Violence against women and all forms of sexual violence, including rape, sexual assault, forced prostitution, and sexual slavery, are increasingly recognized as a facet of many recent conflicts, spanning from the European Balkans to African countries. Social and economic crises and breakdowns in the rule of law contribute to domestic violence also within the families of former combatants. This article gives an overview of the situation regarding gender-based violence (GBV) in the Ukraine caused by the war, which erupted in April 2014. The following example is indicative of the type of GBV women have been subjected to because of the ongoing crisis in the Ukraine:
Mrs. Dovhan is from the Donetsk region, she was kidnapped by the illegal armed group Vostok Battalion because of her pro-Ukrainian position.(1) She was beaten and humiliated for five days and received several rape threats. She slept like other detained civilians on a concrete floor, suffered from water and food deprivation and limited access to the toilet. She was forced to march in a parade composed of detained civilians and imprisoned Ukrainian soldiers. She was released after the intervention of international journalists, who published a picture in the New York Times that captured her public humiliation.
After expansion in the Crimean peninsula, between April and June 2014, illegal armed forces supported by Russia gained control over a number of localities in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions. This period is characterize by repressions against the civilian population, because armed criminals were arbitrarily annexing property, persecuting residents who supported the Ukrainian government, robbing and destroying the property of those who had left these territories. Many people left their houses because of the war; as of August 2015, the Ministry of Social Policy registered 1,459,226 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in areas under government control.(2)
Sex disaggregated data is no longer publicly available following the transition of reporting on IDP registration figures from the State Emergency Services to the Ministry of Social Policy which took place in early 2015.(3) Furthermore, data disaggregated by the specific needs of IDPs is also not available.(4)
Most of these people were already vulnerable in pre-conflict times and they were therefore disproportionately affected by the displacement, loss of income/pensions, eroded purchasing power, and reduced access to job markets, education, the breakdown of essential social, health, human rights protective services, and psychosocial support. The demographics of the displaced population are difficult to be determined because not all people were registered. According to a factsheet published by the European Commission, the majority of those displaced are women, children, older people and those living with a disability.(5)
Violence against women in the temporary occupied territory
When it comes to assessing the situation of violence against women in the temporarily occupied territories, it is difficult to provide detailed and concrete data because neither the government nor civil society have access to that territory. (5)
On the 17th of April 2014, the Government of the Ukraine lodged a declaration under Article 12(3) of the Rome Statute accepting the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court over alleged crimes committed on its territory from the 21st of November 2013 to the 22nd of February 2014.(6) Later on, the Parliament extended the term until present time. The Office of the ICC Prosecutor has opened a preliminary examination of the situation at hand.(7) Since the beginning of the conflict, human rights protection organizations, including women’s organizations, started to collect data with the aim of informing Ukrainian law enforcement authorities and international organizations on human rights violations as well as providing legal and social support to victims. The Women’s Information Consultative Centre (WICC) interviewed some women victims of GBV. Here are the preliminary results:
- There are cases of women raped by illegal armed groups /forces
- There are cases of prostitution enforced by illegal armed forces
- There are cases of women’s torture through perpetration of rapes, shooting close to ears, pulling hair by illegal armed forces
- There are cases of human trafficking
The Ukrainian Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights and member organizations of the Coalition “Justice for Peace in Donbas” published a report Surviving Hell: Testimonies of Victims on Places of Illegal Detention in Donbas. The topic of this report was human rights monitoring in the occupied territories from the Ukraine. The authors interviewed about 120 people listening to their accounts about awful conditions of illegal places of detention. Moreover, testimonies referred to the use of unjustified force during the arrest of civilians, lack of separation between civilian women and men, lack of access to basic sanitary facilities, deprivation from food and water, torture and threats of human trafficking(8) and so on.
“After some time, they came to my cell and said they would take me for execution. They dragged me somewhere. It turned out that N and I were taken for sale. N said that, most likely, to Rostov region. They were driving us for a very long time – six hours. We crossed the border. N and I were in a tall car with our hands and feet tied. We were also blindfolded. We were in a car with two Chechens and someone else as convoy. Chechens kept saying that ‘even though she is ours (Muslim)…, we definitely have to kill her’. I thought they were taking us for execution, but they wanted to sell us into slavery. However, the deal was off for some reason” (С-83).(9)
Violence against women within the peaceful territory of the Ukraine
Maintained by the International Women’s Rights Center “La Strada Ukraine”(10), the national hotline on domestic violence, human trafficking and gender discrimination received 3615 calls from women during January-April 2015. Only 1382 calls were received over the same period in 2014. Most women reported psychological violence (48.5%) and physical abuse (36.9%). 11.7% of subscribers referred to instances of economic violence and 2.9% reported cases of sexual violence. Gender experts reported some cases of domestic violence occurring in the families of former combatants because of psychological trauma.(11) Volunteer psychologists developed trainings for ex-combatants with the aim of preventing violence within families.
