We must shed light on the crimes of sexual violence. Let’s work together to restore justice. Evil must be punished. This was emphasised by Olha Stefanishyna, Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, during the Acting for the Victims event with the participation of First Lady Olena Zelenska on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, which is observed annually on 19 June.
The event was attended by: Prosecutor General of Ukraine Andriy Kostin; UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten; Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights Dmytro Lubinets; UK Prime Minister’s Special Representative for Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon; Executive Director of the Global Survivors Fund for Survivors of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence and Founding Director of the Dr. Denis Mukwege Foundation Esther Dingemans, and others.
“The last few days have been marked by the rescue of Kherson region from the floods caused by the russians, but this topic is very relevant to our current one. Because of all the cases of sexual violence committed by the occupiers that our prosecutor’s office is currently investigating, the majority of them were recorded in Kherson region. Kyiv region and Donetsk region rank second and third respectively. What does this mean? It shows that all these crimes are no accident. This is a demo version of the behaviour they were going to demonstrate throughout Ukraine, in every city and village,” First Lady Olena Zelenska stressed.
Olha Stefanishyna stressed that the cases of sexual violence were not an excess of war, but part of a deliberate strategy of the russians. At least 208 such stories are currently known, and these are only those cases where citizens were willing to testify. The Deputy Prime Minister emphasised that despite the fact that not everyone was willing to turn to law enforcement, all victims deserve to receive help and be heard.
“There have been many frustrations since the beginning of the full-scale war. The UN system and other partners were not ready for such a war, they did not know how to act. On 24 February, we were living underground, the only tool we had was a phone, and we were shouting to the whole world to help us. We will always remember those days when we constantly heard ‘no’. We fought for a long time to change this. In the end, we managed to achieve a lot in a year. Our struggle is changing the world,” the official stressed.
The Deputy Prime Minister noted that last summer, the first centre for rescued people was opened. Since then, 11 true sanctuaries of safety and support have been set up in different parts of Ukraine. The first such centre is expected to open soon in the Czech Republic. During the event, participants had the opportunity to learn about the information and key principles of such centres at special stands.
Olha Stefanishyna noted that the work of the centres had made it clear that citizens, including family members of victims and witnesses, needed information the most. That is why the Survivor Assistance Platform has been launched, where thousands of citizens have already received information about available services.
Special attention was paid to the Strategy for investigating crimes of sexual violence during the war developed by the Prosecutor General’s Office, as well as to updated approaches to working with victims. “In its work with victims of conflict-related sexual violence, the Prosecutor General’s Office adheres to the principles of the Murad Code. These are, first and foremost, informed consent, confidentiality, psychological, medical and social assistance, and avoidance of re-traumatisation. We are working to extend these principles to the entire criminal justice system. Protecting people and ensuring the inevitability of punishment for russian war criminals are two integral components of our main goal – restoring justice,” said Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin.
The discussion also focused on the importance of professional training to ensure effective assistance to the victims. In particular, almost a hundred representatives of state and local authorities have already undergone specialised training. Social workers, psychologists, police officers and prosecutors are also being trained.
“The most difficult and important thing we need from the state now. For justice to be served, for people to testify, for people to confide their stories, we must support the victims right now, ensure their dignity and safety," Olena Zelenska said.
Special attention was paid to the need to ensure a mechanism for immediate interim reparations.
“We understand that russia has to pay for the crimes committed. Their responsibility is irreversible. But it will not come today or tomorrow. Therefore, we are talking about interim reparations to provide assistance to citizens here and now. Today, such reparations are actually being partially provided: homes and critical infrastructure are being restored, and psychological, legal and financial assistance is being provided. This is the urgent support of the state that russia will definitely pay for later.”
Participants also discussed the importance of Ukraine co-chairing the newly created International Alliance on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict until 2024.
Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon pledged unwavering determination to support survivors and seek justice. The International Alliance on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict should help deepen cooperation with the Ukrainian Government. It is a vital tool for coordinating action at the global level.
Olha Stefanishyna urged the participants of the event not to stand aside and join the work to support the victims. “On the 477th day of the war, the number of crimes has not decreased, so we must remain focused. No matter how difficult and painful it is for all of us, we need to reveal the truth about the crimes of violence, which is often hidden deep in our citizens’ memories. We should not expect help from the outside, we must take care of our citizens first and foremost, and create a framework for assistance ourselves. This is an important element of the fact that international partners are joining our efforts. At the cost of enormous suffering and pain, we are teaching the world to be effective,” the Deputy Prime Minister said.
The event was organised on the initiative of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, the Government Commissioner for Gender Policy, with the support of the United Nations Population Fund in Ukraine, UN Women in Ukraine, UA Experts NGO, and the ResponseAndPrevention project.