Russian soldiers are engaging in rape and torture in occupied Ukraine, according to several reports.
While sexual violence peaked in the early months of Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022, the grim trend began in earnest with Russia’s limited invasion and subsequent occupation in 2014, human rights groups have said.
“Conflict-related sexual violence is widespread in Ukraine,” said Emily Prey, a director at the New Lines Institute think tank.
Such crimes are often “swept under the rug” because of difficulties verifying them and holding anyone to account in a war zone, she said during a Feb. 6 panel at the British policy institute Chatham House.
Likewise, according to Ms. Prey, sexual violence is difficult to document because of the difficulty in convincing survivors to come forward.
Ms. Prey’s comments follow the publication of several reports by United Nations investigative agencies and the U.S. State Department into sexual violence perpetrated by Russian forces in Ukraine.
One such report, published in October 2023 by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, found that Russian forces engaged in widespread rape, torture, and killing in and around the region of Kherson from March 2022 through July 2022.
Many of the victims of those attacks had stayed in Ukraine to care for disabled or elderly family members. Victims included minors and women aged 19 to 83, the pregnant, and the disabled.
Ms. Prey said that some “Russian and Russian-affiliated forces” adopted sexual violence as a “deliberate method to subjugate the survivors and further break down societal norms and bonds.”
Likewise, she said, rape or the threat thereof is frequently used by Russian forces in occupied Ukraine to elicit confessions from those detained.
“Most of the incidents occurred after the perpetrators had broken into the victims’ homes,” the report reads. “Victims reported rapes at gunpoint and threats of killing or of inflicting other serious harm to the victims or their relatives.”
On several occasions, the rapes turned into killings or attempted killings, including one incident in which a Russian soldier returned and murdered a husband and wife after they reported his crimes.
The U.N. report also noted that Russian officers only rarely took action against those of their soldiers who committed rape, and the vast majority of perpetrators appear to have been unpunished or even encouraged.
While the report focuses on the rapes of women in Russia’s early full-scale invasion, Ms. Prey noted that vast numbers of men also were subjected to such crimes by Russian forces, but in different circumstances.
“Men were particularly, and are particularly, at risk of sexual violence in detention centers,” Ms. Prey said.
US: Russia’s Crimes Against HumanityTo that end, Russia appears to have organized an apparatus of torture, intended to systematically deprive those in occupied territories of their rights and identity, according to Kateryna Busol, an associate professor at the National University of Kyiv–Mohyla Academy.
“It’s crucial to remember ... that both the U.N. Commission of Inquiry and the U.N. Special Reporter on Torture have said that it appears that Russia’s torture infrastructure in the occupied territories of Ukraine is not sporadic. It’s well organized,” she said.
Such a qualification is vital, Ms. Busol noted, as it could distinguish the acts of Russian forces as crimes against humanity.
Documented cases of mass rape and torture by Russian and Russian-affiliated forces go back decades and span multiple theaters including Chechnya, Syria, and Ukraine.
Ms. Prey said the international community will need to contend with the long-term implications of such violence for Ukraine and its people and begin to build programs and infrastructure to assist the victims of such crimes, including children who have been and will be born from such circumstances.
“If there’s rape and sexual violence in war, there will be children born of wartime rape,” she said.