The Rapist Army. What do we know about the scale of sexual violence by the Russian troops during the invasion of Ukraine

Many crimes related to sexual violence have been committed during Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine. Not only the Russian military but also the looters commit them. The targets of such crimes can be not only women or girls, but also men and seniors.

Sasha Horchynska, an nv.ua reporter, did an inquiry about the scale of such crimes, who records such offenses, and where people can go if they have experienced or witnessed sexual violence during the war.

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Women raped in front of children

“In Mariupol, the Russian invaders have been raping a woman in front of her 6-year-old son for several days in a row. She later died of her wounds. Her little son’s hair turned gray. This is not a horror movie. Rape, violence, murder – that’s what the “Russian World” means.  

This tweet from the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, published on March 30, 2022, was circulated on all social networks and the pages of Ukrainian and foreign media. As volunteer Yulia Smirnova later wrote on her Facebook page, “the injured boy was then taken to the hospital – he stopped talking and is in shock. It is also known that the cousin of the dead woman, who lives with her family in Prague, has been found – she is ready to take the boy home.  

A woman who was raped by Russian bastards was interviewed by The Times. This is the story where the villains first killed her husband. And then they committed gang rape while her son was sobbing in the boiler room. I am incredibly grateful to her for telling her story to the world.
From recently intercepted conversations between a Russian bastard and his wife, we learned how three tankers raped a 16-year-old girl. His wife, by the way, laughed at that.
Rescued underage girls, taken out of the occupied territories, go to gynecologists en masse. They were beaten, raped and don’t talk anymore.
I now literally dream of torture for these bastards. There is such a savage anger in my head that I imagine how I would be dismembering these bastards. And no, I do not feel disgust, this is my dream since the beginning of the war against the civilian population of Ukraine.
What an impunity guides them, how dead their brains are, that they are doing this here – and those out there accept this and laugh. Ordinary Russians, fuck.
I thank the Armed Forces and the Defense Forces, guerrillas and brave Ukrainians for every villain killed. And for those who survived, I recommend arranging lyrical evenings to listen to the stories of every raped girl, every single mother and wife, every grief-stricken father and husband.

Yaryna Vyshenska, Facebook

People are brought to Bila Tserkva from Irpin. So many raped girls! And they are 16-17 years old. My aunt is looking for psychologists to help them. Girls are afraid of people, even of their own parents. And these are not isolated cases

Facebook

I confirm this, buses with girls are going to the gynecology now, underage, raped, beaten, without teeth… They are simply mute. They are receiving medical help, but they need active psychology help.

Oleksandra Kudinova, Twitter


Another story that the world learned about in an article in the British Times is the story of 33-year-old Natalia, a resident of Brovary near Kyiv. The Russian invaders entered the yard of a private house, shot Natalia’s husband, killed their dog and smashed their car. Then the woman was raped three times in front of her four-year-old son, who was hiding in the boiler room. Natalia and her son managed to escape when the drunken invaders fell asleep.  
The victim also told the media that one of the invaders, who came to her house, introduced himself as Mikhail Romanov. The Prosecutor General of Ukraine Iryna Venediktova confirmed the fact of the crime and noted that the invader was on the wanted list. It later became known that the rapist had probably been liquidated already by the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Deputy Interior Minister Kateryna Pavlychenko announced it on her Facebook page.  

“Kyiv Region Police have identified the rapist. According to operative information, the lowlife was liquidated by the Ukrainian military. However, we must make sure that the monster will not escape responsibility if he is still alive. Now the rapist has been charged in absentia on suspicion of violating the laws and customs of war. The lowlife will be on the Interpol wanted list. If the villain is still alive, he will be brought to Ukrainian justice and will be punished for what he has done – he will face life imprisonment, “- said the Deputy Interior Minister in her statement.  

There are currently no exact data that would allow us to assess the scale of sexual crimes committed by the Russian military, the Prosecutor General of Ukraine Iryna Venediktova wrote on her Facebook page.”

Journalists are constantly asking about the statistics of such crimes, the number of cases. These figures change daily, but they are not a reflection of the situation. For the most part, those who have suffered such terrible violence do not want to be statistics. Law enforcement officers are more likely to learn about cases from open sources or from third parties, rather than from victims directly. The information is not always confirmed,” the Prosecutor General said.  

The press service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the International Human Rights Organization La Strada-Ukraine reported the lack of exact figures.  

“Such statistics cannot be collected at this stage of active hostilities, as the victims are trying to meet their basic needs and save lives, and only then report or document the case,” – commented in La Strada-Ukraine. They add: «It is expected that the real scale can be assessed after the end of the active phase of hostilities – when the victims will be more likely to report such cases.”  

