Gender-based violence as a weapon against the unbowed and a way to entertain


Location icon Donetsk

Threats of gender-based violence (hereinafter – GBV) and, in fact, the realization of such threats is one of the methods of implementation of an outrage which reigns in Donbas from the beginning of the armed conflict. However, not only pro-Russian militants are to blame for such atrocities: the representatives of Ukrainian volunteer battalions also were at pains to fill up the list of grave human rights violations. That is why the Coalition "Justice for Peace in Donbas" carries out research on the cases of GBV, which took place during the armed conflict in Donbas. Coalition specialists collect and analyze information from victims and witnesses of such crimes, as well as from public sources. It turned out that the GBV practice is common among the militants and representatives of volunteer military units, not only as a mean of conquest of those who resist the lawlessness, but as a way to have... fun.

I came, I saw, I appropriated

A common practice in the occupied territories is illegal expropriation. In particular, militants can speed up forced transfer of property by threatening with rape. Similar thing happened in 2014 with a man who was detained by illegal armed groups in Donetsk region (hereafter, we are talking about cases, published in  "Report on the situation of human rights in Ukraine, February 16 - May 15, 2016" the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights).

At first, they offered the man to willingly sign documents on the transfer of all his property in favor of the separatists. Hearing disagreement, the head of the militants with the alias name "Vasilyevich" said that he will "bring here my wife and daughter; Chechens are going to rape both of them in front of me". To protect his family, the man was forced to agree to transfer their house to the representatives of the "DNR".

Invader’s honor is to break the conquered

Women who did not obey the language of law of the "DNR" and violated the curfew were systematically kidnapped, detained illegally, and mocked. This is evidenced by the Ukrainian militants, who were also detained. According to the soldiers, women who were put in cells were often taken away for some time. Despite other prisoners not witnessing sexual violence personally, there is a likelihood to suspect that it was exactly this type of violence. After all, if a woman were returned back, their appearance and psycho-emotional state eloquently testified something that was impossible to express.

In particular, one there was one woman who was severely affected after she had come to Donetsk with her fiancé to register their marriage.

"One drunk member of an armed group took the woman with him and brought her back in a few hours. She was intoxicated, her hair and clothes were disheveled, and she did not want to talk", says a witness giving grounds for suspecting rape.

Among the cases GBV, documented by the Coalition, there is a story about an underage girl who was forced to satisfy sexual needs of separatists as a punishment. At that time, she was about 14-16 years old.

"In general, it was forbidden for prisoners to leave their cells without permission, except of cases of an emergency with the guard’s permission. This girl used to ignore these requirements. Once, when she left the cell and went to the hallway, “Maniac” visited the basement. ... When he saw the girl in the hallway, he got furious and began to shout at her. He said that she will be punished for this audacity. As punishment, he decided to transfer her as a gift to the front line to satisfy sexual needs of separatist fighters", the witness recounted.

However, contrary to popular stereotype, women are not at the absolute majority among the victims of GBV. In one case, published in the aforementioned report, we are talking about a man who was severely beaten and then raped in the Donetsk prison №5. However, this is not the whole story: before the rape, the militants had forced a man to undress completely outward, in the freezing cold of December. Then they ordered him to bend, and after they "examined him rectally". The survivor was bullied so horribly only because he asked to serve the rest of his sentence on the territory controlled by the Ukrainian government.

The Coalition has also documented a case where a former prisoner of one of places of illegal detention in Luhansk was forced to strip naked and then locked in a cell with other prisoners.

"Among other things, I was depressed because it was in the chamber in which there were both women and men, handcuffed. Besides, I was naked. Because "Maniac" had forbidden me to dress and to go to bed", it is said in the testimony.

According to the survivor, such a special attitude towards him on the part of militants can be explained by the fact that before the conflict started he had known the offender personally and had not hidden his pro-Ukrainian views.

Sexual violence as an entertainment

Anna Sergeeva from Donetsk shared with "Fakty" a sad story of her friend Valya—the story which is terrible to remember. A woman came to the Kadyrov's separatists base to help her friend, whose husband had been detained recently. The friend of Valya got sick, and she decided to visit her and check if everything is alright. However, instead of her friend, Valya met Kadyrov's men, who, calling her "ukrop", began to impose eagerly, what a beautiful girl had come to them. "I only want help", begged the woman, but the words rather added fuel to the fire.

... Three Kadyrov’s men raped Valya. According to the victim, the militant’s sneer was following her long after she left.

Often GBV was practiced solely for the sake of entertainment. The human rights activists of the Coalition documented these cases. Thus, we know that in one of the places of illegal detention in Luhansk a young woman was allegedly summoned for questioning every single night.

"I noticed that interrogations were usually accompanied by some kind of torture, shouting and so on. In this case, there was no shouting, no trace, and no violence. After a while, the woman would come back. I noticed that she would feel very uncomfortable, trying not to look at others. While talking with inmates, I suggested that it is not about questioning, but about rape. They told me they understand everything perfectly, but it is better not to run off at the mouth, because we must not forget where we are", says the witness.

The negative trends amongst some of Ukrainian law enforcers and military volunteers

The sad statistics show that separatists are not the only side, which leaves their mark in the history of GBV. An overt iniquity also happens in some parts of Donetsk region, now controlled by the Ukrainian government. These violations take place mostly along the demarcation line.

A dozen militants of a volunteer battalion "Donbas" and "Azov" cruelly mocked a disabled man. The man had had a mental disorder, and that was the cause of rape. After the incident, his already precarious mental condition has deteriorated even more.

Ukrainian law enforcement agencies’ did not always act lawful to those suspected of terrorism. In addition to the psychological pressure, ill-treatment and torture, the detainees were subjected to threats of sexual violence, as stated in the report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. In particular, in April 2015 the law enforcers threatened a man to tie the hands and to give him to homosexuals to rape. In May 2015, after being tortured, two suspected women were also threatened with sexual abuse.

We know at least one case of 2015, when a woman was detained on the government-controlled territory of Ukraine in Donetsk region. The police was acting cruelly.

"They asked if I had given a birth. When I said that I had made it three times already, they said, it means I would be able to bear the pain", says the victim.

After that, she was beaten with fists and heavy foreign objects in the head, chest and legs.

All of these cases are the result of complete lawlessness and impunity prevailing on the occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions and to some extent in the government-controlled areas. In order to achieve a fair punishment of the culprits, one first needs to gather as much information about the case of GBV as possible. In the future, the European Court of Human Rights and the International Criminal Court will consider these evidences to sentence both executors as well as commanders. Without a proper documentation of GBV the perpetrators will not be punished, they will continue to live among us and to commit crimes. On this basis, the Coalition "Justice for Peace in Donbas" encourages all those who know about such cases to report them via a special protected form.


  1. "Report on the situation of human rights in Ukraine 16 February - 15 May 2016" the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
  2. Anna Vasilevska "Women who had become victims of violence on the occupied territories told "FACTY" their bitter stories. - "Facty", 08.05.2016.

Alina Bodnar

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