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Growing reports of Russian soldiers sexually assaulting Ukrainians

Ukrainian evacuees queued as they waited for further transport at the Medyka border crossing, after they crossed the Ukrainian-Polish border on March 29, 2022, on the 34th day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.ANGELOS TZORTZINIS/AFP via Getty Images

The crime first came to light last week, when Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Iryna Venediktova, said in a Facebook post that a Russian soldier had killed an unarmed civilian and then repeatedly raped his wife. Days later, the White House said it was concerned about emerging reports of sexual violence in Ukraine.

Then, on Monday night, The Times of London published the woman’s chilling account. Using the pseudonym Natalya, she told a reporter she had been in her home in a village near the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, when she heard footsteps, and a shot rang out. Moments later, her husband lay dead outside her front door, and two Russian soldiers were at her side, one holding a gun to her head.


“I shot your husband because he was a Nazi,” the gunman told her before he and the other soldier raped her as her 4-year-old son sobbed in a boiler room next door, according to the Times. She said she was later raped a second time by the soldiers and eventually managed to flee to western Ukraine with her son.

“I could have been silent, but when we got to the police, my husband’s sister made me speak up, and there was no going back,” she was quoted saying in the Times. “I understand that many people who have been hurt would stay silent because they are afraid. Lots of people don’t believe terrible things like this happen.”

A Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitri Peskov, rejected Venediktova’s allegation, telling reporters in Moscow last week that “we don’t believe it at all.”

“It is a lie,” Peskov said, according to the Interfax news agency.

Venediktova said a Russian soldier is wanted for arrest “on suspicion of violation of the laws and customs of war.”

Ukrainian officials contend that numerous cases of rape and sexual violence have occurred in the country since Russia’s invasion began Feb. 24.


Maria Mezentseva, a Ukrainian member of parliament, detailed the woman’s account to Sky News on Sunday and said there were “many more victims.” She did not provide further details or say how she learned of other assaults but said that she expected them to come to light once the victims were “ready to talk.”

“We will definitely not be silent,” she said.

Rape and other forms of sexual violence, which have accompanied armed conflicts throughout history, can constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. Russian forces and Moscow-backed armed groups have been accused of perpetrating sexual violence in other conflicts — most recently involving detainees in eastern Ukraine.

This month, Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said that he had little confidence that international organizations, like the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, would hold Russian soldiers to account. “When Russian soldiers rape women in Ukrainian cities, it’s difficult, of course, to speak about the efficiency of international law,” he said via videolink during an event at Chatham House, a think tank in London.

Accounts of rape and sexual violence began to emerge almost immediately after Russia invaded Ukraine, according to Kateryna Busol, an associate with Chatham House and a Ukrainian lawyer who documented allegations of sexual violence following Russia’s seizure and annexation of Crimea in 2014.

“These accounts are growing, and we are hearing that they are much more widespread than the one account raised by the inspector general,” Busol said in a phone interview from Regensburg, Germany, where she fled from Kyiv in the days following the invasion.


“What we are hearing by word-of-mouth, from acquaintances of survivors in the country, is horrific,” she added. “I have had described to me incidents of gang rape, rape in front of children, and sexual violence following the killing of family members.”

Most of the accounts, she said, involved female victims and were coming from cities in Ukraine’s east and the south occupied by Russian forces.