The press service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs reports that it is very difficult to document such cases and gather evidence, especially when the territory is under temporary occupation. That is why the atrocities committed by the Russian invaders during the attack on Ukrainian cities and villages are evidenced by stories on social networks and the media for now.  

Darya Kalenyuk, executive director of the Center for Combating Corruption, also wrote on Twitter about the two women raped and killed by the invaders. “My friends, two young girls, were tortured, raped and killed. One of them was an excellent doctor, and the other was a scientist and had a doctorate in philosophy,” the message says.  

One of the brutal cases took place in Kharkiv, a city damaged severely by the enemy shelling. A user named Vira Khvust told on her Facebook page the story of a friend – a woman she calls Lyubtsya. 29-year-old Lyubtsya has lived all her life with her mother who had been paralyzed for the past three years.  

“When the war broke out, Lyuba did not run to evacuate because she didn’t find anyone to help take her mom out. In a few days, when their entrance door was damaged, 3 lowlifes visited their apartment,” Vira Khvust wrote in her post. The invaders took food out of Lyubka’s apartment. One of them stayed. He had been raping the woman for more than a week,” and then he started to say that he fell in love and wanted to send her away from the war.” When Lyubtsya refused, saying that she could not leave her paralyzed mother, the rapist shot the mother right in front of Lyubtsya.  

A resident of the village of Mala Rohan, also in the Kharkiv region, recorded a video address, where she recounted how the Russian invader took her son with him when he was looking for a pinch bar to “steal from shops.” He later returned with his son, let him go, and took her daughter instead. “It was the first night, about half-past one on the clock. The daughter returned at about seven in the morning. I didn’t sleep all night, I was worried that he had killed her. He dragged her to a classroom on the second floor and was raping her all night. He injected drugs and said she would not feel anything. He cut her cheek and neck. He raped her, poked her with the gun all over her body. He wanted to kill her. He cut her hair with a knife,” the woman said in the video published by the Kharkiv.Life Telegram Channel.  

This crime was noted by Human Rights Watch in its report. It states that the victim was a 31-year-old woman. She told human rights activists that her rapist was 20. The invader told her that she reminded him of a girl who had once been his classmate.   The Human Rights Watch report also said that representatives of the organization had received three more allegations of sexual violence by the Russian military in Mariupol, as well as in villages in the Chernihiv region. There are also allegations of rape in the Kherson region: for example, Ukrainian woman Svitlana Zorina recounted such instances to CNN. She talked about a 17-year-old girl that had been raped.  

In early April, the Armed Forces of Ukraine liberated the Kyiv Region from the Russian invaders and were able to enter the bombed-to-the-ground Bucha. It came to light that locals had been brutally raped, abused and tortured. In particular, the media wrote about the raped and killed women – the naked bodies of some of them were found abandoned along the road. They also wrote about the rapes of underage girls.  


Rape as a weapon

Despite the fact that at the level of official communication, the Russian Federation denies the fact that their military committed crimes against civilians – such as the genocide in Bucha and the shelling of a maternity hospital in Mariupol, the conversations intercepted by the Ukrainian intelligence suggest otherwise.  

In one of the intercepted conversations published by the Security Service of Ukraine, the Russian invader told his fellow military that other soldiers had raped an adult woman and a 16-year-old girl, adding that “people are becoming savages.”  

The rape of a 16-year-old girl is also mentioned in another intercepted conversation. One soldier also recounts to another one that they “ate alabai” [dog breed] because they were tired of the MRE supplied by the Russian Army.  

Politicians and diplomats are already talking about sexual violence: the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba was one of the first to draw attention to this.  

“When bombs fall on your cities, when soldiers rape women in invaded cities, and we, unfortunately, have many cases when Russian soldiers rape women in Ukrainian cities, then it is certainly difficult to talk about the effectiveness of international law,” he said. The Ukrainian Pravda cited him. It also noted that the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights had been recording information about such crimes.  

The Ambassador of the United Kingdom to Ukraine Melinda Simmons also spoke publicly. She called the rapes committed by the invaders “part of Russia’s arsenal”:  

“Rape is a weapon of war. Though we don’t yet know the full extent of its use in Ukraine it’s already clear it was part of Russian arsenal. Women raped in front of their kids, girls in front of their families, as a deliberate act of subjugation. Rape is a war crime.”  

Journalist Tetyana Troshchynska also writes about rape as a weapon and as an intimidation method on her Facebook page. She quotes Susan Brownmiller cited in the book Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence.  

“Man’s discovery that his genitalia could serve as a weapon to generate fear must rank as one of the most important discoveries of prehistoric times along with the use of fire and the first crude stone axe. From prehistoric times to the present, I believe, rape has played a crucial function… It is nothing more and no less than a conscious process of intimidation, by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.”  

