Ukraine has accused Russian soldiers of using rape as a weapon of war. These two women say justice is hard to come by

One of the women, who said her husband was killed by Russian troops on the night of the rape, left her hometown in the Brovarsky district to spare herself and her teenage son further suffering.

Another woman stayed and is seeking justice from the Ukrainian authorities.

CNN spoke to the women from the Brovarsky district about their harrowing experience and agreed not to reveal their real names or the names of their family members to protect their privacy. These are just two of hundreds of Ukrainians who have reported alleged war crimes.

“Since April 1, 700 messages have been received,” said Lyudmila Denisova, human rights ombudsman at Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada.

Denisova faces the daunting task of gathering evidence of reports of war crimes related to the Russian invasion. According to her, a hotline has also been set up to provide free psychological assistance to victims or witnesses of sexual violence.

“It is very difficult. You know, someone has to do it, our fighters on the front line, it’s much more difficult for them. They are in danger every minute. This is my own front line.”

According to Denisova, cases of rape are being investigated by a special prosecutor’s office.

“From the details that we were given, we are 100% sure that war crimes were committed,” said Alexei Bonyuk, head of the prosecutor’s office investigating the case.

The women CNN spoke to said their suffering was exacerbated by local gossip about what happened to them and the stigmatization of rape survivors. But they are determined to fight.

Attack

The women were neighbors in a village in the Brovarsky district, about an hour’s drive from Kyiv.

Both women are married. Both are in their early 40s. And both say they were chased by Russian soldiers.

“We are the youngest women in this village. And they needed thin women, ”said one of the survivors who heard the conversation of the soldiers.

“What that son of a bitch did to me was horrible. He made me…”

The woman CNN calls Nika falls silent. Her eyes drop. “I can’t talk about it. I’m ashamed and scared.”

The Russians started fighting the Ukrainian troops in the Brovary region on 1 March. Nika said that she was first approached on March 9 when she was at home with her husband.

Russian soldiers and their commander came to their home and demanded that she and her husband hand over their phones. According to her, the military left after a Russian soldier fired at her house and hit their commander.

According to Nika, two young Russian soldiers returned late at night. They separated her from her husband, grabbed the hood of her coat and dragged her out of the house down the street to a neighboring house where another survivor, whom CNN calls Dasha, was sleeping. Dasha’s husband, daughter and mother Valentina also slept in the house.

When the Russians arrived and knocked on the door, “They knocked so hard that everything shook, even the windows rattled,” said Valentina.

According to her, Dasha’s husband went out to talk to the soldiers, while Nika stood outside and listened to the men’s arguments.

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Moments later, Nika said she heard the sound of cold-blooded murder.

“There was a short conversation. And then there was a sound like bang! A shot like fireworks, ”said Nika. “My body was shaking.”

She then saw Russian soldiers push Dasha’s husband’s body out of sight.

According to Nika, the soldiers took her and Dasha down the street to a house that had been abandoned during the invasion. She heard the soldiers calling each other by name: Danya and Oleg.

“While we were walking there, Danya said: “Guess, Oleg? Look who we’re going to fuck!” Nika said, apologizing for quoting his curse words.

An empty house in the village where, according to Nika, the rape took place.

According to Nika, even after trying to reason with her, Danya raped her in the lower part of the house.

Danya told Nika that he was 19 years old, she said.

“I told him that I am 41 years old, my youngest son is the same age as you. I asked him if he had a girlfriend. He said, “Yes. She’s 17. But I haven’t had sex with her.”

Nika asked: “Why are you doing this to me? He replied that he had not seen the women for two weeks.”

Anger rises in her voice as she recounts the conversation. “Can you believe it? This is madness”.

Escaping bullets and accusations

Nika and Dasha survived the attacks. But soon another threat arose. The city came under fire during a fierce battle between Russian and Ukrainian troops.

During the battle, the women fled from their captors and said that the soldiers were too scared to run after them for a long time.

They were trying to get the boat to safety.  Then Russian rockets rained down.

But getting away from the attackers meant running through an active war zone.

“Bullets were flying from the forest. I thought: “My God, someone will see me and kill me,” Nika said.

With great danger, the women managed to return home. Dasha had to face the horrors of not only what she had just experienced, but also the need to mourn the loss of her murdered husband.

Since the village remained under Russian occupation, Dasha and Valentina tried to dig a grave, but the ground was too cold. Gathering all her strength, Dasha went to the Russian commander to ask for help in her husband’s funeral, Valentina said.

A grandmother who says she had to help bury her son-in-law after he was shot by Russian troops

“She said: “Your guys came at night and killed him. Help us bury him,” said Valentina.

According to her, the Russian commander capitulated, and the soldiers helped bury Dasha’s husband in the backyard of the house. However, during the occupation, a proper burial was out of the question.

To make matters worse, gossip soon spread throughout the village. Neighbors began to accuse women of aiding and receiving special favors in exchange for sex.

“I didn’t cooperate with them. I was afraid of them. This is madness!” Dasha told CNN, annoyed. “Did they see it? Seen? Did not see. I can press charges too. That doesn’t make them true.”

When Nika was harassed twice – raped, then rumored – she said: “God sees everything.”

She intends to do whatever is necessary to help prosecutors prove the attack.

“I want them (the soldiers) to be punished by a judge. They must decide what to do with them: shoot them, kill them, tear them apart. Bastards.”

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