Thursday

2nd Feb 2023

Russian rape in Ukraine: 'You can tell from their eyes'

  • Woman in Kyiv following a Russian rocket strike in February (Photo: Emilio Morenatti)
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Lyudmila Denisova, the Ukrainian parliament's commissioner for human rights, has accused the Russian army of several specific, sadistic cases of rape.

A 14-year old girl in Bucha was allegedly raped by five Russian soldiers and has fallen pregnant, Denisova said.

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In the same town, made infamous by Russia's massacre of its civilians, an 11-year old boy is said to have been raped in front of his mother, who was tied to a chair and forced to watch.

In the city of Irpin near the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, a 20-year old woman was gang-raped "in every possible way" by three Russian soldiers, Denisova also said.

Denisova demands that these and numerous other rape cases reported across the country be included in the UN Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, set up in March to investigate violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.

International NGO Human Rights Watch also warned in a report dated 3 April that Russia is using rape as a weapon of war against Ukraine.

Young Ukrainian politician Kira Rudik, leader of the liberal Golos party, has become something of the female face of the war, appearing almost non-stop in international media since the invasion began.

"I talked to women in liberated areas of the Kyiv region. They are reporting on multiple cases of sexual crimes committed by Russian soldiers against Ukrainian women, men, and children," she told EUobserver.

The atrocities highlighted by the Commissioner for Human Rights are just a few examples of rape at the hands of the invading forces, says Rudik.

"We are working on documenting all the crimes. But the trauma that my people are going through is an irreversible one," she said.

As for the responsibility of the international community, watching the horrors of the Russian occupation unfold in real-time, Rudik says she's working towards two main goals.

"One, stop the war, by providing Ukraine with heavy weapons and imposing real sanctions on Russia. Two, expel Russia from all international organisations, such as the United Nations. There is also a need to rethink the goals and operations of these international bodies. Right now, they do not produce any real value," she said.

'Silent suffering'

The former Swedish minister of foreign affairs, Margot Wallström, was the UN's first special representative on sexual violence in conflict.

She told EUobserver of the silent suffering of sexual war crimes victims — a suffering that doesn't necessarily diminish over time.

"In the Balkans, I met women whose entire bodies shook as they spoke of the abuse they had endured, even as many years had gone by. 'I almost wish I had lost an arm instead,' these women would say. At least [with a visible injury], they would have been regarded as war veterans," Wallström said.

In Medyka, the largest Polish border crossing point from Ukraine, Swedish volunteer Anna, a registered nurse, unloads bag after bag packed to the brim with food, snacks, blankets and medical equipment from her car.

Over 90 percent of those fleeing Ukraine are women and children. Many, volunteers and experts here say, have been raped.

"At the moment, we're starting to see refugees from the eastern, hardest-hit parts of the country," she said, referring to places such as Mariupol and Bucha.

They're in markedly worse condition than previous arrivals.

"One of the largest international aid organisations placed a psychologist right here at the Polish side [of the border crossing]," Anna said, shaking her head in disbelief.

"These women just want a roof over their heads, a wash, somewhere safe to sleep for themselves and their children. They can break down later. When they're out of harm's way," Anna said.

Since wartime rape has all too often been silenced and hidden, it's not necessarily a bad thing if more and more reports are coming in, says Wallström.

"It doesn't have to equal a higher number of rapes, but could mean that women are starting to view it as a crime worth reporting — and that they are now getting help," Wallström said.

On the Ukrainian border, Anna says she and fellow volunteers try to help female refugees by looking after their children.

After days, even weeks of fleeing the war, the women are finally allowed to talk amongst themselves, without having to "censor" words or feelings in front of their children.

"We can often tell when these women have been victims of rape or other forms of abuse", said Anna.

"You can tell from their eyes. It's just something you learn here after a while," she said.

Author bio

Lisa Bjurwald is a journalist and author based in Stockholm.

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