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Each day of the ongoing war in Ukraine brings to light new evidence confirming that Russian troops are regularly committing acts of sexual violence against Ukrainian women. In an article published on March 29, the New York Times quotes Kateryna Busol, a Ukrainian lawyer and activist who has been investigating the problem of wartime sexual violence for years, who says that the testimonies of Ukrainian victims and witnesses are horrifying.

Ms. Busol has already collected numerous accounts of gang rapes committed by Russian soldiers in front of children and immediately after the killing of the victim's family members.   

According to Ms. Busol, most of the incidents occur in eastern and southern Ukraine, in the cities occupied by Russian forces.

Ever more accounts of rape and sexual violence involving Russian troops are also reported in Poland, where many Ukrainian women found refuge. One such case was brought to our attention by an activist involved in helping refugee women. She asked to remain anonymous so that no one could identify and track the woman whose story she told us. Hence, to protect the victim’s identity, we decided to change her name.

The activist has been involved in helping refugees ever since Russia launched an attack against Ukraine on February 24, so her phone number is being passed around among some of them as a "sure contact" – a person to reach out to when in need of help. One day, she received a call from an elderly woman from Kharkiv. The woman acted as an informal leader of a group of Ukrainian women fleeing the war. She told the activist that she would be contacted by a girl who was on her way to Poland, and who needed an abortion. When the girl - let's call her Alina – called the Polish activist, it turned out that she did not need an abortion but emergency contraception. - She called me while still on the train, she was traveling with her six-month-old baby - the activist says. - She was surprisingly calm. She told me that her husband was away fighting with the army and that three Russian soldiers forced her to have sex in exchange for allowing her to leave the city with her child. Deceived by how composed she seemed, in my infinite naivety, I thought it was some kind of a deal. A dirty one, but a deal nonetheless; an exchange that both parties had agreed to. I think it was just easier for me to see it as such.

The Polish activist got the "morning-after" pill and went to pick up Alina and her baby from the train station.

-As soon as I saw her, I knew something was off - she says. - She could barely walk, she was dragging her feet. Her mouth was dry and rough; her ear was covered in mud and blood. The baby looked like a corpse. Because of all the stress, Alina lost her food and could not feed the baby throughout the entire journey.

The Ukrainian woman took the pill immediately and didn’t want anything else: no sandwich, no hot tea. - Her eyes were completely dead. I know this term is a cliché, but I never thought it could be so true. I had a living person in front of me with the eyes of a doll - the activist continues. 

In the car, the Polish activist noticed that the woman was sitting on the edge of the seat as if she was afraid to sit normally. - I started to convince her that we should go to the hospital for a check-up, but she kept refusing. Finally, she agreed to go there to examine the emaciated child - says the activist. - In the hospital, by some strange coincidence, the first doctor we met in the emergency room turned out to be Ukrainian. As soon as Alina started speaking in her native language, all the tension went away and she agreed to everything.

The child was immediately admitted to the ward and given an intravenous drip. The mother was taken in for examination. - I left them my number. After a while, I got a call from the hospital - says the activist. - Alina had injuries after what appeared to be repeated rectal rape. They had to put stitches on her anus. As a result of the rape, the horizontal scar she had after a caesarean section went open. I know that's a horrible word, but she was literally plowed through by three men just so she could get out of the country with her baby.  

Situations where Russian soldiers treat sex as a currency are nothing new. Acts of sexual violence against Ukrainian women committed by Russian troops did not start a month ago either. Human rights organizations reported such crimes as early as 2014 after Russia annexed Crimea. Activist Antonina Vikhrest, among others, described the case of a 38-year-old woman who was accused by the so-called separatists of collaborating with the Ukrainian army and imprisoned. In prison, she was repeatedly raped or forced to have sex with one of the guards to avoid gang rape. She also testified that some female prisoners were offered sex with senior soldiers in exchange for protection from regular rape by the guards. 

Right now, rape is part of the Russian strategy to terrorize the civilian population in Ukrainian cities that refuse to surrender. Ukrainian Holos party MP Lesia Vasylenko recently reported that Russian troops are raping elderly women.

After they have been raped, most of them are killed- often by hanging. Some commit suicide.    

On the other hand, evidence is mounting that Russian troops are also raping underage girls. In a conversation intercepted by Ukrainian intelligence services, a Russian soldier says that his comrades raped a 16-year-old girl. For the past few days, a story about a Mariupol resident who was raped by Russian soldiers for several days in front of her 6-year-old son has been making headlines around the world. The woman died and the boy’s hair turned grey. 

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Every day, 400 journalists at Gazeta Wyborcza write verified, fact-checked stories about Polish politics and society, keeping a critical eye on the ruling camp’s persistent assault on democratic values and the rule of law; the growing cultural tension between religious fundamentalism and human rights; and the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. Our journalists are on the front lines in 25 Polish cities, reporting from the streets, hospitals, and courtrooms about issues that move public opinion.

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