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How Ukrainian women will suffer It's not just Russian men waiting to exploit them

Mothers carrying children over borders is only part of the story. Credit: Maciej Luczniewski/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Mothers carrying children over borders is only part of the story. Credit: Maciej Luczniewski/NurPhoto via Getty Images


March 8, 2022   5 mins

Suddenly, images of Ukrainian women are all over the internet. Most of them are mothers, fleeing Russian convoys, carrying their children across borders. Many of them are leaving husbands and brothers behind to fight. But these heart-wrenching photographs, published by the mainstream media, are only part of the story. Ukrainian women will suffer in myriad ways before this war is over.

Pornhub has a new category: “Ukrainian girls and war rape videos”; it is dominated by Russian soldiers documenting disgustingly brutal crimes. Domestic violence and street harassment have already spiked. Female refugees are falling victim to pimps and traffickers; official channels — the police, hospitals, legal systems — won’t help them.

Where women are concerned, “the foreign coverage of the war is concentrated mostly on women fleeing with children”, Maria Dmytrieva tells me. The Ukrainian feminist activist — a key member of the Global Network of Women Peacekeepers — believes this coverage misrepresents the reality of war for women, and the ways in which women specifically become targets for attack.

We speak via Zoom, and as night falls, she sits in darkness, so as not to be spotted by saboteurs. Although the Russians had not yet arrived in her small town, a few miles outside Kyiv, like everybody else in Ukraine she is in a perilous position.

Maria has been involved in the campaign to end male violence in Ukraine for more than two decades. I have visited her in Ukraine on several occasions and have seen her make powerful men in senior government positions quake when she rails against injustices towards women and girls.

One study from 2019 found that 75% of women in Ukraine reported experiencing some form of violence since the age of 15, and one in three reported experiencing physical or sexual violence. According to a recent statement by the United Nations, crisis and displacement has recently put women in Ukraine at increased risk of sexual and physical violence and abuse. There are no figures as of yet to show the levels of violence experienced by women and girls since the Russian invasion, but plenty of evidence is being amassed by women’s NGOs.

In many ways, the experiences of women in Ukraine echo the plight of women in wars throughout history: we face reduced protections from violence and often an increase of domestic abuse. The situation is exacerbated, though, by the fact that Ukraine is being invaded by a country which effectively decriminalised domestic violence in 2017. It is well-documented that, post-conflict, when traumatised men return home, levels of violence against women increase. But if Russia wins, the right of Ukrainian men to beat their wives will be enshrined in the law of the land.

“So far we have felt as a nation, united around this common threat”, Dmytrieva told me. “But we are pretty much bound to have the growth of cases of domestic violence, of male violence against women, both during and after the war is over”.

Domestic violence is not the only threat to women in war. There is a “new wave of sexual violence”, with 11 reports from different women that they were raped by Russian soldiers in Kershon, confirmed by a local gynaecologist. Of those 11, only five survived. Other reports of sexual violation by troops are being picked up by the UK media, but, according to Dmytrieva, little is being done to help.

Rape victims will suffer consequences long after the conflict has ended — especially those whose violation is circulated on the internet. The existence of this sick revenge porn ensures that the women brutalised in it will never be able to return to a normal life. Even if they escape the conflict, it then ends, and they make it home, they are likely to be shunned by their families.

The videos are perfect ammunition for pimps and traffickers to use to control women and force them into prostitution. Displaced women and girls are often without any food, shelter or income, with many caring for children. Traffickers seize the opportunity to coerce women into selling sex, and soon they are trapped and held captive. “It is really terrifying how capitalism and imperialism are going hand in hand to exploit those who cannot defend themselves right now”, Dmytrieva tells me. “And it is truly terrifying to see that amongst all this surge in humanity in caring for other people, there are those who want to exploit this weakness and make money out of it. It is very disheartening”.

“Organised gangs [are] trying to abduct young women on the Ukrainian Polish border and we already have several cases in Germany where the girls have been abducted by pimps in the refugee camps”, Dmytrieva explains. Punters in Germany are delighted; feminist colleagues have seen screenshots of them “talking online with each other about how happy they are to have young fresh Ukrainian women crossing the German border”. With no home, no money, no job, no resources, and a very limited legal framework protecting them, these displaced women are among the most vulnerable in the world.

Women are vulnerable to pimps within Ukraine as well. In the East, even before tensions with Russia escalated into a full-scale invasion, the local economy was on its knees. Previously high-tech industries had been stripped; machines and other valuable assets were carted, wholesale, back to Russia. Few options for employment were left. As a result, the number of women in prostitution in Ukraine before the war was around 80,000. That figure does not include children.

For now, the police have their hands too full “going around looking for saboteurs” to investigate or prosecute crimes against women. Dmytrieva understands the urgency. Terrorists are “placing bombs, explosive devices and shells in the basements … they are turning our country into a minefield”. But she is hopeful that the Russian invasion will be repelled, making space for better policy to protect women.

