Kyiv officials have accused Russian soldiers of raping Ukrainian men and boys as well as women amid an ongoing investigation into dozens of cases.
Speaking on Tuesday May 3, UN special representative on sexual violence in war Pramila Patten, warned cases already under investigation were just ‘the tip of the iceberg.
‘I have received reports, not yet verified… about sexual violence cases against men and boys in Ukraine,’ she said during a press conference in Kyiv.
She urged all survivors of rape to come forward and report any such crimes at the hands of Russian soldiers, while acknowledging how challenging it is to do so amid fears of reprisals or of Moscow’s forces returning.
She continued to say the world has allowed sexual violence to be used as a ‘cheap’ weapon of war for too long.
‘Cheap, because it is cost-free. Very effective, because it does not only affect the victim, it affects whole families, the communities. It is biological warfare. It is psychological warfare,’ she said.
Ms. Patten warned that there are likely many cases that have yet to be reported. Those that are already under investigation so far ‘only represent the tip of the iceberg,’ she said.
The UN official also called on the international community to track down perpetrators and hold them to account.
‘Today’s documentation will be tomorrow’s prosecution,’ she told reporters.
Ukraine’s prosecutor general Iryna Venediktova said on Wednesday that the first stage of investigations into Russian war crimes in the suburban town of Irpin had concluded, having spoken to 228 witnesses.
In one brutal attack, she said a woman with her 12-year-old son and husband were fired at by a Russian tank while trying to evacuate the town in their car.
Earlier on Tuesday, Ms. Venediktova called Russian President Vladimir Putin ‘the main war criminal of the 21st century’ and accused Russia of using rape as a tactic in its brutal invasion.
Visiting the devastated city of Irpin near Kyiv, Ms Venediktova said Ukraine was collecting information on allegations of rape, torture and other suspected war crimes by Russian forces which occupied the region for a month.
Venediktova said the allegations included the rape of women, men, children and an old woman. Asked whether rape was a deliberate Russian strategy in the war, she told a news conference: ‘I am sure actually that it was strategy.’
‘This is, of course, to scare civil society… to do everything to (force Ukraine to) capitulate,’ she said on Tuesday.
She provided no specific details of the rape allegations, saying some of the victims remained in Ukraine and were afraid of speaking out for fear of Russian forces returning.
UN envoy Patten said she was in Kyiv due to the growing evidence of mass sexual violence carried out by Russian soldiers during the war in Ukraine, and because of the risk human traffickers pose to vulnerable Ukrainian refugees fleeing their homes.
‘All the warning signals are flashing red in Ukraine, with allegations of brutal sexual violence emerging,’ she said at Tuesday’s press conference.
‘I could not stay back in my office in New York, in the face of such harrowing reports of sexual violence. I’m here because we must spare no effort to ensure zero tolerance and consistent consequences for these crimes.’
Standing alongside Ukraine’s deputy prime minister Olga Stefanishnina, Ms. Patten urged all victims to come forward and to report Russian war crimes.
‘It’s hard for women and girls to report [rape] because of stigma amongst other reasons, but it’s often even harder for men and boys to report,’ she said.
‘We have to create that safe space for all victims to report cases of sexual violence.’