"Armed conflict, forced displacement, loss of income and jobs can be triggers for increased gender-based violence against women," says Irina Pavlik, gender mainstreaming specialist at UN Women in Ukraine.
In three months of full-scale war, experts have recorded an increase in violence against young women, who are even more vulnerable than before February 24. Added to this is the sexual violence associated with the conflict.
How to protect yourself and what to do to punish your abuser or abusers – in a special project by LIGA.net and UN Women in Ukraine under the UN Peace Recovery and Development Programme.
If bullied, beaten, physically humiliated
With the outbreak of the great war, cases of domestic violence have become more frequent and more brutal, says Alena Krivulyak, director of the hotline department of the NGO La Strada Ukraine.
During the full-scale war, from 24 February to 31 May inclusive, the hotline received more than 5,500 calls from victims of violence, not including children.
85% of the calls came from women. Most of the calls were not the first incident of violence. The situation was similar during the hard coveted quarantines, says Krivulyak, when people were 24/7 under one roof.
During the war, experts highlight five dangerous trends.
1. Domestic violence in displaced families.
"This was the case in 2014-2015. The war was a catalyst, but in most of the appeals, people had already experienced domestic violence before," explains Aliona Krivulyak.
2. The use of weapons to threaten, in particular, from representatives of various regions' terrorist forces.
"Many women say that there was domestic violence in the family even before the full-scale invasion, but the men did not use weapons before 24 February," adds hotline manager La Strada.
The organisation explains that before 24 February only those officially entitled to weapons had permits.
With the outbreak of war, accessibility became more possible as many men went into terror defence and weapons were brought home.
The National Domestic Violence Prevention Hotline received 27 calls about domestic violence in military and territorial defence families.
3. There has been an increase in calls about violence in families where this had not previously been the case.
This is evidenced by data collected by UN Women, says Iryna Pavlik. UN Women also recorded an increase in physical violence against women during full-scale war and saw increased risks of domestic violence, sexual exploitation and human trafficking.
"Armed conflict, forced displacement, loss of income and jobs – these can often be triggers for increased gender-based violence against women," says Pavlik.
She adds that risks increase both during transit, while a woman is leaving a dangerous place, and in places of arrival or temporary stay, either in Ukraine or abroad. For example, when people leave, leaving their homes and cannot find work in a new place, living mostly on humanitarian aid alone.
4. The attention of law enforcers to cases of domestic violence has decreased.
Both Iryna Pavlik and Alyona Kryvulyak note this. Pavlik explains that in Ukraine, the response system for domestic violence cases has focused around the police response as the first responder in cases of domestic violence. And because the police are now more focused on war-related tasks, they do not spend enough time on domestic violence.
"The police have been the entry point for services for abused women. Although it didn't always work effectively because the victims were not always willing to approach the police. But after February 24, the system broke down altogether. The police is involved in repelling the military aggressor, where there is no possibility to work at all, where there are active military operations or in the occupied territories," – says Iryna Pavlik.
However, experts note that law enforcers hardly ever work on domestic violence and in territories where there is no active fighting. These challenges are not a priority right now.
5. Shelters for women where there is fighting or occupied territory are no longer working.
Thanks to international organisations in cooperation with the authorities, many services had already been established in eastern Ukraine before the war. In Mariupol a shelter for battered women had been operating since 2017. It is now gone. In several towns in Luhansk region there were also shelters, day care centres are now also out of operation, adds the UN Women expert.
However, now there are also existing shelters in safer areas and new ones are being set up that can be counted on and asked for help, explains Alena Krivulyak.
Instructions on what to do
1. Call the police on 102 and get them to come.
Despite the war, the law has not been changed. When the police arrive on a call, the police must assess the risks on the spot, even if the couple have already supposedly reconciled. For the next call could be broken arms or a murder could occur. Therefore, you should insist on a risk assessment.
You can also call in:
- Government Contact Centre – 1547 (from mobile or landline) to get information counselling, support from a psychologist, register an appeal with the state authorities. The line is available 24 hours a day.
- National domestic violence prevention hotline – 116 123 (mobile) or 0 800 500 335 (landline) 24 hours a day, free of charge, anonymous. Information, socio-psychological and legal support.
- There are also contacts for specialised violence services in each area.
Based on a risk assessment, the police must issue an urgent restraining order against the perpetrators.
So that the abusers leave the premises and do not approach or come into contact with the victim. According to Pavlik, almost nowhere is this being done now, even in areas where there is no active fighting.
2. If the police do not act, go to the prosecutor's office.
The prosecutor's office is actively getting involved in fighting domestic violence, even though they are concerned about Russia's war crimes, Alena Krivulyak said.
