"The Most Hidden Crime": Gender-Based Violence on the Rise in Ukraine

By Rachel Hutchison, Guest Author

It might be expected that the home is the one place where someone can seek shelter and feel safe from the dangers of the outside world. But unfortunately, this is not the reality for many Ukrainian women and children. As the war in Ukraine continues, officials are concerned that domestic violence is on the rise in Ukraine.

Similar to the global increase in domestic violence during COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, Ukrainians are finding themselves stuck at home and unable to receive help. Some women report feeling safer in bomb shelters than at home with their husbands. One Ukrainian woman told the Kyiv Independent, “At least he won’t beat me when we are surrounded by other people. I feel like if the Russians don’t kill me, he might.”

According to the World Bank, intimate partner violence is the most common form of violence against women—during both peacetime and wartime. As stress levels increase, domestic conflicts become more likely. Resources that typically provide relief for these victims are also stressed, and so women find themselves with few outlets to turn to. While in the past Ukrainian police would respond to domestic violence calls, victims now are often told that the police are preoccupied with Russian military attacks.

In 2021, over 300,000 cases of domestic violence were registered in Ukraine. Because reporting has become more difficult during the war, it is difficult to accurately estimate current numbers. Natalia Karbowska of the Ukrainian Women’s Fund, a humanitarian organization that provides aid to Ukrainian women, described sexual violence as “the most hidden crime” of the war. Individuals are afraid to speak up, and so many cases remain unreported.

Experiencing or witnessing traumatic events, such as violent sexual crimes, has devastating effects on a person’s health and wellbeing—especially for children. In addition to the risk of physical injury, pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infection, these forms of violence can inflict severe psychological stress and lead to depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other conditions.

International Response

In Ukraine, there are concerns of increasing domestic abuse alongside the continued allegations of sexual violence by Russian troops and other crimes, such as human trafficking. Since the February 24th invasion, over six million individuals have left Ukraine, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. Officials fear that human trafficking will increase as a result of this mass migration, calling it a global crisis.

Combating conflict-related sexual violence has become a key priority of the United Nations. Last week, U.N. Special Representative Pramila Patten stressed to the U.N. Security Council, “Too often have the needs of women and girls in conflict settings have been side-lined and treated as an afterthought.” In May, the U.N. and the Government of Ukraine signed a Framework of Cooperation to support gender-based violence prevention and response efforts during the war. U.N. officials will provide strategic and technical support to Ukraine and deploy U.N. staff to Ukraine to support investigation efforts on the ground. “We must send an unequivocal message to all parties that women’s rights are not Western rights, they are human rights and they are universal in times of war and peace,” Patten said.

Just as international organizations push for increased attention to Russian war crimes against Ukrainians, we must not forget to support and provide refuge to women and children experiencing domestic abuse at home—they, too, are victims of Russia’s war.

Resources for Ukrainians

La Strada Ukraine, a Kyiv-based organization serving victims of gender-based violence, operates two toll-free national reporting hotlines for Ukrainians: The National Hotline for Children and Youth and the National Hotline for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, Human Trafficking and Gender Discrimination. The organization continues to work around-the-clock and can be reached 24/7. La Strada Ukraine is a member of La Strada International, a European NGO combatting human trafficking.

Rachel Hutchison is a scholar of East European history, focusing on Cold War culture and women’s history in the Soviet Union. She received her master’s in Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies from The Ohio State University.


* indicates required

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *