Last February marked one year of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, an event that triggered a war that the world swore would last a few days. It didn't! The Ukrainians have defended their territory tooth and nail with the support of several friendly countries and an inexhaustible iron will that the natives seem to inherit from their president Volodimir Zelensky.
María Consuelo Caicedo Toro
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At this juncture, the women and girls of that country who cannot access medical assistance centers demand special attention from the world because a large part of the health infrastructure throughout the Ukrainian territory has been destroyed. Nearly 800 Russian strikes have hit hospitals and medical supplies are in short supply to attend war zone deliveries.
According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), since the war began, sexual and gender violence against millions of women and girls in Ukraine has skyrocketed. The problem is aggravated because there are no answers to the complaints, and many of them have no means to escape from their abusers.
The emotional pressure exerted by the war on families results in tensions that culminate in aggression against the most vulnerable: women, girls, and boys. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 10 million Ukrainians (men, women, boys, girls, adolescents, and the elderly) are at risk of suffering from anxiety, depression, and high levels of stress, and many of them resort to drug use of substances that distract them physically and emotionally from the traumas caused by the armed confrontation.
UNFPA has provided medical support to help one-third of the 195,000 babies born in Ukraine in 2022 come into the world. Many of the mothers of these babies have run away from home to give birth, but not all are so lucky to find shelter if they have been victims of domestic violence.
In September of that year, a United Nations (UN) mission made up of experts in various disciplines concluded that the Russian army had promoted sexual violence – as well as executions, torture, and bombardments in civilian areas – in regions such as Sumy, Kharkiv, Chernihiv, and Kyiv. The researchers who risk their lives to collect statistics and find solutions document cases of women, girls, and elderly women from 4 to 80 years old, violated by sexual attacks and gender violence whose perpetrators have been members of the Russian army.
The United Kingdom newspaper, The Guardian, consulted a group of Ukrainian forensic doctors for this purpose, who affirmed that, after carrying out autopsies in Borodianka, Irpín, and Bucha, they verified that hundreds of women were raped by Russian soldiers before being murdered.
The UNFPA representative in Ukraine, Jaime Nadal, told the BBC that refugee women and girls outside the country are subjected to sex trafficking, a statement corroborated by Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General who told this media outlet that "for human traffickers and predators, the war in Ukraine is not a tragedy, but an opportunity."
Ukrainian women are sad protagonists of the armed confrontation because many of the men in their families go to war, and it is they who have to take care of children and the elderly and seek shelter and food for their loved ones. Fortunately, amid the vicissitudes, they support each other, showing great strength.
90% of the displaced are women and children
The NGO, Alianza por la Solidaridad (ActionAid), at the beginning of February 2023, denounced that the number of people from Ukraine who have sought refuge in European countries amounts to 8 million of which 65% are women and 25 % minors.
Although there are no statistics on the situations that Ukrainian women and girls experience under pressure to survive, the aforementioned organization assures that "in many cases, they are forced to have transactional sex in exchange for food and survival. There are reports of women and girls (simply) disappearing.”
Krystyna Kit, a lawyer defending the rights of Ukrainian women and founder of JurFem, an organization that seeks justice and protection for victims of war, stated to the UN at the end of 2022 that the girls and women of Ukraine are at greater risk than men because “they are even less protected from gender violence. Rape, usually gang rape, sexual torture, forced nudity, and other forms of abuse have been documented by journalists, human rights organizations, and law enforcement agencies.”
According to this specialist, the horrors that millions of Ukrainian women and girls have experienced, including displacement, hunger, domestic and gender violence, human trafficking, and sexual assaults, will leave scars that are difficult to overcome in the future: "The true scale of this violence has not yet is known, but what is clear is that its impacts will be long-lasting. We will have to work with the consequences for many years to come.”