When Russian soldiers threatened to rape a young girl in Ukraine, the mother tried to persuade them to abuse her instead of her daughter, psychologist Vasylisa Levchenko said, recounting the story of an alleged rape victim, reported Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).
“One of the Russian soldiers agreed,” he said.
The woman’s account was just one of dozens that have been documented by officials, aid workers and human rights observers, as Russian troops withdrew from the outskirts of the capital Kyiv and other parts of the country as they invaded the February 24th.
“It is impossible to count how many victims there are now,” Ukrainian rights defender Lyudmyla Denisova told RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, “because so many people have been brutally murdered. But history comes true when it comes to our women and children, and their parents now recount the violence that was committed against them.
Denisova added that some of the alleged rape victims said the soldiers said things like, “We’ll make sure you never want to be with a man again, so you don’t have any more children.”
“According to preliminary information, there were a lot of violations, a lot of them,” said Prosecutor General of Ukraine Iryna Venediktova. “All cases will be investigated as the Russian-occupied territory is liberated.”
In a report published on April 3, Human Rights Watch, HRW, documented the first allegations of rape.
A 31-year-old woman from the village of Malaya Rohan, near the eastern city of Kharkiv, said that on the night of March 13-14, a Russian soldier broke into the basement of a school where a group of women and kids. She said the soldier took her to a second-floor classroom and forced her at gunpoint to strip naked and perform oral sex on her.
“The whole time, he put a gun to my head and twice shot the ceiling and said it was to motivate me.” The soldier raped her twice, she said. He cut her face and neck with a knife and then let her go.
The next day, she and her family walked to Kharkov, where they gave her help. “I consider myself lucky to be alive,” she said.
That same day, the British Ambassador to Ukraine, Melinda Simmons, posted on Twitter that rape is “a weapon of war”.
“While the full extent of its use in Ukraine is still unknown, it is already a proven part of Russia’s war arsenal,” Simmons wrote. “Women raped in front of their children, girls raped in front of their family, all expressly used as a deliberate act of subjugation.”
Russia has not responded to allegations of rape by its soldiers. Russian officials have denied that Russian forces in Ukraine have targeted civilians or committed war crimes, but have provided little evidence to support that denial.
Shortly after Human Rights Watch’s initial report, Ukraine researcher Yulia Gorbunova told RFE/RL that she had investigated other cases of sexual violence by Russian troops in the Kyiv suburbs of Bucha and Brovary.
Following such initial reports, a spate of similar stories of sexual violence and accusations of many other atrocities began to be documented after the withdrawal of Russian troops earlier this month. Kyiv police chief Andriy Nyebytov told “Current Time” about a rape case in the village of Bohdanivka.
“The woman went home with her young son and tried to hide from the Russian soldiers who had killed her husband, but two of them showed up that night, drunk and raped her after threatening to shoot her son,” he said. Nyebytov. “They left, but later they came back three times, raping her each time, finally, she managed to break free and escape,” she said.
At a press conference on April 7, Oleksandr Vilkul, head of the Ukrainian military administration in Kryviy Rih, in the southern Kherson region, accused Russian soldiers of raping a 78-year-old woman.
In a Facebook post on April 8, Ombudsman Denisova denounced the rape of a 14-year-old girl in Bucha by five soldiers, adding that the victim had become pregnant. Denisova also reported that a woman had been tied to a table and forced to watch as Russian soldiers raped her 11-year-old son, and that a 20-year-old woman in the city of Irpin, in the kyiv region, had been simultaneously raped by three soldiers.
“The level of brutality of the Russian Federation’s army of terrorists and executioners knows no bounds,” Denisova wrote, calling on the United Nations to investigate alleged atrocities committed by Russian soldiers.
Psychologist Levchenko said the number of rapes is likely to be much higher than previously reported.
“It’s not that women don’t want to talk about it,” Levchenko said. “They can not. The trauma suffered prevents them from orderly thought formation…Such a person often cannot even report exactly what happened.”
He added that similar cases are now being reported by Ukrainians who have sought refuge in Poland and are telling their horror stories to aid workers who help them. Others, aid workers say, are refusing to speak for fear of reprisals, as Russia’s war against Ukraine continues into its second month.
“There is a woman who said adamantly that she does not want us to share her story with anyone,” said Maryna Lehenka, vice president of the European non-governmental organization La Strada, a platform against human trafficking. “Because she’s afraid they’ll find her and kill her. That’s what they told her.”
In an interview on April 7, psychologist and aid worker Kateryna Galyant, who created a Telegram channel where mental health professionals can stay in contact with people who need help, described three “gang rapes” in Bucha , involving groups of three to five Russian soldiers.
He said victims told him the perpetrators were lured to residences and shelters with signs indicating women and children were hiding inside.
“Rape is now an instrument of war,” Galyant said. “A way to show strength, to terrify people and defeat them psychologically and physically.”
Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Venediktova told “Current Time” that her office has created a working group to collect information on the alleged violations and transmit all that information to the International Criminal Court.
“There they pursued a case against the Russian Federation,” he said, “against the aggressor country. This allows us to use that evidence not only personally against the perpetrating soldiers, as long as we can identify them. But if we can’t identify them, we can still use that evidence.” information and evidence to confirm cases of crimes committed by the Russian army on the territory of Ukraine”.
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Rape, a weapon of war in Ukraine