Maryna BARDINA: New Law to Protect the Rights of CRSV Survivors Since 2014

Obtaining the status of victims of CRSV is necessary to start the recovery of the affected people so that they can adapt, rehabilitate, and return to social life. It is necessary to help as soon as possible.


As the Verkhovna Rada deliberates on draft law No. 10132 On the Status of Survivors of Sexual Violence Associated with the Armed Aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, and Immediate Interim Reparations, we discuss its intricacies with Maryna BARDINA, the Deputy Chair of the the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Foreign Policy and Interparliamentary Cooperation, who was directly involved in crafting this legislation.

Why was there a need for the draft bill?

– The full-scale invasion of Ukrainian territory by the Russian Federation has exposed the war crimes committed by Russia against Ukrainians, including sexual violence. There is a grim and cynical saying that rape is the cheapest weapon of war. Today, there is widespread recognition that Russia employs sexual violence in different forms as a tactic of warfare. Occupation forces use it to degrade individuals, undermine their morale and dignity, inflict psychological and physical harm, and suppress resistance.

After the Kyiv region was de-occupied and Bucha was liberated in early April 2022, the stories shared by witnesses deeply affected us. Since the beginning of the invasion, we have been receiving sporadic information: reports of targeted killing of both adults and children during evacuation efforts, reports of journalists and local activists disappearing or being killed, and numerous other incidents. However, the actual events surpassed our worst fears. Unfortunately, as our military advances into new territories, we continue to uncover similar atrocities. We hear accounts of torture facilities, mass graves, and instances of torture and sexual violence perpetrated by the russian federation.

As of October this year, the Prosecutor General’s Office has documented 241 cases of CRSV, with 77 reported in the Kherson region and 52 in the Kyiv region. However, these numbers likely do not fully capture the extent of CRSV. Many survivors of conflict-related sexual violence hesitate to report to law enforcement immediately. This reluctance stems from various factors, including the fear of social judgment and the emotional trauma of revisiting experiences. Additionally, individuals may be hesitant to speak out if they or their relatives are under occupation, fearing repercussions. Furthermore, survivors may lack the emotional resilience to engage with law enforcement, often prioritising immediate needs such as health concerns, securing safe housing, and financial support for themselves and their families.

Therefore, the proposal was put forward to develop legislation aimed at offering immediate assistance to survivors. This assistance would include psychological, healthcare, and social aid, as well as financial support for their recovery while also aiding them in their emotional readiness to engage with law enforcement. Both female and male survivors would be able to voluntarily access this support and decide independently when and how they wish to engage in the criminal investigation of war crimes.

Who was engaged in drafting the law?

– Almost all key stakeholders in our gender policy were engaged in crafting the law, including government ministries, law enforcement agencies, and civil society organisations. Additionally, our international partners provided valuable insights and support. For instance, we extensively examined the strategies employed in Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina. This effort was coordinated at the governmental level by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration and the Government Commissioner for Gender Policy.

I would also like to emphasize the valuable input of my fellow MPs, who were actively engaged in discussions about the final text and the essential guarantees it should include. This September, the Verkhovna Rada’s Temporary Investigative Commission on Sexual Violence Committed by the Russian Federation Against Ukraine wrapped up its work. Working closely with colleagues from different factions, we collectively developed this vision during the commission’s sessions.

Survivors themselves and a wide range of human rights organisations assisting victims of the Russian Federation’s armed aggression against Ukraine engaged in drafting the law.

Why is it urgent and crucial to obtain the status of CRSV survivors?

– In addition to granting the status, the government not only provides immediate interim reparations and assistance but also recognises that the individual has been a victim of a war crime. It emphasizes that such reparative measures and support should be provided without judgment, stigma, and with utmost respect for human dignity. This serves as the state’s method of communicating to society that in cases of sexual violence, the blame lies with the perpetrator, not the survivor. Therefore, assistance to those affected by sexual violence should be immediate. Meanwhile, both the government and international institutions are actively engaged in efforts to recover funds from the russian federation, track down war criminals, and ensure accountability.

Who will determine the status of the survivors and how will this process be carried out?

– To obtain the status, those who consider themselves as survivors must submit an application to a special commission overseen by the Ministry of Social Policy, which is an existing body. The commission functions similarly to the governmental commission handling affairs of prisoners of war.

Applicants can submit their testimonies in writing, along with relevant medical documentation or evidence for the commission to review. Attendance in person for the application review is discretionary and not obligatory if the individual prefers not to attend.

Upon reviewing the application, the commission will determine whether to grant the status, and notify the applicant of its decision within 30 days. If the application is rejected, the applicant can choose to appeal to either the commission or the court.