"If there is inaction by law enforcers on the ground – prosecutors react actively," the expert adds.
3. Reach out to NGOs.
Pro bono legal aid centres will provide legal assistance.
There are also 25 mobile brigades providing social and psychological assistance to survivors of violence and IDPs in Ukraine. They work in 13 cities of Ukraine – Zaporizhia, Dnipro, Poltava, Odessa, Vinnytsia, Uzhgorod, Ternopil, Chernivtsi, Khmelnitsky, Lviv, Lutsk, Mukachevo and Ivano-Frankivsk. Please click here for contacts.
And the UN Women's Humanitarian Peace Foundation WPHF has also launched SafeWomenHUB, they provide immediate psychological, humanitarian and socio-legal assistance to war-affected women and girls: Telegram, Facebook, Instagram, email: [email protected]
4. Reach out to Médecins Sans Frontières or other health professionals.
"Médecins Sans Frontières, their representative offices, actively help victims of domestic violence, even though their main target population is war victims.
If there has been sexual violence
Sexual violence perpetrated by Russian occupiers is now more often spoken of. It is not known how many such cases have occurred since 24 February because there is still fighting going on and there are occupied territories. Also, the victims themselves are not ready to talk about their experiences.
The police have received about 50 reports of sexual violence by the Russian army, 16 cases have been opened and three suspicions have been filed, Deputy Interior Minister Kateryna Pavlichenko said in early June. According to her, the reports came from Kyiv, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, Kharkiv, Luhansk and Chernihiv regions.
The prosecutor's office recently sent the first case of war-time rape by an occupant to court.
Law enforcers are actively investigating sexual violence by Russian occupiers, experts say. Compared to these cases, domestic violence has been slightly overshadowed because most of the cases are not of such severity, explains Iryna Pavlik.
"The police are trying to do their best to identify, record these cases, investigate and hand them over to the prosecutor's office," the expert says.
However, victims are often not ready to talk about severe cases of violence. Various experts and experts say this.
For example, lawyer Larisa Denisenko has eight clients who survived sexual violence by Russian army officers. She tells us that they are not ready to go to the police: "Many of them have been evacuated abroad, to western Ukraine. Only one of my clients is in Kyiv, and she herself is from Kyiv region. One of the victims wants to bring her abuser to justice, but is very afraid. Her relatives remain in the occupied territories.
Irina Pavlik recalls that there have been cases in the Balkans where survivors of sexual violence have come forward 5-10-20 years after their experiences.
Instructions on what to do
1. First of all, take care of your physical safety and take care of your body.
If possible, do minimal hygiene procedures, at least with wet wipes if available, advises obstetrician-gynecologist Natalia Lelyukh. If there are injuries on the genitals and you feel pain, try to use "mucosa-friendly" antiseptics: a solution of soda (1 teaspoon per half litre of water), clean water, alcohol-free wet baby wipes, triderm/levamecol/triacutane/bepanthen ointment, you can use chlorhexidine once. You can try to use hand cream.
Do not use alcohol-based antiseptics or wipes, hydrogen peroxide, panthenol, vegetable oil or other oil-based solutions.
If vaginal antiseptic or antibacterial suppositories are found, put them in for 5-6 days. If you have mucosal trauma, bleeding or bruising, it is advisable to start putting suppositories after a day, because it will be very painful, explains Leluch: "Everything is suitable: Poliginax, fluomizin, macmiror, dalacin, terjinan, gravagine, suppositories with metronidazole, clotrimazole, vaginal metrogil and other".
To prevent unwanted pregnancies, douches and deep wiping with tissues or paper are not effective.
2. Next, seek psychological and medical help.
As soon as you can, go to your doctor for a check-up and possible tests for sexually transmitted infections and to prevent an unwanted pregnancy.
In addition, the doctor will also document the case with a medical report, which can then become one of the evidence in the case if the victim has the courage to go to law enforcement.
If you can see a doctor straight away, you should not take a shower or a bath so as not to wash away any traces of the abuser's DNA from your body. A doctor will help remove them as evidence, explains Yulia Anosova, a lawyer at National Hotlines.
For psychological support, there is the "Breaking the Cycle" counselling service, which is anonymous, free of charge, and offers the opportunity to ask a doctor or asylum seekers for advice. Also the already mentioned National Hotline and SafeWomenHUB.
3. If possible, contact the law enforcement authorities – the police or the prosecutor's office and a lawyer.
When they file your complaint and open criminal proceedings, law enforcement officers should issue you with a referral for forensic examination, explains Anosova.
