Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has caused life-threatening situations for women and girls, both for the millions who left the country and for those still living in warzones. We have heard truly harrowing testimonies of victims about how Russian soldiers are using sexual violence, abuse and rape as a weapon of war. Disgracefully, Putin has even commemorated military units closely linked to instances of mass rape.
The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine has already received at least 75 allegations of sexual violence from across the country and Ukraine’s Human Rights Commissioner’s office documented a case of 25 women who had been kept in captivity in a basement and systematically raped in Bucha.
This is disgraceful, clearly amounting to war crimes. Faced with these horrors, the EU cannot be a silent bystander. We have a moral responsibility towards the women and girls of Ukraine. From the European Parliament, we have proactively supported a resolution on this matter, set to be adopted in our plenary sitting this week.
First, the EU must do more to help provide emergency sexual and reproductive healthcare. We see how the number of pregnancies after rapes by Russian forces are starting to grow. In the sadistic horror of the basement in Bucha, nine of the young women ended up pregnant.
In pre-war times, emergency contraception, such as the morning-after pill, was broadly accessible across Ukraine, but as the war has caused the destruction of supply chains and reduced the capacity of healthcare providers, many victims of rape fear unwanted pregnancies.
Around 3000 packets of morning-after pills and a number of abortion pills have already been sent to Ukraine by International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF). EU should join these efforts and distribute medication to rape survivors. Together with the EU’s Member States, we want the European Commission to urgently finance and provide so-called dignity health kits, including emergency contraceptives and sexual reproductive health kits in humanitarian packages and convoys to Ukraine.
The accessibility of sexual and reproductive health care in hosting countries needs to be on the top of our agenda as well. Unfortunately, many women and girls fleeing to EU Member States are denied access to basic sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).
In Poland, the near-total abortion ban has led to hundreds of pregnant women not being able to terminate their pregnancies, and the situation is critical also in Slovakia and Hungary. We must ensure that dignity health kits reach refugees’ neighbouring transit or host countries.
Additionally, access to emergency contraception is severely hampered in some hosting EU States. In Poland and Hungary, there are strict prescription requirements, and in Romania and Slovakia, there are significant cost barriers as refugees have to pay the full cost out of their pocket.
This is not acceptable. All host countries must fulfil their obligation to guarantee access to abortion care for women who became pregnant as a result of rape, and help those at risk. Sexual and reproductive health and rights are human rights.
Second, we must make sure that justice is served. Cases of abuse, exploitation and rape should be brought for prosecution to the International Criminal Court. This is especially important when sexual violence and rape has been used as a weapon of war, as in Ukraine.
We strongly welcome that the European Commission has proposed to extend the mandate of Eurojust, the EU Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation, to allow the agency to participate in the identification of war crimes in Ukraine in collaboration with the International Criminal Court. But time is of the essence now for the collection of evidence and the setting up of proper reporting mechanisms to make sure all perpetrators are held accountable. The European Union should not wait further to translate this proposal into reality.
Third, all Member States must further establish, or reinforce existing, support programmes for the survivors of the violence and abuse. Victims must be given psychological and mental health support to overcome their traumatic experiences. Ensuring the continuity of gender-based violence response services in Ukraine and hosting countries should be an EU priority. The European Commission and Member States should support local and international organisations providing services to gender-based violence survivors.
Fourth, the displacement of refugees has created the perfect environment for human trafficking. Even before the war, Ukrainian women were among the most common victims of trafficking to the EU.
Therefore, we call on the swift approval and implementation of the common EU anti-trafficking plan, and have asked for a specific European helpline number free of charge and attended in Ukrainian for refugee victims or those at risk of human trafficking or gender-based violence. Europol should also conduct anti-trafficking awareness campaigns in transit points used by traffickers and refugee reception centres.
Both within and outside of Ukraine, it is clear that the EU must step up its efforts to prevent any more women or children from suffering at the hands of Russian soldiers or human traffickers. We must not disappoint the ones counting on our help.
By Soraya Rodríguez Ramos, Renew Europe’s coordinator in the European Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) and shadow rapporteur on the resolution
Karen Melchior, Renew Europe MEP and Member of the FEMM Committee
Samira Rafaela, Renew Europe MEP and Member of the FEMM Committee
Chrysoula Zacharopoulou, Renew Europe MEP and Member of the FEMM Committee
Hilde Vautmans, Renew Europe MEP and Member of the FEMM Committee
Marco Zullo, Renew Europe MEP and Member of the FEMM Committee