Sexual violence has been used systematically by both sides in the armed conflict in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions of Ukraine,

and in the aftermath of Russia’s occupation of Crimea.  Formed in February 2019, the Ukrainian survivors’ network has been working hard to achieve its aims to raise awareness of conflict-related sexual violence amongst survivors and government decision-makers, to establish a viable peace and to gain support. Known as the Ukrainian Network of Women Affected by Violence (SEMA Ukraine), the network is composed of members throughout Ukraine, with the aim to play a key role in the political arena in Ukraine, raising general awareness — especially within the government – and supporting the emotional recovery of other survivors. The survivors have underscored the importance of solidarity among women to break the silence, and to campaign for their rights.

In 2020, 9 members of SEMA Ukraine participated in a training of trainers on the topic of sexual violence, with the aim to educate military and police cadets on the importance of understanding and ending sexual violence in conflict. Funded by the Knowledge Management Fund, the training of trainers led to several workshops throughout Ukraine, ensuring that the target audience becomes aware of the plight of victims, in addition to what their role can be in ending violence. Since that time, select members have independently been conducting more trainings, with similarly positive results.

Communicating with victims like me allows me to speak out and listen to others. It makes these problems easier to bear. It may hurt, but this kind of interaction [with the network] unites. It hurts to remember, but you speak up and it gets easier.”

-A survivor of SEMA Ukraine

In the past year members of the network have visited Kosovo and Bosnia, to meet with representatives of the UN, with the ambassadors of Sweden, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the EU, and victims’ associations that provide assistance to victims of sexual violence in conflict. They also met with the Grand Mufti in Bosnia, who has made significant efforts to overcome stigma and change attitudes towards survivors.

More generally, SEMA Ukraine is involved in various awareness-raising and advocacy activities, receiving training for the latter in 2021. They work hard to make change for survivor rights, including awareness for their suffering as sexual violence, a recognition that is not yet reflected in law. They also push for better support for those who are currently in detention, in addition to reparations and proper programmes for those who have been detained and suffered from sexual violence.

The Eastern-Ukrainian Center for Civic Initiatives (EUCCI), a non-governmental, non-profit organization established in December 2002 in Luhansk, Ukraine, helps to coordinate the work of SEMA Ukraine. The mission of EUCCI is to develop and maintain the ability of the Ukrainian society to face current challenges based on the principles of democracy and the rule of law through research, education and advocacy. In its work EUCCI pays considerable attention to gender analysis of the conflict, preparation of thematic reports and informing society.  EUCCI works very closely with the network, both for legal support and general coordination of project activities implemented by the Mukwege Foundation.

Ukrainian survivors refuse to be forgotten

Seven years after Russian troops invaded Ukraine, women who survived captivity and sexual abuse during the conflict have found the courage to speak out and become activists. On February 20, 2014, Pro- Russian forces took over Crimea, killing and capturing Ukrainian civilians. Women faced horrible conditions, torture, and sexual violence in captivity. Many of the women are still displaced, living in poor conditions and want nothing more than to return to their homes. 

Each survivor has her own unique and harrowing story and her own way of maintaining hope throughout their ordeal.

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