As Russian troops withdrew from areas around Kiev, officials, aid workers and journalists received reports from local residents that soldiers had raped them. A Ukrainian lawmaker said that sexual violence is “systematic in all the areas occupied by the Russians.”
“Rape is being used as a tool of war in Ukraine to break our spirit, to humiliate us and show us that we can be helpless to protect our women and children and their bodies,” Kira Rudyk, a member of Ukraine’s parliament, told CBS News. “It happens systematically in the occupied territories.”
Rudyk has gathered evidence and testimony in the hope that the perpetrators will eventually face justice.
“In the beginning, we worked to make sure women were safe and receiving medical care. And I can tell you that some of them were actually pregnant by Russian soldiers who raped them,” Rudyk said.
She visited Bucha shortly after Russian troops left, and when people’s immediate medical needs were met, she said she used a combination of phone records and documents left “to get names and surnames of the soldiers who committed these crimes … We are collecting more and more evidence and information about them right now. “
“I wish he had killed me instead”
Terrifying reports of sexual violence and rape have been reported from areas previously occupied by Russian forces as they retreat to focus their attacks on Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. The full extent of the atrocities is not and may never be known.
Rudyk heard a story about a woman who was raped in front of her family members, as well as a story about a woman who was repeatedly visited and raped over many days.
“I wish he had killed me instead of what he did,”told CBS News’ senior foreign affairs correspondent Holly Williams, who visited the small village in southern Ukraine, where she lives shortly after the Russian soldiers who had occupied it left it.
Visibly saddened, Vera said a Russian fighter from Donetsk had raped her in her house with her disabled husband in the next room.
“I asked [the soldier], ‘What do you have against our government? It was not us who started the war. ” God, I wish I had not said that. I was tempted by fate. He said I was too smart, “Vera told CBS News.” He said, stand up. I got up. He grabbed me by the neck. He squeezed it. I started to get suffocated. I could not breathe. He asked me who was in the house. I just said my sick old husband, no one else … and then it started. “
Vera said police told her that two other women in her small village had also been raped – another pensioner and a younger woman – and that there was a similar case in a neighboring town that had also been occupied.
Vera said that even though the occupiers had left her village, she was still petrified every night.
“I’m sorry. Everything hurts. I’m in a state where I’m neither dead nor alive.”
Rape as a war crime
Under international law, rape during conflict can be a war crime, a crime against humanity and – when associated with the intent to eliminate a group – part of genocide.
Rudyk said Russian forces used rape as a tool to terrorize people because Ukrainians made such fierce resistance to the invasion.
“They are trying to figure out ways to crack us down. Well, that’s not working right now. It’s just making us angry and bringing more and more people who want to fight, who want to protect our peaceful cities from this cruelty,” she said.
Rudyk said she did not believe Russian troops had been ordered to rape Ukrainian women, “but they were told to do what they want, which basically allows them to do so.”
Aid agencies are working to help send rape kits and emergency contraception to Ukraine to meet immediate medical needs and facilitate the collection of evidence. On Wednesday, the UN announced a set of global guidelines on how to gather evidence from witnesses, victims and survivors of sexual violence in conflict zones.
Rudyk said that while she hopes her work will help justice be enforced, sexual violence as a tool of war will continue as long as the conflict does.
“The only way to stop the atrocities is to end the war,” she said. “And every single time, when a world organization comes together and says, ‘Okay, we’ll get it [together] in two weeks and reconsider what is happening and we will think, maybe we will take some action, ‘I want you to think that there is probably a woman somewhere in the occupied territory – and not [just] one – that in these two weeks would wake up every single day and know what would happen. Russian soldiers will come in and rape her. And she may not survive. “
Justine Redman and Pamela Falk contributed to this report.
In the United States, help is available to survivors of sexual violence and their families. RAINN offers resources at 1-800-656-HOPE and on their website, www.rainn.org