The Russian military invasion on February 24, 2022 came as a shock to the country and the world (CARE, 2022) and is causing significant risks (including risk of GBV) to the affected population in Ukraine. The Ombudsman and Ministry of Interior of Ukraine reported cases of rape and sexual violence in nongovernment-controlled areas. Human Rights Watch documented "apparent war crimes", including rape, in Russia-controlled areas, and local officials in Bucha (Kyiv oblast) reported the discovery of a mass grave of civilians allegedly killed by Russian troops. The UN Secretary-General and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called for an independent investigation of these reports (UNFPA, April 5, 2022). After eight years of armed conflict – stemming from Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014 -, the resulting humanitarian crisis in Ukraine has become protracted (OCHA, 2022). With the February 2022 invasion, Ukraine is rapidly emerging as one of the world’s most complex emergencies (ICG, April 5, 2022).
Ukraine had made substantive gains on women’s rights in recent years, with a developing state-level ‘gender machinery’ (See refer to relevant sections of this report for detail). These reforms were successful in contributing to the establishment of GBV response services in Ukraine with an investment of 200 million UAH from the Government committed to opening of shelters, crisis rooms and psychosocial support mobile teams for GBV in 2021. Prior to the invasion, these gains were already under threat from deeply entrenched and persistent gender and discriminatory-based inequalities, eight years of conflict in the east of the country, and the gendered social and economic stress wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
This current crisis, with mass displacement inside and outside Ukraine, will add to that complex situation and put pressure on any gains that have been made (CARE, 2022).
Women’s groups and civil society organizations (CSOs) have been quick to react to the immediate priorities of their communities, but face many challenges as they attempt to provide support to large numbers of internally displaced people, host communities and those directly affected by violence and insecurity (UN Women, 2022). UNFPA has continued its service provision and preventive work without interruption.
Multiple forms of GBV are being reported, with particularly high insecurity and risk for women and girls on the move, at border crossing points and transit/collective centres, and in bomb shelters. This includes reports of intimate partner violence, sexual exploitation and abuse, sexual harassment, sexual violence (including conflict-related sexual violence), and economic abuse. There is a high risk of trafficking for sexual exploitation at borders where registration is patchy, little control of documents, and young women are often not accompanied by other family member. In some cases, volunteers may offer accommodation and transportation without vetting. Those who are traveling with children, who are pregnant, living with disabilities, or older persons may remain behind in vulnerable circumstances including volatile militarized locations and face life-threatening risks. Importantly, violence is taking place where GBV risk mitigation measures should be in place, such as collective centres and bomb shelters (GBV AoR, April 1, 2022). Conflict-related sexual violence is being reported in war-affected militarized areas with Human Rights Watch reporting cases of rape in Kharkiv (HRW, April 4, 2022) and The Guardian highlighting that women across Ukraine are grappling with the threat of rape as a weapon of war as growing evidence of sexual violence emerges from de-occupied areas. (The Guardian, April 3, 2022).Within Ukraine more than 7 million people have been displaced internally since February 24, 2022, and over 12 million have been affected in the areas hardest hit by the war and are believed to be in need of assistance (OCHA, March – May 2022 and IOM, April 1, 2022). 59% are believed to be female (IOM, April 1, 2022). In addition, by the 30 of March, UNHCR estimated that there were over 4 million refugees, making this the fastest growing refugee crisis since World War II (UNHCR, March 24, 2022).
This is a profoundly gendered and intersectional crisis. Under martial law in Ukraine, men aged 18 to 60 have to stay in the country and remain available for military conscription (Deutsche Welle, 2022). The vast majority of refugees fleeing the country are women and children - believed to be 90% (UN website) - including minoritized women and children such as Roma (Deutsche Welle, 2022). There are challenges for members of vulnerable groups, for example, the LGBTI+ community, including trans and non-binary people, whose gender according to their legal documents becomes a deciding factor in whether they remain in Ukraine or have the scope to flee the country (OHCHR, March 22, 2022).
Humanitarian needs within Ukraine, and in destination countries, are increasing exponentially. Many people remain trapped in areas of escalating conflict and, with essential services disrupted, are unable to meet their basic needs including food, water and medicines. The delivery of lifesaving aid remains challenging, with a lack of safe humanitarian access (UNHCR, March 24, 2022; OCHA, March 28, 2022).