In the 18 months since Russia’s full-scale invasion, Ukraine’s National Police has received more than 93,000 phone calls from Ukrainians reporting they were sexually assaulted by a member or members of the Russian military.
In all likelihood, that statistic understates actual number case by orders of magnitude, Ukrainian officials and social workers said.
Serhii Nizhynsky, the public advisor of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, said in a Wednesday interview with the nationally broadcast Ukrainian Radio station that Russian troops started committing acts of sexual violence against Ukrainian civilians on the first day of the invasion, and those criminal acts are continuing unabated.
Of the formal complaints fielded by national help agencies and law enforcement over the past 18 months, Nizhynsky said, Ukraine’s national criminal investigative agency has developed and referred to court slightly more than 200 separate cases against Russian service members for sexual assault or other sexual violence-related crimes.
According to official Prosecutor General statistics, as of Aug. 11, 2023, Ukrainian prosecutors had opened or handed over to courts 225 cases of criminal sexual violence committed by Russian soldiers against Ukrainian citizens, of which 79 were against men, 146 against women, 13 against minors (12 girls and 1 boy).
“Most of the Russian soldiers were in various states of drug and alcohol intoxication,” Nizhynsky said.
A variety of sexual crimes
Rape or attempted rape were the most common crimes reported, he said, but sexual crimes and sexual violence committed by Russian troops in Ukraine identified in the investigations nonetheless varied dramatically. Nizhynsky singled out forcing civilians, including children, to undress in public – at times outside in temperatures down to 15 degrees Centigrade below freezing – as very widely practiced by Russian troops, particularly at checkpoints.
According to longstanding Kremlin messaging on state-controlled media, a dangerous portion of the Ukrainian population is violently Fascist and intent on “terrorist” acts against Russian troops, who conduct themselves according to the rules of war and diligently avoid harming civilians.
Nizhynsky said Ukrainian law enforcers have collected overwhelming evidence contradicting that Moscow narrative. Russian law enforcers and military security staff as a matter of policy use sexual violence, threat of violence and intentional sexual humiliation as tools for pressuring Ukrainian detainees, he said.
Some of the worst incidents of sexual violence tactics employed by Russian interrogators and security troops, and documented by Ukrainian prosecutors, include cases when boys were raped by Russian soldiers in front of their parents, public torture by genetic mutilation of selected village residents to intimidate neighbors into cooperating with occupation authorities – particularly in Kyiv’s Brovary region, he said.
Russian soldiers and police also have used genital electric shock, forced sexual intercourse with another person, forcing detainees to watch sexual intercourse or sexual abuse, and recording the rape of a prisoner and then threatening the survivor with publication of the video in social media, Ukrainian prosecutors claim.
Russian jailors, according to evidence developed by Prosecutor General investigators, commonly leave detainees without access to food, water or medicine, and then grant access in exchange for sexual favors. In most cases, Russian jail and prison officers were under the influence of drugs or intoxicated.
Iryna Kalabukha, Director of the Department for Monitoring the Rights of Citizens Victims of Armed Aggression Against Ukraine in an estimate published by the Ukrinform news agency said that her group estimates that 78 percent of survivors of sexual violence by Russian troops or state employees did not contact law enforcement agencies.
A major impediment to wider reporting, Kalabukha said, is a de facto 96-hour deadline for reporting a rape, because a doctor’s examination outside that window cannot, in medical terms, determine whether or not a rape actually took place. Without definitive medical evidence, a rape charge is still possible, but effective prosecution is difficult, she said.
Children born following rapes of Ukrainian women by Russian soldiers, some orphaned because their mothers abandoned them and others now being raised as Ukrainian children, are now, in some cases, nine months old, she said. The Ukrainian government is trying to identify Russian national fathers of Ukrainian children conceived in rape with the goal of forcing them to pay child support, so far with little success, Kalabukha said.
Just how many
The real scale of sexual crimes and violence committed by Russian troops – who number at least 300,000 soldiers occupying Ukrainian territory according to most estimates – almost certainly dwarfs the Prosecutor General office’s current count of 225 confirmed cases, experts said.
“We cannot yet talk about the scale of criminal activity of Russians in the field of sexual violence. First of all, because we do not have accurate statistics on appeals to law enforcement agencies and charitable organizations,” Nadiya Volchenska, a Ukrainian psychotherapist and co-founder of the charity foundation Sylni, told Kyiv Post.
“The number of requests is increasing, but people still do not immediately seek help. Survivors must first meet such basic needs as moving to a safe place, finding housing, receiving medical assistance, etc… Also, fear and shame play a big role in the appeal, both before society and before the offender,” Volchenska said.
A 2023 national opinion poll conducted by the Ukrainian Women Lawyers Association found that 40 percent of respondents who personally encountered sexual violence did not tell anyone about the crime committed against them. The three main reasons given for not wanting to go to authorities included belief police would ignore the complaint (78 percent), fears of public condemnation (72 percent), and worries law enforcers would breach confidentiality (68 percent).
The survey conducted from May to early June focused on sexual harassment and crime nationwide, not just at the hands of Russian troops. An estimated 59.4 percent of respondents said they had personally encountered cases of sexual violence (rape, sexual harassment, etc.), and 39.5 percent said their relatives, friends or acquaintances faced sexual violence. In total, 95 percent of respondents were women.
A Donbas resident attacked and violated by Russian soldiers, who is currently a social worker helping sexual violence survivors, told Kyiv Post: “It’s critical never to forget that every rape is horrible and a person undergoing that never stops experiencing it. Every woman carries it with her forever.” Kyiv Post has chosen not to make her identity public.
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