News

Ukraine war: horrifying reports suggest Russian soldiers are raping Ukrainian women in occupied territory

Posted by
Lauren Geall
Published
backgroundLayer 1
Add this article to your list of favourites
The town of Bucha in Ukraine after Russian forces were pushed back

Ukrainian aid workers fear that the current reports are “just the tip of the iceberg”.

Content warning: this article contains descriptions of multiple counts of rape and sexual violence.

Less than two weeks since Ukraine’s successful pushback of Russian forces from the areas surrounding Kyiv, more and more harrowing reports of rape and sexual violence against civilians are emerging.

Human Rights Watch – an organisation that spotlights human rights abuses and fights to bring perpetrators to justice – says it has documented several cases of Russian soldiers committing “laws of war” violations against civilians, including the use of summary executions and rape.

In one case, the organisation said a Ukrainian woman sheltering with her family in the Kharkiv region reported that a Russian soldier had repeatedly raped her at gunpoint before going on to beat her and cut her face, neck and hair with a knife.  

You may also like

“Exhausted, weary and grieving”: a humanitarian worker explains what life is like for refugees from Ukraine

Another woman said she was raped several times in front of her child just moments after her husband was shot dead in their home, the Ukrainian MP Maria Mezentseva told Sky last week. 

“There are many more victims rather than just this one case which has been made public by the prosecutor general,” she said. “We are expecting many more of them, which will be public once victims will be ready to talk about that. We will definitely not be silent.”

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour last week, the BBC’s Lviv correspondent Emma Vardy gave listeners a snapshot of the situation on the ground. 

“There’s certainly evidence of sexual violence beginning to emerge from areas that have been occupied by Russian forces, and women and girls are coming forward to tell police and aid workers about sexual assaults they say have happened to them at the hands of Russian soldiers,” Vardy said.

Aid workers in Lviv
Aid workers in Lviv have heard reports of rape and sexual violence from women escaping areas occupied by Russian forces.

“There is a Ukrainian charity here that has a phone line for women and girls and they say too they are receiving calls from victims alleging they’ve been assaulted by Russian soldiers, and their aid workers say they worry that what they are hearing is just the very tip of the iceberg,” she concluded.

Hrystyna Kit is the founder and chairwoman of the Ukrainian organisation Jurfem, which functions as a platform for women in the legal profession to exchange knowledge and experience as well as access development and support.

It also works to protect women’s rights and implement gender equality both in the legal community and wider legislation – and has recently started an initiative to help victims of sexual violence and rape access legal advice and any additional support they may need, including those affected during the war.

You may also like

Ukraine: Poland’s near-total ban on abortion has left Ukrainian refugees struggling to access healthcare

While, Kit explains, the organisation’s phoneline is yet to receive many calls, she expects the number of people in need to help to rise over the coming weeks and months.

“At the moment, we don’t have many calls, because victims have other needs such as safety, and housing, as well as medical and psychological help,” Kit tells Stylist. “I think that more women will call us when they feel safe.”

Kit continues: “For now, we’re working with advocates and prosecutors to study and create recommendations for the legal community as to how they can work with victims of rape and sexual violence under these circumstances.”

While Russia has denied all of the allegations, the sheer number of reports coming out of Ukraine are leading to officials facing increased pressure to look into the numerous war crimes which are believed to have taken place.

As stands, both Ukraine’s prosecutor general and the International Criminal Court have said they will open investigations.

Click the links to check out the latest updates from the war in Ukraine and learn more about how to help.  

Sign up for the latest news and must-read features from Stylist, so you don't miss out on the conversation.

By entering my email I agree to Stylist’s Privacy Policy

Images: Getty

Topics

Share this article

Author

Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and women’s issues. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.