rosatom’s vessels, the “Yamal”. She is serving as a deck officer, which is a lower-ranked position than that of Kidzhi’s.