Psychologists give the same explanation. Sexual violence perpetrated in wartime and during armed conflict is different from violence perpetrated in peacetime, according to the National Association of Psychologists. Journalist Sasha Horchynska attended a webinar on this topic.   Psychologists make the first distinction as the lack of premeditation, which is a feature of such crimes in peacetime. Other distinctive features are as follows: the stage of selection of the victim by the perpetrator is not present, while the actions are reactive.  

“While perpetrating such crimes, the offender experiences a sense of impunity and the narrowing of consciousness. That’s because he sees it as a shared responsibility with other servicemen. The feeling of impunity may come from the idea that he will remain unidentified after all,” – said the National Association of Psychologists. They add that such crimes can be committed with a special degree of cruelty.  

Psychologists divide rapists into several types:

– Authoritarian, when violence seems to confirm strength and status.
– Aggressive, characterized by actions such as humiliation, when victim’s fear is a special pleasure, with violence, beatings and torture.
– Sadistic, characterized by particularly brutal forms of violence, beatings and torture.  

It is also noted that sexual violence is often accompanied by mental and physical violence during the war. Hence, this problem is multicomponent.  

Sexual violence should be a prohibited act, a mandatory requirement for ceasefire agreements and negotiations on green corridors. As well as other requirements related to this: monitoring of cases of sexual violence, access of victims to medicine and medicines for all victims of this crime – commented the writer and lawyer Larysa Denysenko.  

“But you see how difficult it is to bring water and bread, how evacuation buses are fired upon. It is impossible to negotiate according to international law with a party that uses sexual violence as a weapon. However, it is necessary to emphasize it, to talk about it with international humanitarian missions. Being silent about it is evil,” Denisenko said.  


Violence is not just rape

During the war, the risk of sexual violence increased significantly both by military and militarized groups, and by other actors, according to the human rights organization La Strada – Ukraine. Other interlocutors also told nv.ua that violence against Ukrainians could be perpetrated not only by the Russian military.  

One of the Ukrainian psychotherapists who works with women victims of sexual violence confirmed off-record that rapes are also being recorded in Ukraine by the looters that are not the Russian military. They come to rob houses, kill homeowners and rape women in front of children. However, the victims are not yet ready to speak publicly about such offenses.  

The invaders do not really have a monopoly on sexual violence, adds writer Larysa Denysenko. And the victims of such crimes can be not only women or children but also men. Both women and men can be abused by both the marauders and anyone with weapons or power and the desire to commit the crime.  

“These crimes can follow the standard procedure of criminal investigation because in such cases, access to legal and medical assistance, as well as opportunities to tell the police are obviously greater than when you are under the total control of brutal invaders who have tacit or open orders from the Russian commanders to resort to sexual violence.”  

The level of sexual violence during the war is growing because in such times there are not enough resources to maintain law and order. Other tasks are a priority, such as protection and defense capabilities of the state, say La Strada-Ukraine. Therefore, the law enforcement may be less able respond to the complaints by individual victims. There is also a growing sense of impunity among those who commit such crimes.  

Larysa Denysenko also speaks about the lack of institutional and systemic solutions to these issues. She mentions volunteer initiatives, which are very helpful in dealing with such cases, as well as caring physicians and psychologists. However, she adds: “At the moment there is no time even for trainings on this topic. We just need to deal with it now.”

“I am concerned that not all professionals who are willing to work with survivors are aware of the protocols of working with people who suffered such trauma during the war. Relatively good news: many competent people got involved in thinking through and finding the best ways to solve this problem. There are a lot of charitable requests from both international organizations and individuals: to support the victims, to pay for the necessary treatment, rehabilitation programs,” said Larysa Denysenko.  

Experts working on these issues emphasize that such crimes should be considered in a broader context than just rape. One needs to look for stories not only in areas where direct hostilities have been taking place, but also in other territories. For example, in bomb shelters, places of distribution of humanitarian aid, etc.  

According to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, forms of sexual violence related to war crimes, in addition to rape, include forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced slavery, forced sterilization, and other forms of genital mutilations, the threat of sexual violence, sexual torture, forced exposure.  

“Forced exposure of women and children is also sexual violence. In particular, the fact that the invaders forced the female POWs from among the Ukrainian border guards and fighters to expose themselves to men and then they shaved their heads is a war crime, sexual violence,” said Larysa Denysenko, recalling Ukrainian women returned to Ukraine with their heads shaved during the prisoner exchange.  


Why victims are often silent

One of the most common reasons why victims of sexual violence do not seek help and do not tell others about their experiences is fear for themselves or for their family, such as children, according to the National Association of Psychologists. The victims can also keep silent due to shame and unwillingness to disclose in public the intimate details of what happened.   Public stigma and stereotypes are also an obstacle to reporting crimes, as well as the lack of specialists to work with this category of victims, La Strada-Ukraine adds:   “We know that in at least one case the victims tried to contact the police, but could not, because they were in the territory that at that time was not under the control of the Ukrainian authorities, namely – in the Kherson region.”  

