From Ukraine, where Russian soldiers committed numerous war crimes and crimes against civilians during the invasion, reports and testimonies of rapes and sexual violence have been arriving for months. It is an issue known since the beginning of the conflict, on which there is still little data and which is presumably more widespread than believed. Recently, however, in addition to anecdotal testimonies, the first confirmations of the extent of the phenomenon of rapes by independent bodies have arrived, as well as investigations launched against the alleged perpetrators.
Wayne Jordash, British lawyer and head of Global Rights Compliance, a non-governmental organization that deals with international law and is active in the area, said that getting an idea of the extent of the violence and its perpetrators is difficult for many reasons : “Many women do not report the violence they suffered, and when they do they often point to the Russian army units responsible for it, so identifying individual soldiers is much more complicated.” Jordash said the perpetrators of violence are often low-ranking soldiers, who in some cases have returned to Russia and are no longer traceable in the field.
Most of the testimonies and evidence collected on the rapes comes from the territories occupied and then abandoned by the Russians: from northern Ukraine, therefore, but also from Kherson, the southern city liberated last November after an occupation that lasted for months. To date, the Ukrainian Attorney General’s Office has launched investigations into 154 cases of sexual assaults committed during the invasion: Irina Didenko, head of the prosecution department that deals with these cases, told the New York Times that according to her the rapes are « many, many more.”
Most of these cases concern sexual violence committed against women, but there have also been cases of violence suffered by men, especially when they were captured and taken prisoner by the Russians: some of them told of electric shocks applied directly to the genitals as a form of torture. Not only that: as in the past, the rape allegations also concern the Ukrainian army, albeit to a lesser extent.
As regards the rapes committed by Russian soldiers against Ukrainian women, a year after the beginning of the invasion, we have gone from a few anecdotal stories, mainly collected by journalists on the ground, to a first set of confirmations by independent bodies . Last October, the United Nations released a final report on investigations carried out between February and March 2022 in the areas of Kiev, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy.
During the investigation, what the UN commission defines as war crimes and violations of international law, committed “in the vast majority of cases” by Russian forces, were documented. An entire chapter of the report is dedicated precisely to sexual violence and rape, which in international law can be considered a war crime.
According to what was collected by the UN commission, the rapes were committed against people of very different ages, from 4 to over 80 years old. The case of the 4-year-old girl happened near Kiev: according to the commission, in March 2022 two Russian soldiers entered a house, raped both a 22-year-old woman and her husband several times, subsequently forced them to have sexual intercourse in front of them and one of the soldiers then forced their 4-year-old daughter to perform oral sex on him. The commission is investigating three other credible allegations of rape of teenage women in the same village. According to the commission, the cases of women over 80 occurred in Chernihiv.
According to the report, the sexual assaults and rapes took place both inside the women’s homes and in other houses, abandoned and uninhabited due to the war, where Russian soldiers took the women and then raped them. Didenko told the New York Times that rapes are also frequently carried out inside facilities that the Russians use to imprison captured Ukrainians: four of them have been identified in Kherson alone.
Even the Council of the European Union, which together with the European Parliament holds the legislative power, has formulated some precise and detailed accusations on the rapes and sexual violence committed in Ukraine by Russian soldiers. On March 7 this year, just before International Women’s Day, it issued sanctions against two high-ranking Russian military officials held responsible for the rapes and violence carried out by soldiers under their direction.
According to the Council, the findings on sexual assaults and rapes in the occupied areas of Ukraine indicate a “planning at a more systematic level”, in which Russian commanders were not only aware of the violence committed, but had “encouraged or even ordered it”. . Among the allegations cited is the rape of a pregnant woman: the Council also writes that in one of the two cases the Russian Defense Ministry had subsequently promoted one of the commanders who led these soldiers.
The list of subjects sanctioned by the Council of the European Union also includes two high-level officials of the Russian police, accused of having committed sexual violence against Russian women protesting against the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Various networks and activities have developed in Ukraine over the course of this year to tackle rape, punish perpetrators and offer support to those who suffer it.
One of these is JurFem, an association of about 300 Ukrainian lawyers founded in 2017 which since the beginning of the war has been very actively dedicated to supporting women who had suffered rape, for example by collecting their testimonies and offering them free legal support .
JurFem has also created a telephone line, “JurFem Support”, with which it collects requests for help: for help: the director Hrystyna Kit told the Chatham House study center that she had been contacted by women who had suffered violence or threats of violence but also by people who were forced to watch their family members being raped.
Kit said many of these women do not feel ready or safe to report the violence to the police, and added that in Kiev, Dnipro, Zaporizhzhia and Lviv, the government has opened four rescue centers for those fleeing war zones. These centers offer comprehensive services, from psychological counseling to medical treatment to free legal aid, and have also become a refuge for women who have suffered violence.
Global Rights Compliance, the NGO directed by Jordash, then launched a project called the “Sexual Violence Mobile Justice Team”: it is a group of Ukrainian and international magistrates, police officers and investigators sent to the field, who collaborate with the Ukrainian authorities to document, investigate and prosecute sexual assaults and rapes committed by Russian forces.
Jordash said that the initiative was launched between August and September last year and that part of the work is also to offer concrete support to people who have suffered violence, putting them in contact with structures and services in the area where they can receive hospitality , medical benefits, psychological support or simply a place to spend the night and some food if they have had to leave their home.
The first trial for rape against a Russian soldier took place last December, in Kiev, in absentia, i.e. without the presence of the accused. But prosecuting those who committed the rapes is not and will not be easy. As mentioned, the phenomenon is probably much more extensive than you think and it is very difficult to identify those responsible. The UN commission that investigated the matter also writes that in many cases where women have been killed the autopsies focus on the immediate cause of death, without necessarily describing all the other violence suffered before the murder.
– Read also: Can Putin be tried for war crimes?
Leave a Reply