Ministry of Internal Affairs Retains Control Over Invisible Crime

As Ukrainian territories are liberated, law enforcement officers are at the forefront to take the lead in restoring order and tackling various challenges, including the identification of survivors of conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV). Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, Kateryna PAVLICHENKO, provides valuable insights into the efforts and initiatives undertaken by her colleagues in addressing these critical issues.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs has taken the lead in establishing mobile response teams to address CRSV incidents in the liberated areas. Who makes up these teams, and where do they operate?

– Since April 2022, specialized police mobile units have been deployed to the de-occupied regions, with a primary mission to uncover sexual crimes, which has proven to be our most effective strategy. Their mission is to identify and document instances of sexual violence perpetrated by Russian combatants against civilians.

These mobile units are composed of police officers with expertise in handling gender-based violence cases, investigators, juvenile police officers, prosecutors, and psychologists. Additionally, social workers and healthcare professionals contribute to their efforts in the liberated regions.

A total of 8 mobile units have been established, each assigned to one of the following oblasts: Donetsk, Kyiv, Sumy, Chernihiv, Mykolaiv, Zaporizhzhia, Kharkiv, and Kherson.

Since their inception, these teams have covered approximately 540 settlements.

 What immediate assistance do mobile units provide to survivors of CRSV once they have been identified?  

– The units go beyond simply recording crimes; they also help survivors access comprehensive rehabilitation support. Psychologists and social workers play crucial roles in this effort, collaborating closely with the police.

In particular, the police provide civilians with essential information, detailing available support services and supplying a list of institutions and hotlines for further assistance.

Do members of the mobile units receive psychological and other essential training before engaging with survivors of CRSV?

 – Certainly, police officers within these mobile units receive specialized training. Back in 2022, in collaboration with our international partners, the Ministry of Internal Affairs launched targeted training programs for all police officers assisting CRSV survivors. It is important to note that mobile units comprise not only law enforcement but also other types of police officers who may come into contact with victims or witnesses. Additionally, we train lecturers of relevant state universities to pass on their expertise to cadets.

Overall, we have trained approximately five hundred employees within the National Police system. Equipping all personnel with the necessary skills to effectively investigate conflict-related sexual violence crimes, support survivors, and provide assistance is paramount for the Ministry of Internal Affairs. We place particular emphasis on training representatives from investigative and preventive units of the National Police, as well as those engaged in juvenile prevention. Ukrainian and foreign psychologists, alongside law enforcement experts, deliver vital knowledge and communication skills for engaging with survivors.

Prioritising the interests of survivors is central to our employees.

– How many instances of CRSV have been identified to date? According to your statistics, who is most often affected by this type of crime?

– Since the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, the National Police have been investigating 71 criminal cases related to sexual violence committed by Russian combatants against a minimum of 89 individuals. These victims include both women and men, as well as children, with 10 recorded cases of sexual violence specifically involving minors.

Think about this: the age range of the survivors of sexual violence varies greatly, from as young as 4 years old to as old as 82. The highest number of these crimes, totaling 40, were documented in the liberated right-bank region of Kherson oblast. Among these cases, 24 male victims were identified by the police as having suffered sexual violence perpetrated by the occupiers.

The National Police is currently investigating 54 cases of sexual violence committed by the occupants, with some involving multiple victims.

19 Russian combatants have been identified and officially notified, in their absence, of suspicion under Article 438 of the Ukrainian Criminal Code for violating the laws and traditions of war, which include international treaties and agreements. Our dedication to seeking justice remains steadfast; we persist in our efforts to identify and prosecute every war criminal.

We recognise that over time, more cases of CRSV will come to light, resulting in an increase in the reported figures.

How many survivors of CRSV do you think have been identified? Why do many of them still choose to remain silent about their experiences?

– It may be too early to give an exact percentage, especially since some parts of Ukraine are still controlled by the Russians. Nevertheless, the number of survivors is much higher than those currently identified.

Sexual violence is often called an “invisible crime” because survivors usually avoid reporting it to law enforcement. This reluctance arises from several factors, such as the unwillingness to revisit traumatic experiences, fear of the return of perpetrators, or concerns about the safety of family members living in occupied areas. Additionally, the fear of social stigma plays a significant role in shaping their choices.

The marginalization of sexual violence survivors reveals the lasting impact of archaic patriarchal beliefs on our attitudes. Drawing from Croatia’s experience, we anticipate uncovering historical cases of CRSV over the next decade, because survivors often require time to come forward and share their experiences. Nevertheless, these crimes are not subject to any time constraints: the cases will be investigated irrespective of when individuals report them to the police.

How are incidents of conflict-related sexual violence documented?

– It is a straightforward process. Mobile units proceed straight to the recently liberated regions, interacting with community members to identify witnesses and survivors of sexual violence perpetrated by Russian combatants. Law enforcement officials gather evidence and statements.

Sexual crimes committed by the occupants, once identified by the police, are promptly recorded and documented in the Unified Register of Pre-Trial Investigations.

Are these crimes committed by the Russian military considered genocide against the Ukrainian civilians? If such genocide is acknowledged internationally, what repercussions could Russia potentially encounter?

– From our perspective, the review of documented cases of sexual violence perpetrated by Russian combatants in Ukraine suggests all signs of genocide.

Instances where Russian military leaders commanded their subordinates to rape Ukrainian women serve as clear evidence of the intentional use of sexual violence as a tactic of warfare. Once such a case occurred in Kyiv region, where a commanding officer directly ordered his soldiers to rape local women. Accompanied by two of his subordinates, they roamed the village in search of women deemed suitable targets. Two women fell victim to rape. When one victim’s husband attempted to protect his wife, he was killed. Following the assault, the victimised woman and her 15-year-old son remained in their home for 3 days alongside the deceased husband’s body before burying him in the garden.

The world must know and understand that Russia, acting as an aggressor nation, employs violence against civilians — including killings, torture, and intimidation — as part of its military tactics, with sexual violence being a part of this strategy.

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.