Women NGOs continue to provide direct humanitarian assistance to IDPs regarding accommodation, jobs, clothes, medicine protection etc. WICC has conducted trainings on women’s empowerment through trainings for IDPs. There are volunteers who work with IDPs on conflict mediation and resolution by adopting a gender sensitive approach. Regarding reporting to the international community and collecting data on gender-based violence, WICC has initiated the drafting of a report on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) General Recommendation No. 30 on women in conflict prevention, conflict and post-conflict situations.(12) Women’s civil society organizations (CSOs) initiated and participated in the development of the National Action Plan on UN Resolution 1325.(13) It is expected that the plan will be adopted and the Istanbul Convention will be ratified. The Ukrainian women NGOs coalition ‘Gender Strategic Platform’ requested the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine to include a gender component in their monitoring reports.
After the end of the conflict, the Ukraine faced many challenges regarding new forms of GBV. Women CSOs appreciate solidarity and shared experience from other countries on how to effectively prosecute and punish gender-related crimes committed during and after conflicts. They also welcome support and the sharing of best practices on the provision of women’s services according to their needs and how to protect them from all forms of violence.
By Maryna Rudenko, Ukraine
Maryna Rudenko is a specialist in Political Science from the National University Kyiv, Mohyla Academy. Since 2008, as a member of the CSO Women’s Information Consultative Center, she has contributed to the implementation of different civic and professional initiatives on gender mainstreaming in law drafting processes, economic empowerment of rural women and leadership development, protecting women against violence, including women as active role players in peacebuilding, developing the National Action Plan on United Nations Resolution 1325 and its supported resolutions.
(1) For further information please see: http://euromaidanpress.com/2014/09/01/iryna-dovhan-the-woman-humiliated-by-terrorists-in-donetsk-speaks-of-her-ordeal/ (last accessed on 21 Nov. 2015)
(2) http://www.internal-displacement.org/europe-the-caucasus-and-central-asia/ukraine/figures-analysis (last accessed on 21 Nov. 2015)
(3) http://www.internal-displacement.org/europe-the-caucasus-and-central-asia/ukraine/figures-analysis (last accessed on 21 Nov. 2015)
(5) European Commission ECHO Factsheet, October 2015, p. 3, available at: http://ec.europa.eu/echo/files/aid/countries/factsheets/ukraine_en.pdf (last accessed on 21 Nov. 2015)
(6) For further information please see: https://www.icc-cpi.int/en_menus/icc/press%20and%20media/press%20releases/pages/pr1156.aspx (last accessed on 21 Nov. 2015)
(7) https://www.icc-cpi.int/en_menus/icc/press%20and%20media/press%20releases/pages/pr1156.aspx (last accessed on 21 Nov. 2015)
(8) Report “Surviving Hell: Testimonies of Victims on Places of Illegal Detention in Donbas”. – Kyiv, 2015 – p.35., available at: http://www.osce.org/odihr/185431?download=true (last accessed on 21 Nov. 2015)
(9) Report “Surviving Hell: Testimonies of Victims on Places of Illegal Detention in Donbas”. – Kyiv, 2015 – p. 31.
(10) More information available at: http://lastradainternational.org/ls-offices/ukraine (last accessed on 21 Nov. 2015)
(11) http://www.la-strada.org.ua/ucp_mod_news_list_show_540.html (page in Ukrainian, last accessed on 21 Nov. 2015)
(13) For further information please consult: Statement by Ukrainian Delegation at the UN SC open debate on “Women, peace and security”, available at: http://un.mfa.gov.ua/en/press-center/news/29271-vistup-zastupnika-direktora-dmo-mzs-ukrajini-jurija-vitrenka-na-vidkritih-debatah-rb-oon-na-temu-zhinki-mir-ta-bezpeka (last accessed on 21 Nov. 2015)