Russian forces have used sexual violence as a weapon against Ukraine

A special approach is needed when working with those who have suffered sexual violence linked to the present conflict. It is of great importance to gather testimony and establish patterns of behaviour. As of early May 2023, 182 incidents of this kind had been fully documented.
Maryna Harieieva03 August 2023UA DE EN ES FR IT RU

Ілюстративне зображення © Shutterstock Иллюстративное изображение © Shutterstock

Illustration © Shutterstock

By 28 April 2023, 182 incidents of conflict-related sexual violence had been recorded since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February last year.

Forty-six of the victims were male; 136, female. Thirteen were under the age of 18: twelve girls and one boy. Various forms of sexual violence were perpetrated on the victims: rape, mutilation of or violence to their sexual organs, forced nudity, threats of rape and attempted rape, forced observation of the sexual abuse of relations and family members, and other forms of sexual violence.

By the end of April 2023 those responsible for 33 of these crimes had been identified.

The incidents were documented in the following Regions of Ukraine: Kherson, 67; Kyiv, 52; Donetsk, 26; Kharkiv, 18; Zaporizhzhia, 7; Mikolayiv, 5; Chernihiv, 4; and Luhansk, 3.

In the Kherson Region, Ukrainian prosecutors documented incidents of rape, torture and also gender-related violence towards the mothers, wives and sisters of Ukrainian soldiers, perpetrated by members of the Russian armed forces.

Summons were issued for 16 Russian soldiers to be investigated on suspicion of committing acts of sexual violence during the occupation of the Kyiv and Chernihiv Regions: rape of local women, the attempted rape of an under-age girl, the rape of a woman and murder of her husband. Charges against five individuals were sent to court. One person was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment.

Ukrainian law-enforcement agencies have provided the following examples of summons for investigation and of charges.

On 31 March 2023, charges were sent to court against a Russian soldier who over the course of four months repeatedly raped a 32-year-old woman living in the Kherson Region, under threat of violence against her and her 9-year-old son.

On 30 March 2023, law-enforcement officers received a report about three Russian soldiers who in March 2022 for a period of two weeks systematically raped a 33-year-old woman living in the Kyiv Region, under threat of violence against her and her 13-year-old daughter.

On 4 April 2023, law-enforcement officers received a report about three Russian soldiers who in April 2022, with the prior agreement of their commanding officer, gang-raped a 21-year-old woman in the Kharkiv Region. The Russian officer not only knew about this crime, say law-enforcement officers, but told his subordinates that he would go first.

When receiving reports about the sexual violence of Russian soldiers, Ukrainian law-enforcement agencies are guided by the interests of the victims: only if she (or he) wants to go to court in Ukraine, will a trial go ahead. Priority is given to the recording of a war crime and the gathering of evidence that could later be used at the international level to prosecute Russia’s political and military leadership.

Recently it was discovered that in April-May 2022 Russian soldiers in an occupied city of the Donetsk Region captured four members of the Ukrainian armed forces. The latter were held captive in Russia for a year, during which time they were cruelly tortured with electric current attached to their genitals.

The numbers of victims among male Ukrainian soldiers held captive by the Russians has been increasing. Those who are captured have been tortured, raped and had electrodes fastened to their genitals.

Mobile teams of prosecutors, investigators, international experts and psychologists have been systematically uncovering new instances of sexual violence related to the present conflict in parts of Ukraine occupied by the Russians. The officially-recorded incidents do not reflect the true scale of such violence -— the number of victims has increased following the liberation of formerly occupied territories. After the liberation of territories in the east and south of Ukraine a clear pattern emerged: wherever Russian troops had been, cases of sexual violence were recorded. This is yet another proof that the Russian armed forces used sexual violence as a weapon to attack and destroy the Ukrainian nation; it is evidence that the crime of genocide had been committed.

Thanks to the cooperation of the Ukrainian Prosecutor-General’s Office and its partners, the victims of sexual violence are receiving medical and psychological support. They are provided with basic necessities and material aid and are moved to shelters and safe houses.

Ukraine’s prosecutors are cooperating with international and Ukrainian partners who are helping them to investigate the conflict-related crimes of sexual violence more efficiently and, above all, to take into account and meet the needs of the victims and eyewitnesses. Cooperation has been established with the International Criminal Court and there is constant communication with the office of Pramila Patten, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.

Our law-enforcement agencies note that it is extremely important to report incidents of sexual violence. This will enable justice to be done, for the victims to receive compensation and the perpetrators to be prosecuted. The victim is never guilty in cases of sexual violence: it is always those who committed the crime. Reports about conflict-related sexual violence may eventually be needed when investigating war crimes at the International Criminal Court and any specialised international tribunal and may become the basis for their court proceedings or for part of them. In this way, the stories of the victims will become a delayed-action weapon that will enable war criminals to be brought to trial and help law-enforcement agencies to defeat the aggressor in the judicial arena.

The prosecutor’s office in Ukraine therefore calls on both victims and eyewitnesses to report incidents of sexual violence committed during the Russian occupation. Even if the victim is now in another country, they can still report what they suffered or witnessed and ensure that Russian war criminal do not escape punishment.

For their part, Ukraine’s law-enforcement officers have guaranteed to make sure that victims and eyewitnesses are safe and that all their personal details and testimony are protected. The victims can check what questions are being asked about their experiences and assert their right to confidentiality. To avoid stigmatising them, law-enforcement officers have guaranteed not to pass on or to publicise information that might lead to accusations against the victims, to their abuse, judgement, humiliation, neglect and ridicule. As the Prosecutor-General’s Office has noted, the safety, health and dignity of the victims are of first importance. Law-enforcement agencies have been called on ensure that no one suffers discrimination. These approaches are already being followed by the Office of the Prosecutor-General in its work with the victims. Similar work has begun in the Kharkiv and Kherson Regions of Ukraine.

As of 1 May 2023, the KHPG is investigating 16 cases of conflict-related sexual violence. In ten cases the victims are women (two of the incidents concern rape); in six cases the victims are men.

We would like to express our thanks to the Ukrainian Prosecutor-General’s Office for the information provided.

Share this article