Asgarda

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This photo-essay at Planet magazine of a purported "new tribe of Ukrainian Amazons," shot by French photographer Guillaume Herbaut, is receiving a lot of attention online. The magazine article is the only source I see for the following background on the women in these photos:

In the Ukraine, a country where females are victims of sexual trafficking and gender oppression, a new tribe of empowered women is emerging. Calling themselves the "Asgarda", the women seek complete autonomy from men. Residing in the Carpathian Mountains, the tribe is comprised of 150 women of varying ages, primarily students, led by 30 year-old Katerina Tarnouska. Reviving the tribal traditions of the Scythian Amazons of ancient Greek mythology, the Asgarda train in martial arts, taught by former Soviet karate master, Volodymyr Stepanovytch, and learn life skills and sciences in order to become ideal women. Little physical documentation existed on the tribe, until recently, when renowned French photographer, met the Asgarda back in 2004 in the midst of the Orange Revolution.
Is this the official Asgarda website? Does anyone know more about them? Are they a cult? A lesbian martial arts club? A planned community? Or manufactured narrative for a sweet series of photos by some French dude in an art magazine? I was inclined to think the whole thing was a hoax, like the "motorcycle ride through Chernobyl" hoax that made the blog rounds years ago, but maybe that's because a tribe of noble Ukrainian girl-warriors sounds too awesome to be true in this cold, cruel world.

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  1. I’m going for fake – simply because it’s such a lame series of photo’s. If there was such a thing i’m sure it would offer up a much interesting set of images.

  2. I’m going for PR-heavy cult. This is not photo-journalism, this is marketing. And awesome as the idea seems, a warrior-women cult (with a male karate trainer, incidentally) is still a cult. This is just the feeling I get when I look at the pictures – especially the head-shaving and the one where they all wear the same T-shirts.

    Any Ukrainian around to explain it to us ?

  3. That is some serious mythologizing going on there. But that is what it is about. Asgard (playing on the word Guard and Asgard) is an experimental system of self-defense tied to a philosophy of empowerment. In short it is a martial arts school for young women. Off away in the Carpatian mountains could refer to many small and large cities and towns.

    Anyhow, it is still interesting if only for its active mythologizing.

  4. Assuming it’s real — could somebody drop them a note: not **all** of us guys are a$$holes…

  5. Amazon tribe… better include a few biologists and geneticists, or it’ll be a short-lived experiment. Myself, I come from a long line of batchelors… heh.

  6. Man, I hope this is real. Tremendously awesome. A little sexy, even, in that way that a strong woman is kind of inherently sexy.

  7. They look like LARPers to me. The “just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean I can’t take a hit” type you find in Darkon. Just with the added “I collect real weapons” shtick added in.

  8. It would be a cool idea, but it looks unconvincing to me. They are meant to be ‘warriors’ yet none of them has notable muscle mass or definition. I’d expect stronger shoulders and well defined arm muscles on people training in boxing and sword-wielding. They are also suspiciously limp-wristed when holding the weapons.

    They probably exist, but I see more of a fringe club/cult than a serious training camp.

  9. A little sexy, even, in that way that a strong woman is kind of inherently sexy.

    Yeah… that’s probably the point. I’m thinking fake. You half expect James Bond to show up, be taken prisoner by them, then escape by seducing one.

  10. I doubt this is real, and it’s awfully exploity, anyway. No photos on Guillaume Herbaut’s site, though there are other references from earlier this year about the photos being on his site. This is still presenting these Ukrainian women as fantasy sex objects; note above poster commenting on how it’s a little sexy. I know, I know that you really do like strong women, but there’s an inherent note of objectification in what you’re saying. This isn’t sexy. If this were real, it would be an additional heart-breaking bit of evidence about how downtrodden Ukrainian women are. Women’s separatism does happen in places like that, e.g. Rwanda and Kenya, but it’s generally not accompanied by the use of medieval weaponry and high fashion photos. (I mean come on, there’s even a head-shaving scene to show you how hyper-masculine they are.)

