The complaints of sexual violence against the Russian soldiers in Ukraine seem to come from all sides (politicians, associations and anonymous citizens). Except for the victims, who generally remain silent.
In mid-April, about fifteen days after the Russian troops withdrew from the kyiv region, the Ukrainian president, Volodimir Zelensky, denounced the “hundreds of rape cases” that had occurred in the recently liberated areas, some committed against “girls minors and young children”.
On Monday, Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova announced the trial in absentia against a Russian soldier, accused of having killed a man and raped his wife along with other soldiers.
In early April, a woman who had managed to get out of the city of Kherson, occupied by Russian forces since early March, told AFP – asking to remain anonymous – that two Russian soldiers raped her in her home, after someone would have denounced her as the wife of a Ukrainian soldier.
horror and silence
However, this type of testimony is still unusual. In Bucha, at the gates of the capital, where hundreds of bodies were discovered after the withdrawal of Russian troops – at the end of March – the inhabitants refer to this type of tragedies with half words.
The Bucha massacre in Ukraine also revealed the drama of rape. Photo: EFE
“A doctor told me that, for months, the ambulance only transported women with this problem,” Volodimir Strilets, a 45-year-old plumber, a resident of Bucha, told AFP.
For his part, Father Andriy Galavin, of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, considers that it is better not to address the issue “so that these women can resume their lives.”
The religious limits himself to indicating to his faithful that “being raped is not a sin.”
In Ukraine “there are still huge stereotypes around rape,” says Yulia Sporysh, founder of the organization “Divchata” (“Girls”).
According to her, “the suspicion that the victims may have provoked their aggressor” has not yet completely disappeared and many of them end up keeping silent.
A drawing of a boy, in the middle of a house destroyed by Russian fire in Kostromka, Ukraine. Children are also victims. Photo: AFP
His association opened a line to help people raped since the war began, on February 24.
“At the moment, we mostly receive requests from relatives, or from volunteers, but not from the victims directly,” he explains.
The specialized NGO “La Strada” also launched a similar number. At the end of May, he had only received 13 calls, relating to 17 people, one of them a man.
“He said he was so ‘ashamed’ that he refused even to go see a doctor,” says Yulia Anasova, a lawyer who works for the organization.
Of those victimsall raped by Russian soldiers, and often at home, according to Anasova-, only three filed a complaint.
“They are even less willing to go to the police than to receive medical treatment,” says the lawyer.
little professional help
Progress has been made in recent times, but even so, investigators remain poorly trained to deal with such cases. In addition, they often put victims through often difficult interrogations and medical examinations, contrary to international recommendations, Anasova points out.
In one month, a special police unit managed to identify only “13 victims of sexual crimes” in the kyiv region, according to figures released by Deputy Interior Minister Kateryna Pavlichenko.
For military psychologist Natalia Zaratska, it is still too soon to receive the testimonies of the victims.
“It would be more realistic to talk to them in six months, they will control their memory better,” he says. “For a criminal investigation you need information, not emotions.”
Instead, he does believe that it is urgent to provide them with psychological support. “But they won’t come to us so it’s up to us to go to them.”
At least three times a week, Zaratska visits Bucha, where three other psychologists also work, despite the fact that “12 or 16” would be needed, according to her.
Rape victims, whom Zaratska refers to as “survivors,” only speak “when they are in the presence of someone who understands that, in times of war, rape is a form of torture,” says the psychologist.
In addition, victims need to be sure that their testimony will be confidential, he adds.
However, several personalities have published sleazy detailslike the former head of Human Rights in Parliament, Liudmyla Denisova – dismissed on Tuesday – who published on social networks the story of a girl who was raped “with a spoon”.
“This is something totally unethical” that “may cause you [a las víctimas] a second trauma”, emphasizes the specialist.