Women in Ukraine say sexual violence is being used as an “instrument of war''

Ukraine’s attorney general has announced the first rape charges against a Russian soldier during the war so far. This comes amid calls for an international tribunal to investigate the conduct of Russian troops

Ukraine’s attorney general has announced the first rape charges against a Russian soldier during the war so far. This comes amid calls for an international tribunal to investigate the conduct of Russian troops

It’s been a month now since Russia launched a full scale invasion of Ukraine. While reports of the exact death toll vary, it's been said that at least 9,800 Russian soldiers have been killed and 900 Ukrainian civilians. However, the UN notes that the actual civilian death toll is likely to be "considerably higher".

Disturbing reports of Russian sexual violence towards Ukrainian civilians have also been emerging.

Yesterday, Ukraine’s attorney general, Iryna Venediktova, announced the first rape charges against a Russian soldier. In a Facebook post, she wrote: "Prosecutors of Kiev region have established a Russian soldier who killed an unarmed man and repeatedly raped his wife [...] He was announced wanted and arrested concerns have been brought to court."

Female civilians in Ukraine have also been speaking out about multiple reports of rape and sexual abuse by Russian troops. The latest comes from 30-year-old Anastasia Taran, who managed to escape the town of Irpin after it was captured by Russian forces. 

“Irpin is Hell,” Anastasia told Ukrainian news site Euromaiden Press. “They rape women and the dead are just being dumped” 

Getty Images

Anastasia explained that at best, the Russians are kicking people out of their homes, but many are just shooting the civilians. “They open the basements where people are hiding and shoot them,” she said. 

Anastasia and her husband continued to live in the Russian-occupied city for a week without electricity, heating, water or access to communication and the internet. They then managed to escape with their three cats and are now in the Western city of Lviv. With the bridges out of Irpin bombed and Russian troops shooting citizens trying to escape, many residents have not been so lucky.

Anastasia's reports of sexual violence echo other accounts. For example, Svetlana Zorina, 27, told CNN earlier in March that she’s heard many stories of young women being raped on the streets of Kherson, just north of Crimea.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian MP Lesia Vasylenko said Russian troops were sexually abusing senior citizens on the outskirts of Kyiv, while speaking during a press briefing in the UK. 

The abuse is happening to “the most vulnerable of the vulnerable,” she said.

“These women are usually the ones who were unable to get out,” she said. “We're talking about senior citizens of Ukraine. It's an extremely painful topic for us to take up, but unfortunately it's still the very beginning of the atrocities that will go on. Putin's army is committing war crimes, and crimes against humanity.” 

Irina Moprezova, 54, reacts in front of a house that was damaged in an aerial bombing in the city of Irpin, northwest of Kyiv on March 13, 2022.

On Twitter this morning, Vasylenko wrote: “2 million women were raped in Germany by Russians during WW2. #Russia again is using rape as an instrument of war. This time in #Ukraine. History repeats itself”. 

Ukraine's foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba has also spoken about sexual violence amid the fighting in Ukraine. “We have numerous cases of, unfortunately, when Russian soldiers rape women in the Ukrainian cities,” he said in a briefing earlier this month. 

He called for a special tribunal to take place to investigate the conduct of Russian troops. According to Dmytro, international law “is the only tool of civilisation that is available to us to make sure that in the end, eventually, all those who made this war possible will be brought to justice”. 

As we learn about the atrocities happening in Ukraine right now, it's easy to feel helpless and overwhelmed. But there are plenty of ways we can help support Ukraine during this time, from writing to your MP and donating to fundraising initiatives, to supporting local Ukrainian journalism.

Kate Hollowood
Kate Hollowood is a freelance journalist and writes about a range of topics for Marie Claire UK, from reports on royal news and current affairs to features on health, careers and relationships. Based in London, Kate has also written for titles like the i paper, Refinery29, Cosmopolitan and It’s Nice That.