  11. my sexy girlfriend collects weapons and has never LARPed once! (though her forays into Buffy fan-fic worries me sometimes) ;)

  12. There was an article on them in Marie Claire also but I can’t find it in their on-line database. This was maybe 6 months to a year ago.

  13. oh, darn it… i was all set to run off and join them, until i read this part on their (official?) website:

    “In parallel with the development of physical skills it is necessary to develop the skills of public speaking, playing the musical instruments, dance, study household, embroidery, knitting and other skills necessary for women.”

    knitting?? i don’t recall amazon warriors being known for their knitting…

  14. Moriarty: “You half expect James Bond to show up, be taken prisoner by them, then escape by seducing one.”

    Dude, that is the opposite of sexy strong. ;)

    They look plenty buff to me, but it’s very likely that they just “work out” more than they get in actual fights. And the only pictures of them holding any weapons are obviously not exactly fighting-stance stuff, but poses for the camera (in which they specifically wanted to appear badass, according to the article). The website Xeni linked to kind of makes them sound more like a sort of ninja Ukranian girl scouts than a civilization, but I’d imagine it’s hardly a hard-and-fast distinction. And Planet is more of an arty design magazine than a social science magazine, so the reason they were published was undoubtedly for the crazy awesome photography on display.

    Still, it is very exciting to think that somewhere in the Ukraine, badass ninja grown-up girl scouts are finding a strength inside of them and kicking some ass. If there’s that much truth to this, it’ll make the world more awesome. If this turns out to be a total hoax, I’m going with the ol’ Adam Savage mantra: “I reject your reality, and substitute my own.”

  15. According to someone I know in the magazine racket, who remembers a story about it in Marie Claire recently: It’s basically a martial-arts camp for girls.

  16. Dude, that is the opposite of sexy strong.

    No, it’s sexy strong for people who find it threatening as well as sexy. Can be enjoyed safely, because you can call them freaks and reassert status quo soon enough.

  17. Anyone know whose face that is on the shirts? It certainly adds to the cult-like feeling one gets looking at them.

    I’d say this is not a fake, just a photojournalist taking the press releases of this particular group a little too seriously.

    A group of women who practice a martial art together, with an emphasis on female empowerment? Sure I can believe that. A tribe of elite warrior women, determined to live in the mountains without men, like something from a grindhouse film or a James Bond spoof? Not so much.

  18. Any martial art that is run by a “Supreme Teacher” (or “Supreme” anything, for that matter) is immediately suspect to me. Also, I’m wondering what’s the deal with the boxing gloves. I can’t think of any fighting art that routinely does serious training with boxing gloves on (and boxing is certainly not a “martial” system – it’s a sport. Boxers in actual fights routinely destroy their hands because they don’t have the skills and hand conditioning for bare knuckled fighting).

    The concept is interesting, but I’m skeptical about the presentation of the execution, if not the execution itself.

  19. Boxers in actual fights routinely destroy their hands because they don’t have the skills and hand conditioning for bare knuckled fighting).

    To quote Willie Mays, in another context, “Who do?”
    Heads are harder than hands.

    A man who strikes another with his fist is a fool.

  20. I will rise up and destroy them with my hip-hop misogyny.

    Unrelated, there is a cult of self-professed “catholic warrior monks” who operate a “think-tank” in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania. Rarely seen by locals, they carry samurai swords and the whole nine yards.

  21. “As apparent in several of the photos, the Asgarda idolize Yulia Volodymyrivna Tymoshenko – a key figure in the Orange Revolution and leader of the “Fatherland” party.”

    Wiki, darling.

  22. Oh man, this is all hilarious.

    Let me tell you what it is all about. Asgarda was (I am not sure if it still is functioning) just a martial arts school based on the Ukrainian own style, Hopak. Only adapted for girls. These pictures were taken by some French photographer, who was traveling around Ukraine and are just for photo session sake.

