The Human Cost of War
CONTENT WARNING: Mentions of sexual assault will follow. Readers, please be advised.
In March, two Russian soldiers in the Kyiv region raped a 22-year-old female. Alla, a 52-year-old Ukrainian woman, was captured and raped by Russian soldiers in July. 25 women, in Bucha, were kept captive and raped. Since the start of the Russo-Ukraine war, cases of women being raped are constantly being discovered and their impact on the Ukrainian community is evident. As the war continues, Russian soldiers are being convicted of committing war crimes involving sexual violence and the raping of women between the ages of four and 82.
Investigators from around the world gathered in Ukraine to search for those affected by Russian terror, specifically sexual violence. Recently, in Ukraine’s Kherson region, investigators went from house to house searching for anyone who has been affected by sexual crimes. So far, a team from Kyiv has taken count of six allegations of sexual assault committed by Russian forces. Investigators believe the true number is much larger due to the inability of calculating the amount affected in an ongoing war and keep the investigation ongoing as the globe watches from afar.
Recently, UN officials have stated that rape has been used as a strategy in the Russo-Ukraine war. International law prohibits the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. Pramila Patten, who serves as UN representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict and Under-Secretary-General, states that Russia is going against international norms and laws. On June 3, the number of alleged acts of sexual assault across Ukraine was confirmed at 124; however, it is difficult to gauge such a statistic as the war is ongoing and it is believed that the true number is much higher if not growing. Patten urged the international community to take action on sexual crimes committed by Russian forces. To date, the international community, including leaders of Western Europe and the UN, have found it difficult to raise the alarm about the women and children affected by Russian sex crimes as it is a timely act, and with the war ongoing, it is difficult to find those accountable as those who are victims to Russian military aggression.
Nonetheless, some progress has been made in support of Ukrainian victims. As of September, international law enforcement agencies have taken on 43 criminal proceedings on sexual war crimes committed by Russia throughout the ongoing war. It is also cited that since the war began and the number affected by sexual war crimes has grown, nearly 431 teams and support services for those affected by domestic violence have taken root in Ukraine. Furthermore, women's initiatives have been established across Ukraine, including four humanitarian centers. More than 800 women have used their services as of October 19. Though support is being provided to women affected by Russian sexual violence, the violence in itself is not stopping.
The International Human Rights Council released a report on October 18, confirming that sexual violence and rape were committed in the four regions that Russia had occupied or surrounded. The council also confirmed that these acts of forcing others to witness sexual violence amounted to torture. Not only have women and children suffered the effects of Russian sexual violence, but the source brings to earth that men were also victims of sexual violence committed by the Russian military. Furthermore, the council stated that sexual violence is difficult to track as the war continues to rage. Mainly, this is due to the ongoing conflict as well as the surging number of migrants that are searching for shelter along with healthcare and support services. The council stated that the “stigma that continues to surround sexual violence requires patience” due to the importance of waiting for victims to feel safe enough to share their stories and experiences. Overall, the council does not close this investigation and keeps the search open for more crimes to be unearthed that have been committed by the Russian army. Ukrainians and people around the globe are hopeful that justice will be served to those affected by Russian military violence.
The human cost of war is difficult to navigate as the globe watches the Russo-Ukraine war escalate every day. Crimes against humanity in Ukraine, prompted by Russian forces, are difficult to watch unravel but are important in understanding the effect that this war has had upon the citizens of Ukraine. As the war continues, the number of civilians who are being impacted by Russian aggression will only continue to grow. The future remains uncertain, and it can only be inferred that in the coming weeks the world will learn of countless victims of Russian sexual violence.