Victims of rape in Ukraine suffer silently

'Shredded': Victims of rape in Ukraine suffer silently

Activists protest rape during a battle in front of the Russian Consulate in New York on May 28.

Kiev:

When the war broke out in Ukraine and reports came in that Russian soldiers were using rape as a weapon of war, Yulia Sporish was not sure she was the right person to help.

Divchata, a small NGO that works primarily for girls’ health education, set up a hotline in April to advise and assist victims, at the request of its partners.

High-ranking officials, such as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, have made allegations of widespread and systematic sexual harassment against Russian troops, and have been prepared to take calls from victims.

Even after three months of war, the phone did not ring.

“There’s still a huge, huge stigma. The idea is that the victims brought it on themselves,” Sporish told AFP, explaining why people aren’t coming forward.

“We have requests from relatives and volunteers,” he added, “but not directly from the victims.”

The Moscow attack has sparked a wave of allegations of sexual violence perpetrated by its troops in Ukraine.

Zelensky said in April that Russian troops who had withdrawn after attempting to seize the capital, Kyiv, had left behind “hundreds” of rape victims, including children.

AFP spoke to at least one woman in the south of the country who said she had been raped by several Russian soldiers.

Kyiv announced this week that it was launching the first legal proceedings against a Moscow soldier for sexual violence.

‘Very embarrassed’

Yet, staff responsible for helping those whose lives have been shattered by rape must first be persuaded to break their silence.

La Strada lawyer Yulia Anasova said: “Most victims are not ready to report to law enforcement and some of them are not ready to seek specialized treatment.”

The well-known rights group, which also has a phone number for war rape victims, has received just over a dozen calls from 17 people – including one man.

Anasova told AFP: “She is very embarrassed to see a doctor.

Those who arrived said they had been raped by Russian soldiers, mostly in their own homes, he said, but only three had lodged official complaints.

“They are less prepared to go to the police than to seek medical treatment,” Anasova said.

The lawyer said that Ukraine’s often poorly trained investigators have recently modernized how they work, but victims still face a number of interrogations and medical examinations that violate international recommendations.

A dedicated police unit operating in the Kyiv region has identified 13 victims of alleged sexual abuse by Russian soldiers, Deputy Interior Minister Katarina Pavlichenko said.

‘Information, not emotion’

Military psychologist Natalia Zaratska believes it is too early for police to go out in search of prey.

“It will be more meaningful to talk to them in six months, when they will manage their memories better,” he told AFP. “For a criminal investigation, you need information, not emotion.”

Nevertheless, Zaratska believes that “urgent” work needs to be done. He understands that victims need support but he also believes that “they will not come to us”.

“So we have to go to them.”

That’s why he visits Buchate at least three times a week, outside of Kiev, a town whose name is now synonymous with gruesome accusations, including the death penalty, a summary of the atrocities perpetrated by Russian troops.

Silent talk of sexual violence perpetrated by Russian soldiers has spread to all corners of the city where residents have been shot dead with their hands tied behind their backs after their occupants withdrew.

“For a month, a doctor told me that the ambulance had only picked up women who were suffering from this problem,” 45-year-old plumber Volodymyr Strillets told AFP.

Andrei Halvin, the presiding priest of the local Orthodox Church, is navigating how to conduct conversations with believers.

‘It’s better not to talk about it’

“It’s better not to talk about it,” he told AFP in a black clerk’s suit. “People have to carry on with their lives.”

He wanted to reassure the gathering that the victims had not violated their faith.

“I have to tell them that rape is not a sin.”

Military psychologist Zaratska says he began talking to residents about his experience of the Russian occupation and was soon referred to rape victims.

He said the amount of allegations meant the three psychologists working in the area were nowhere near enough. “12 or 16” is needed, Zaratska said.

Again, he said, victims often hesitated to share the content of their experiences.

“It’s only when they’re around someone who understands that during war, rape is a form of torture,” he said.

He said they needed to be reassured that their testimonies would be handled sensitively.

A number of officials have released graphic details of controversial rape and sexual abuse allegations, including a post by Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman who left the post after describing an incident in which a young girl was violated with a kitchen utensil.

“It’s completely immoral,” Zaratska said. “It could create a second trauma. If society had been more sensitive to this, we would have heard more from the victims.”

(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published from a syndicated feed.)

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