Sexual violence is a disturbing result of war and genocide because of its use as a form of torture and ethnic cleansing. Ever since Russia invaded Ukraine, sexual violence against Ukrainian citizens has dramatically increased. The nature of the sexual violence that Russian military personnel has inflicted justifies its status as a war crime.
Sexual Violence in Ukraine
Sexual violence during times of war is systematic. Russian military personnel systematically use sexual violence as a way to further oppression in Ukraine. Pramila Patten, a U.N. special representative on sexual violence, denounced rape and sexual violence at the hands of Russian troops by calling it a “military strategy” and a “deliberate tactic to dehumanize the victims.”
Under certain circumstances, rape and other different types of sexual violence can be considered war crimes and crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute.
Gita Sahgal of Amnesty International told BBC News, “Rape is often used in ethnic conflicts as a way for attackers to perpetuate their social control.” This seems to be what Russian troops are doing by sexually abusing Ukrainians. Russian troops want to establish their dominance as well as amplify Russian culture throughout Ukraine. A U.N. report has revealed that victims of sexual violence in Ukraine are between the ages of four and 80 years old. There are also reports that family members had to watch as Russian troops sexually assaulted their loved ones. The UN has confirmed that there are “more than a hundred cases of rape or sexual assault.”
Moreover, there are allegations that Russian commanders knew about sexual violence taking place and that some commanders even ordered their soldiers to rape Ukrainians. In the same vein, it is also important to acknowledge the white rag tactic. Russian soldiers told some women to hang a white rag outside their homes. The soldiers would leave and later return to the homes that had the white rags to rape the women.
A young Chechen soldier took Anna, who is 50 years old, from her home and raped her in a house close by while soldiers shot her husband who died a few days later. Anna told the BBC in an interview “They would get high and they were often drunk. Most of them are killers, rapists and looters. Only a few are OK.”
Sexual violence during a time of conflict is extremely traumatizing and can cause severe psychological issues for surviving victims. It is imperative that sexual violence victims in Ukraine have access to medical treatment and psychological support. Due to displacement because of the ongoing war, however, it has been extremely difficult for victims to get access to these resources.
There are many organizations and networks working tirelessly to aid sexual violence victims in Ukraine. Sylini is one network that is working to help sexual violence victims get access to proper medical treatment by covering medical costs. Since Russia first invaded Ukraine, Sylini has helped eight anonymous women by paying for the cost of medical resources such as STD tests, psychological support, and even dental surgery. At least 18 surviving victims have contacted Sylini from May to June 2022 for assistance and support.
SEMA Ukraine is another organization helping sexual violence victims in different parts of the country. This network consists of former sexual assault survivors; Russian military personnel made some of them victims in 2014. One of the main duties of SEMA Ukraine is to travel to small villages to meet with sexual violence victims to hear their stories and provide counseling.
Many often overlook sexual violence during times of war and it rarely gets as much attention as it should, however, the war in Ukraine is bringing more attention to the issue. Additionally, the efforts of Sylini and SEMA Ukraine are ensuring that victims receive the help they need in the aftermath.
– Yonina Anglin