The UN is investigating dozens of cases of Ukrainian men and boys allegedly being raped by Russian soldiers, in what an agency envoy warned could be just “the tip of the iceberg.”
“I have received reports, not yet verified … about sexual violence cases against men and boys in Ukraine,” said Pramila Patten, UN special representative on sexual violence in conflict, during a press conference in Kyiv on Tuesday.
Patten urged all alleged victims of sexual violence to report the crimes to the authorities so they could be documented and the perpetrators brought to account, although she noted that it could be difficult for men to come forward.
“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, according to the Guardian. “We have to create that safe space for all victims to report cases of sexual violence.”
Standing side by side with Olha Stefanyshyna, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister for European integration, Patten said dozens of cases of rape that so far have crossed her desk “only represent the tip of the iceberg.”
Patten explained she had decided to travel to wartime Kyiv because she could not stay in her office in New York “in the face of harrowing reports of sexual violence.”
She added: “I’m here because we must spare no effort to ensure zero tolerance and consistent consequences for these crimes.”
Ukraine’s prosecutor general Irinia Venedikota said during a separate press conference Tuesday in the ravaged Kyiv suburb of Irpin that the Kremlin has been deploying sexual violence against civilians as a tactic to force Ukrainians to surrender. She called Russian President Vladimir Putin “the main war criminal of the 21st century.”
Venediktova said Ukrainian investigators were collecting information on allegations of rape, torture, and other suspected war crimes by Russian forces, which had occupied Irpin for a month before the Ukrainian military liberated the city.
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.
Russia has previously denied targeting civilians and has rejected allegations that its forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine.
Back in Kyiv, Patten echoed Venedikota’s words, saying that for far too long, the world has allowed sexual violence to be used as a cheap, silent, and effective weapon to terrorize entire populations into submission.
“Cheap, because it is cost-free. Very effective, because it does not only affect the victim, it affects whole families, the communities,” she said. “It is biological warfare. It is psychological warfare.”
In his public comments and interviews, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly talked about the hundreds of cases of suspected rape that have been recorded so far, including those targeting young Ukrainian girls and even a baby.
Some of the rapes were said to have been committed at gunpoint and in front of children, according to witness statements.
Lyudmila Denisova, Ukraine’s human rights commissioner, has documented the cases of 25 girls and women who claimed to have been held captive in a basement in the city of Bucha, which has become synonymous with alleged Russian war crimes, and systemically raped, the Guardian reported.
Denisova said nine of the victims are now pregnant.
Autopsies performed on women found in mass graves in Ukraine have reportedly indicated that some of the victims had been raped before being killed.
Patten said the UN is working with Ukrainian officials to provide support for survivors of sexual violence but is also investigating cases to prepare them for future trials.
“Today’s documentation will be tomorrow’s prosecution,” she said, highlighting the importance of coming forward with information.