VOICES FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Panel raises alarm over increasing reports of Russia’s systematic abuse of Ukrainian women and children

Democracy

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Concerns over egregious human rights abuses by Russian troops targeted at Ukrainian women and children took center stage at a high-profile panel discussion convened by the Nizami Ganjavi International Center and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights on Wednesday April 20. The conversation, moderated by RFKHR President Kerry Kennedy, featured former President of Latvia, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, former Deputy Prime Minister of Georgia, Eka Tkeshelashvili and former First Lady of Ukraine, Kateryna Yushchenko.

Recounting her childhood experience as a war refugee, Vike-Freiberga called attention to the plight of Ukrainian women and children amid increasing reports of rape and sexual violence by Russian soldiers. “Many women have been aggressed. It’s not just unwanted sexual acts. We are talking about sadistic brutality, about wounds to internal organs, lacerations, tears and so on,” she said. These women who have been violated, Vike-Freiberga said, will need psychological rehabilitation and therapy. “It’s a deep trauma, especially for young girls who are virgins.”

Most of the human rights abuses suffered by Ukrainian women and girls in the hands of Russian invaders are still hidden, said Tkeshelashvili, who is the Head of USAID flagship Anti-Corruption Program in Ukraine. “One of the phrases that was used in the account of one of the victims of the rape was that they were told by Russian soldiers that they would rape them so many times so that they would never want to have an intercourse with a man anymore. That's a genocidal intent of not permitting Ukraine to continue as a nation,” she said.

Former Ukrainian First Lady Yushchenko lamented the high human rights and humanitarian cost of the Russian invasion. “We have to remember that they are targeting residences, they are targeting hospitals, they are targeting schools as part of the genocide, and they targeted a maternity hospital, and a woman who was about to give birth was injured,” she said.

Recently, the United Nations has demanded an independent investigation into allegations of rape and sexual violence by Russian soldiers against women and girls in Ukraine. Denouncing the alleged abuses, Kennedy described as “horrific,” the use of rape as a tool of war.

The panel also condemned the trafficking and forced deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia. According to Tkeshelashvili, “tens of thousands of children have been abducted from Ukraine by Russians and are now spread in Russian families without account in this case.” In many cases, Yushchenko said, some of these children are being forcefully taken from their parents or grabbed from hospitals. “When we win this war, one of the first things we want to do is find out where are our people? How do we get them back?” she said.

The event comes after a recent visit by Kennedy, Yushchenko and Tkeshelashvili to a refugee center in Poland where most of the occupants are single mothers with children. Yushchenko saluted the kindness of the Polish people and how they mobilized help for Ukrainian refugees without any support from the European Union. “We’re truly grateful for that,” she said.

Written by Ohimai Amaize.

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