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Ukrainian women speak out against Russian soldiers’ sexual abuse of them

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Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, victims of sexual assault are bravely stepping out to dispel the stigma attached to their stories. One of them is the artist Daria Zymenko, who was attacked by Russian forces in the hamlet of Gavronshchyna, which is close to Kyiv.

Under the pretense of interrogation, Zymenko was removed from her house when Russian soldiers took Gavronshchyna. Rather, she endured several instances of sexual assault. What Ukrainian officials characterize as a widespread and systematic campaign of sexual abuse by Russian servicemen includes her horrific story.

After Russian soldiers invaded Ukraine in February 2022, more than 300 incidences of sexual abuse have been reported by Ukrainian officials. The actual scope of these crimes, however, is thought to be far greater. The director of the Center for Civil Liberties in Ukraine and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Oleksandra Matviichuk, notes that the true number of victims is probably in the thousands because many survivors choose not to come forward because of the stigma associated with sexual assault.

Zymenko is committed to breaking down this taboo and is now a member of SEMA Ukraine, an organization that assists victims of sexual and gender-based abuse. “It’s very painful to speak,” she said, “but today I feel it’s necessary to explain what I went through because Russia continues to torture people and commit sexual crimes on a daily basis in Ukraine.”

Zymenko and other survivors described the “mass rapes” carried out by Russian military in a news conference held in Paris. The incident made clear how vital it is to confront and put an end to these war crimes. The facts and survivor accounts present a disturbing picture of the continuous sexual abuse, notwithstanding Moscow’s protestations.

Among those breaking the silence is renowned documentary filmmaker Alisa Kovalenko. Although only approximately 20% of victims come out, Kovalenko, who experienced sexual abuse in 2014 amidst the crisis in eastern Ukraine, pointed out that their bravery is having a big influence. In an effort to highlight the hardships and resiliency of the women who suffered sexual abuse during the invasion, her most recent film, “Traces,” examines their stories.

The stigma associated with sexual violence in Ukraine is progressively being lifted thanks to the work of Zymenko, Kovalenko, and others. SEMA Ukraine’s founder, Iryna Dovgan, noted that the persistent threat presented by Russia’s aggressiveness has encouraged more women to come forward. “Other women are at risk of being assaulted: this is our cry and our call for help,” she stated.

Survivors tell their testimonies in an effort to stop more tragedies in addition to seeking justice. Even though their experiences will always be traumatizing, their bravery in speaking up is a vital first step toward recovery and shielding others from such atrocities.

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