Increasing reports of sexual violence and human trafficking in Ukraine – allegedly committed against women and children in the context of massive displacement and the ongoing Russian invasion – are raising “all the red flags” about a potential protection crisis, the head of the UN’s gender agency warned the Security Council on Monday.
Sima Bahous, Executive Director of the UN gender equality and empowerment agency, UN Women, said reports of rape and other crimes are emerging as huge numbers of displaced Ukrainians continue fleeing their homes amid the presence of conscripted soldiers and mercenaries, and against the backdrop of brutal killings of civilians.
Ms. Bahous recounted her recently-ended trip to the Republic of Moldova, where she witnessed buses full of anxious and exhausted women and children being met at the Ukrainian border by compassionate civil society workers.
As part of its coordination mandate, UN Women is supporting such groups “to ensure that the gendered nature of this crisis is addressed with a gender-sensitive response,” she said.
Condemning in the strongest terms an 8 April attack on a train station in Kramatorsk, which killed dozens of women and children waiting for evacuation from Ukraine, she also warned that “this trauma risks destroying a generation”.
Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF‘s Director of Emergencies, said UNICEF teams were offloading life-saving humanitarian supplies just a kilometre away from the Kramatorsk train station at the time of the 8 April attack.
Meanwhile, children, families and communities in Ukraine remain under attack, many do not have enough food, and attacks on water systems have left some 1.4 million without access to a safe supply.
As of 10 April, the UN has verified 142 children killed and 229 children injured, but “we know these numbers are likely much higher”. Hundreds of schools and educational facilities have also been attacked or used for military purposes.
Stressing that nearly two-thirds of all Ukrainian children have been displaced since the conflict began, he said UNICEF and its partners are doing everything possible, both inside and outside Ukraine – including carefully monitoring the health, rights and dignity of women and girls as the risk of exploitation and abuse grows.
However, ongoing fighting is preventing access to many areas of the country.
Evidence mounting of brutal killings by Russian troops
Also briefing the Council was Kateryna Cherepakha, President of the organization La Strada-Ukraine, who said local human rights groups are currently consolidating efforts to save civilian lives and collect survivor testimonies about the war crimes committed by the Russian Federation.
Despite clear indications of their status as civilians – and even as they seek evacuation – unarmed Ukrainian women carrying children have been brutally killed by Russian troops, she said, pointing to attacks on the railway station in Kramatorsk, as well as a maternity hospitals, kindergartens and shelters in Mariupol.
Highlighting the increased vulnerability of women and girls to the threat of kidnapping, torture and killing, she nevertheless warned against viewing Ukrainian women as mere victims of the Russian military aggression.
Indeed, she said, women volunteers, activists, journalists and human rights defenders, are an integral part of her country and its resistance.