    I happen to know few girls, who were studying in that martial arts school, including the one on photo here. When I told them about all that hype around Asgarda, they laughed so hard, that I thought, that I will lose them :)

    The bottom line is do not believe everything you read. You’ll be surprised how many foolish things they try to put into your head/

  23. Yuliya Tymoshenko is a dubious inspiration, and anyway, they don’t wear their hair in a neato braided donut like she does.

    So, martial arts camp. That’s still pretty awesome in one one the most sexist countries outside of the internet.

    But they should ditch Yuliya for Amanda Palmer. That would 6.022 x 10E23 kinds of awesome.

  24. “Reviving the tribal traditions of the Scythian Amazons of ancient Greek mythology”

    How exactly does one revive the traditions of a group of people who have never existed?

  25. – Unrelated, there is a cult of self-professed “catholic warrior monks” who operate a “think-tank” in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania. Rarely seen by locals, they carry samurai swords and the whole nine yards. –

    That’s right up the road from where I live and I’ve never heard of such a thing. Have any more information?

  26. Can someone tell, me where I can score one of those Valaskas? It’s the national weapon of my ancestral home, Slovakia (it’s the ax + walking stick thingy)

  27. I have to echo everyone else saying this looks staged.

    It feels more like a photo essay or art school project than real journalism, particularly because of how staged the photos are, how pretty all the women are, and how un-muscular so many of them appear to be.

  28. “a warrior-women cult (with a male karate trainer, incidentally)”

    Boy does this sound like the plot from one of the novels in John Ringo’s Paladin of Shadows series.

    Is this someone’s idea of John Ringo cosplay? Oh, John Ringo NO!

  29. Just finished reading Misha Glenny’s excellent “McMafia”, a comprehensive rundown of the worlds criminal networks.
    Reading about the human trafficking, it seems to me, that even though this Asgarda warrior cult might be a hoax, we need something like it. Wouldn’t it be nice if the a-holes, who lure women with good jobs, only to stick them in prison-bordellos, would get an ass-kicking?

    http://www.amazon.com/McMafia-Journey-Through-Criminal-Underworld/dp/1400044111

  30. For the last time, there is no “the france”, “the spain”,or “the scotland” and THERE IS NO SUCH PLACE AS “THE UKRAINE”!

  31. @Daedalus: Somehow, in this context, I misread Xeni as Xena. Then I did a double-take: what, Xena just provided a link to a website?

  32. For the last time, there is no “the france”, “the spain”,or “the scotland” and THERE IS NO SUCH PLACE AS “THE UKRAINE”!

    Well there is “The United States of America!

  33. From Wikipedia;

    Milla Jovovich (born Milica Nataša Jovović; December 17, 1975) is a Ukrainian-born American model, actress, musician, and fashion designer.

    Her “Leelo” in “The Fifth Element” is the Ultimate!

  34. I wonder how many people understand the extent of the sexism in the comment thread.

    Most probably don’t even see it. What a let down.

  35. Lemko Lesbos?

    Well, the website does have a Ukrainian address, and uses the Ukrainian version of the cyrillic alphabet. However the one video posted there is ridiculous, like some crappy riverdance thing featuring awkward martial arts and dancing set to Orff-inspired zeuhl-metal with English lyrics.

    I think this is real although corny and half-assed; it fits in perfectly with current Slavic pride memes — claiming some kind of connection to the ancient Scythians (who DID exist, though perhaps not as the Greeks described them) is like African Americans trying to trace their history back to ancient Egypt in a bid to boost their egos.

  36. This is so perfectly tuned for BoingBoing you have to assume someone wanted to time how long it would take from the publication of the story to its appearance on here.

  37. Saw these on the website EnglishRussia.com about 10 months ago…don’t know if it’s a hoax but very cool pix.

    Disappointing about the Chernobyl motorcycle story being a hoax though.

  38. the comments from men are overwhelmingly sexist..

    Hey now, Anonymous!

    Xeni made an effort too! I also think you are being unfair to the other women of the thread, who may not have gender-specific names, that also made some witty sexist jokes.

    Equality starts right here. Let’s take them all seriously, huh?

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