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Rape as a Weapon of War

WARNING: includes topics of Rape

At the beginning of the Ukrainian invasion, drowned out by the sounds of war, were the screams of many Ukrainian women and children who were raped by Russian soldiers. As such, the alarmingly increasing rate of rape has prioritised global efforts to deliver packets of emergency contraception to Ukrainian hospitals as quickly as possible.

Just earlier in April, the grotesque case of the systematic rape of 25 girls and women, aged 14-24, in a basement in Bucha made international headlines, with nine victims falling pregnant. Allegedly, Russian soldiers told them they would “rape them to the point where they wouldn’t want sexual contact with any man”. This was a ruse to prevent the girls and women from having Ukrainian children.

However, that wasn’t the only case. The Ukrainian ombudsman for human rights, Lyudmya Denisova, recalled receiving many calls on support helplines and information from channels on the messaging app Telegram about cases of rape. “A 25-year-old woman called to tell us her 16-year-old sister was raped in the street in front of her. She said they were screaming ‘This will happen to every Nazi prostitute’ as they raped her sister.”

Amongst several reports, some claimed a 14-year-old girl in Bucha fell pregnant after being allegedly raped by 5 Russian soldiers, an 11-year-old boy was allegedly raped whilst his mother was tied to a chair to watch, and a 20-year-old woman was gang-raped “in every possible way” by 3 Russian soldiers in the city of Irpin, situated near Kyiv. Unfortunately, these provide only a glimpse of the mass of cases reported.

Yet, some of the cases were only discovered after post-mortem examinations of women’s bodies buried in mass graves north of Kyiv.

“We already have a few cases which suggest that these women had been raped before being shot to death,” said Vladyslav Perovskyi, a Ukrainian forensic doctor who, with other coroners, performed autopsies in Bucha, Irpin, and Borodianka.

In similar cases, women have been raped at gunpoint while soldiers raided their houses, with some involving Russian soldiers killing their husbands. One case occurred 50 km west of Kyiv, as recalled by Andrii Nebytov, the police chief of the Kyiv region. Allegedly, several Russian soldiers entered a house and shot the husband dead as he tried to defend the family. Then, two of the soldiers repeatedly raped the wife whilst threatening to harm her young son if she resisted. They proceeded to burn down the house and shot the family’s dogs.

“Hundreds of cases of rape have been recorded, including those of young girls and very young children. Even of a baby!” Ukrainian President Volodymry Zelenskyy stated that investigators had received hundreds of reports of rape in areas previously occupied by Russian troops.

However, Dmitri Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, denied such allegations of rape along with other reported war atrocities performed by Russian soldiers in Ukraine. Accordingly, Russian officials claim that these reports were “staged” by Ukrainian forces as a tool when disseminated by Western media.

Indeed, the reports may not frame the image correctly. Yet, this may be due to the potential cases that have yet to be reported. According to Oleh Tkalenko, a senior prosecutor for the Kyiv region, women were more inclined to disclose acts of sexual violence to psychologists and doctors rather than the police due to a lack of belief that perpetrators would be caught.

“People are ashamed to talk about rape.”


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