Specialists from La Strada-Ukraine reported these crimes from the invaded territories where active hostilities were taking place at the time, particularly, from Kyiv and Kherson Regions. In some of these reports, two or even three victims were reported at once.  

“This raises the suspicion that such cases may be quite common and planned for in advance by the Russian military. The conclusions can be made only when the rule of law is restored, and the victims are able to freely report such cases. The picture will become clearer,” – said La Strada-Ukraine.  

Another challenge is that such crimes are often reported late, when the victim managed to get to safety. According to the National Association of Psychologists, this factor – being safe – is crucial for processing the experience. After all, re-experiencing a traumatic experience can be dangerous for a person who, at the time of dealing with these memories, is still in a place where there is a threat to her life and health.  

However, even if victims of sexual violence during the war talk about it in a few years, those responsible can still be punished – according to international law, as war crimes have no statute of limitations and are not amnestied. Larysa Denysenko says with an emphasis:  

“Investigation is not a priority. For war crimes, sexual violence included, there are no amnesty and no statute of limitations. So, the investigation will take place under any circumstances when the surviving woman, girl, man, boy find the strength to talk about it, or the investigation will be based on other evidence and facts.”  


Who and how should document the evidence

People who have experienced sexual violence during the war need help at several levels, according to experts from the National Association of Psychologists. This includes a medical examination, first aid, and other psychological interventions, such as long-term engagement with a psychotherapist. But even at this level, there are some difficulties: in reality, victims do not always have access to medical and psychological care. Especially if it concerns the invaded territories or where active hostilities are ongoing, explains La Strada-Ukraine:   “The work of social services in most parts of Ukraine has been suspended and not resumed. Moreover, even before the war, there were significant problems in providing qualified medical and psychological care to victims of sexual violence, and the appropriate infrastructure was not created for this purpose.

“Documenting the crime must be mandatory. Currently, this is done by law enforcement agencies, such as the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine. A special website has been created for this – https://warcrimes.gov.ua. And also, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission. Such crimes can also be reported to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court: otp.informationdesk@icc-cpi.int.  

Documenting testimony is a complex issue that requires skills, says Larysa Denysenko. It is necessary to follow the relevant protocol, she said, referring to the International Protocol on Documenting and Investigating Sexual Violence in Conflict. This Protocol is quite detailed, and mastering the techniques takes time. Thus, Ukrainian law enforcement officers should receive short and clear instructions in this regard in the near future.  

“I want to tell the girls and women who are hesitant if to talk to the police or hesitant if they will find understanding there: the experience shows that they will help. But you can also turn to the lawyers of the Association of Women Lawyers of “YurFem,” and to the lawyers of the free legal aid system. Everyone is now working to ensure that people who have survived sexual violence tell their story,” said Larysa Denysenko.  

She underscores the algorithm of communication with victims: they should not be pressured under any circumstances – people should feel safe. Questions should be formulated in such a way that they are open-ended. One should record what is said patiently and carefully.  

“We have to check every time whether we are doing enough to ensure that this safety is not destroyed. Is this a question that should not be asked? Is it enough to protect personal data? Do we need professional help for people at this stage?” – Larysa Denysenko explains. – “A person who testifies should feel that he/she has the right to control this situation. This story is not written by you, you are not its author, you are an attentive recorder or a scribe.   In cases of sexual violence as a war crime, the so-called “guilt of the survivor” should not be mentioned at all. Neither should be mentioned questions of consent in any form, Denisenko emphasizes. – This is regulated by international criminal justice. Because the “consent” often means trying to save your life or the lives of your children.   International criminal justice clearly states that in the case of sexual violence as a war crime there can be no question of the survivor’s guilt or consent in any form, because this “consent” means an attempt to save her life, the life of her child, her loved ones.  


Who to contact

If you have been a victim of sexual violence or have witnessed such a crime and need an emergency consultation or prompt response, you can contact the following authorities:

National Hotline for Prevention of Domestic Violence, Trafficking in Human Beings and Gender Discrimination – 116-123 or 0-800-500-335 (free and confidential)  

Association of Women Lawyers of Ukraine – http://jurfem.com.ua or +380-68-145-5590  

Online consultation with specialists of La Strada-Ukraine: Telegram: @ NHL116123, Facebook: @lastradaukraine, email: hotline@la-strada.org.ua    

Translated from https://life.nv.ua/ukr/socium/zgvaltuvannya-v-ukrajini-shcho-vidomo-pro-zlochini-rosiyskoji-armiji-novini-ukrajini-50231915.html

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