Who qualifies for the CRSV survivor status, and what documentary evidence is required for eligibility?

– Any person who has experienced sexual violence due to the Russian Federation’s armed aggression against Ukraine since February 20, 2014, and has verified this by submitting an application to the government commission is eligible. An exception applies to individuals who were collaborators.

The scope of acts considered as sexual violence is broad and conforms to the criteria specified in the Rome Statute, covering actions ranging from rape to coerced nudity, etc.

Regarding documentary evidence, the draft law does not list specific requirements; these will be established at the government level to simplify processes. Acknowledging that people, especially those fleeing conflict areas during shelling, may have no documents at all, not even a passport, the procedure and verification processes must be flexible. Verification could involve a court ruling (if any) in some cases and the survivor’s testimony about the circumstances of the crime in others. The commission will include experts to verify such information while ensuring confidentiality.

Do the family members of deceased CRSV victims qualify for the survivor status?

– Certainly, family members of deceased individuals will also be eligible to obtain the relevant status, although they may receive a slightly limited range of immediate interim reparations and support.

Why is it important to avoid delaying the application for CRSV survivor status?

– Immediate assistance is essential for the recovery, rehabilitation and social reintegration of survivors. We cannot delay until the point when Russia pays all reparations to Ukraine before launching suitable programmes and offering assistance. Recovery from the trauma of war and sexual violence takes time and effort, and postponing assistance only serves the aggressor’s interests. The state is committed to protecting and assisting survivors, standing by them when they are ready to seek justice against Russian war criminals in court.

How does the draft law address compensations and reparations for CRSV victims and survivors?

– The draft law provides for two primary mechanisms: immediate compensation, which involves monetary support for survivors, and immediate interim reparations. Immediate interim reparations are designed to mitigate the effects of CRSV by granting survivors access to legal aid, compensation, rehabilitation, and the restitution of moral and material damages. These benefits will also extend to family members of deceased victims of CRSV. Access to these measures will be granted upon obtaining the relevant status through an application submitted to the commission under the Ministry of Social Policy.

The draft law suggests setting up an Immediate Compensation Fund. When can it start operating, and where will its funding be sourced from?

– Once the main draft law and amendments to the Budget Code (as specified in draft law No. 10133) are approved, the Fund will commence operations. Following the enactment of the draft law, it will take approximately six months for the government to set up and initiate all necessary procedures. However, passing the law is only the first step. Regarding funding, we anticipate recoveries from the Russian Federation, the aggressor state, while our international partners have also expressed willingness to offer financial support.

Does the draft law take into account the interests of CRSV survivors dating back to 2014?

– The scope of the draft law encompasses all survivors affected from February 20, 2014, without regard to when the war crime took place—whether before or after the full-scale invasion. With the conflict ongoing since 2014, there is no ambiguity on this matter.

If the draft law is passed, how can survivors of CRSV living abroad access its benefits? Who should they contact?

– Currently, the draft law offers a uniform procedure available to all individuals, requiring applicants to submit a written application to the commission, which can be done either in physical or electronic form. The draft law ensures uniformity irrespective of the applicant’s whereabouts.

When is the Verkhovna Rada scheduled to discuss the draft law?

– The draft law is currently being considered by parliamentary committees. Although the timeline for its introduction into Parliament for the first reading is uncertain, we should anticipate a few months. Following this, the second reading will take place. Collaborative advocacy efforts are crucial to expediting the legislative process.

How effective was the Verkhovna Rada’s Temporary Investigative Commission, which you initiated, in investigating CRSV crimes?

– The Temporary Investigative Commission wrapped up its work in September 2023. It comprised members representing four different political factions. One key aspect of our efforts was building open communication with law enforcement agencies, such as the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Security Service of Ukraine, and the National Police, all actively involved in investigating war crimes and sexual violence. Through these discussions, we identified investigation challenges and areas needing procedural and legislative improvements. Consequently, we proposed amendments to enhance the Criminal Procedure Code of Ukraine through draft law No. 9351. We also gained valuable insights from psychologists working with detainees and individuals from temporarily occupied territories, as well as human rights activists. Draft law No. 10132, which we are currently discussing, is a testament to our collaborative efforts.

Volodymyr DOBROTA,

National Press Club “Ukrainian Perspective”

The material presented herein was prepared as part of the Project “RESILIENT TOGETHER: Improving the system of response to Conflict-Related Sexual Violence (CRSV)”. The Project is funded by the European Union and implemented by the Ukrainian Women Fund in partnership with the Civil Society Organization La Strada-Ukraine” and the Ukrainian Lawyers Association “JurFem”, as well as the Office of the Vice Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration of Ukraine and the Government Commissioner on Gender Equality Policy.