If possible, keep the clothes that were on when the sexual assault took place. There may be traces of the perpetrator's DNA. Take photos and video of the injuries on the body. Make a note of details and contacts of any witnesses. This may be sent immediately to the Attorney General's Office and then deleted from the phone:
- 0 800 507 001 or 096 755 02 40 (Viber, WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal)
- telegram bots: @stop_russian_war_bot or @war_crime_bot
- Via e-mail: [email protected]
If threatened, insulted, harassed online
"Tackling and bullying to the fullest – regardless of age or gender. There is cyberbullying, harassment and cybergrooming," said Anastasia Apetik, a lawyer and expert on information rights and digital security. According to her, there are several of the most typical scenarios right now.
1. Photos of Ukrainians are photoshopped to offend or make money.
Where it often comes from: Ukrainians who become refugees abroad create messenger chats a la Migrants in Gdynia, Ukrainians in the Czech Republic, etc., says Anastasia.
Usually everyone is allowed in such chats. And there are job offers, including fraudulent ones. When Ukrainians apply for vacancies, they are asked to send a photo "for CV". But in reality, the photo is photoshopped, creating provocative pictures or pornographic content or with Russian flags. And then they demand funds from the person on the card, so that these pictures don't circulate.
"Chat moderators, groups mainly in Telegram, also in Weyberi, have asked for advice about this most of all," adds Apetik.
In general, it is better to apply not in chat rooms for job/lodging, but in volunteer centres in the country or community where you are. Abroad, for example, they verify potential employers there, Apetik explains.
2. Ukrainians are harassed online for being Ukrainian.
For example, a person has a Ukrainian flag on their avatar. This may already be enough for them to start writing insults or threats in comments or private messages online.
"Some girls wrote that they had left for another country and they started getting active phone calls from all messengers, 20-40-100 missed with threats," says Anastasia.
3. Ukrainian refugee women are harassed, offering accommodation with a hint of sex.
According to Apetik, it usually goes like this. A Ukrainian woman writes a post in the social network or in a migrants' chat room: I moved, I am looking for a job/lodging.
This post attracts the attention of scammers, among others.
They monitor these chat rooms, says the expert. And then they may "knock" on private messages with insistent offers to "have a good time", going as far as "I know you live in a refugee centre, I'll come over" at times. The men also write that they will supply them. Some are directly inclined to provide intimate services.
"Threats begin. These are not fabrications. It's a shame that no one warned those women how to protect themselves," adds Anastasia.
How to protect yourself from bullying, threats and harassment online: a guide
1. Make sure your phone number is private on social networks.
Many people have an open number. When you click on an account in a chat room, and you see the phone number.
This should definitely be corrected, go into the settings and make the number hidden, Anastasia advises. Then you won't be able to receive phone calls from scammers.
2. Check the privacy settings on social networks.
Set filters so that only your friends can send messages, see and comment on your posts, etc. If you don't want your photo to be used by scammers, it's best not to post it publicly.
3. In groups/chats you can chat about work/life, but there are rules.
- Don't meet in the park in the evening or anywhere with a stranger. Best during the day in a public place where there are people.
- Don't hand over any documents: photo, passport photo, ID code, etc. You run the risk of meeting scammers.
If you are already being texted/chained/threatened:
1. Record the message. Take a screenshot, save it, send it to a close friend or a friend.
2. Notify Ukrainian or international authorities – depending on where you are. If it's Ukraine – 102, cyber police. If abroad – to the local police, to the main refugee centre, etc.
3. Blocking someone who is threatening you is a good solution. But reporting fraud, bullying or harassment is important.
4. On every social network you can complain about a user as well as a specific post.
For example, scammers have photoshopped a photo of a woman, making it pornographic, and threaten to post it online if she doesn't pay. The woman refuses and they post the forgery on social media.
Then it should be recorded and you can complain about the post by writing extensively about the violation. According to Apetik, Facebook often reacts to such cases and blocks accounts.
If a woman's page has been broken by scammers and posted a photograb with intimate appeals on her behalf, you should complain to the technical support of the social network, as well as friends and family. Don't be shy. Don't be silent. Your account may be repaired and scammers may be removed.
5. If you become a refugee, when you cross the border your mobile operator sends messages to all the hotlines in the country where you have arrived. Use these numbers to report bullying, harassment or fraud. You can also use the official website for helping Ukrainians from all over the world. There you have access to medical help and other services, including websites and phone numbers.
Official disclaimer of the UN Recovery & Peacebuilding Programme (UN RPP)
The United Nations Recovery and Peacebuilding Programme (UN RPP) is being implemented by four United Nations agencies: the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
Twelve international partners support the Programme: the European Union (EU), the European Investment Bank (EIB), the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, and the governments of Canada, Denmark, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden & Switzerland.