While authorities are too busy to consider the impacts of the conflict on women, those who do an international trade in children are taking full advantage of the situation. “Ukrainian surrogacy clinics are now advertising women through Facebook, even during the occupation”, Dmytrieva told me. The press in Ireland and elsewhere have reported on babies “rescued” from war-torn Ukraine by their surrogate parents, and on surrogate parents “in limbo”, because “their” children are stuck in the now inaccessible country. No word of the plight of the women who carried those children, postpartum and vulnerable in a war-torn country, sometimes literally “holding the baby” that they had made no plans to care for, as the Russians invade.

Ukrainian women are under siege, with profound threats on every front, whether they flee or stay. Of course, men are in danger too. Ukraine does not allow men between 18 and 60 to leave the country. This rule is, Dmytrieva told me, “reasonable”. But the women suffer a different and ongoing kind of violence.

Nevertheless, it is not only the ways in which women are victimised that is newsworthy. “There are a lot of women who have stayed, who picked up arms, who secure the logistics for our army. There have hundreds and thousands of women doing this work that makes it possible for the army to fully function”.

Nearly 17% of the Ukrainian army is female, one of the highest percentages in Europe. Dmytrieva is a pacifist, but I could hear the admiration in her voice talking about the women who have taken up arms. In the face of a foreign invasion, she is aware that “we cannot afford a weak army, because that is what brought us into this situation … with having Russia for a neighbour, we need a very strong army.”

She is furious with the British feminists who campaigned to stop Johnson sending weapons to Ukraine to avoid “escalating” the conflict. “Maybe they are not aware that if Russia takes us over, there will be no women’s rights whatsoever”. She does understand these women’s desire for peace but thinks that it is “heavily misplaced”. When I asked her what feminists in Britain can do to support Ukraine, she replied, without missing a beat, “send aircrafts, lots of them!”

I can’t send Dmytrieva the fighter jets that Ukraine so desperately needs, to repel Russian air raids and artillery. But she speaks for me when she says: “As a feminist, I cannot turn a blind eye to the peril that women are facing in Ukraine, both on the front lines of armed conflict and when they come back home”. Local, national and international women’s organisations must confront the horrors faced by Ukrainian women; only then can they work out how best to respond to the Russian invasion.

In the meantime, Dmytrieva points out, there are no women at the negotiation table. Maybe because compromise is not what is being sought. “There is not much space for negotiation. We want them gone and they want us dead”.


Julie Bindel is an investigative journalist, author, and feminist campaigner. Her latest book is Feminism for Women: The Real Route to Liberation. She also writes on Substack.

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Richard Hopkins
RH
Richard Hopkins
2 years ago

“Human nature, if it changes at all, changes not much faster than the geological face of the earth” – Solzhenitsyn. In a conflict a country requires weapons but also needs individuals to bear them. They have to be prepared to risk their own lives to protect others. For time immemorial, in times of war, those that have done this have been, er, men. In terrible times, men come to the fore.

Christian Moon
CM
Christian Moon
2 years ago

Modern genetics suggests human nature changes much faster than that. Every society is selecting for something (in an evolutionary sense).
The Ten Thousand Year Explosion by Cochran & Harpending 2009 will give you an idea.

Andrew Fisher
AF
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago
Reply to  Christian Moon

Well, some populations have evolved to become more tolerant to drinking milk as adults, and things like that. And if traits are strongly selected, then, yes evolution can be fast. Short sightedness, which can be exacerbated by reading a lot in poor light, is much more common in literate societies. The condition has no benefit in traditional tribal societies, and obviously puts those affected much more at risk. This is offset in complex state societies, where reading has significant benefits and the readers themselves may not be expected to fight wild animals or other people.

Despite these examples, some major aspects of our nature don’t seem to have changed much if at all. One of these is the kind of people we fancy. There is a limit to cultural relativism in assessing beauty. Modern culture says – who has a kind soul? – our genes often (unconsciously) say, go for the fit, lean, good-looking. (And we all tend to know what ‘good-looking’ means).

The human propensity, particularly in young men, for rage and violence, also does not seem to have changed for tens of thousands of years. Tribal societies constantly waged war, with a higher death rate than modern conflicts. (And, the men fought, not women).

This is also of course very counter-cultural in the modern West, which is obsessed with the virtues of being empathetic and caring. We therefore delude ourselves about such an ingrained part of our nature; people on the Left in particular are very keen to deny it. Of course we can be very cooperative ‘within group’ while being hostile to outsiders; there is no contradiction there and the norm for millennia.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew Fisher
Richard Hopkins
RH
Richard Hopkins
2 years ago
Reply to  Christian Moon

Solzhenitsyn’s view of human nature barely changing is supported by the renowned scientist E.O. Wilson. “I would call our species dysfunctional,” said Wilson in 2019. “Because we have Palaeolithic emotions, we have medieval institutions that we still depend on and we have god-like power. Now that is a very dangerous and unstable combination.” The Paleolithic era began 2.5 million years ago.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
2 years ago

Mankind is sinful, born that way. Only a belief in God can change it. Atheists, start your engines! Your deep study and the mirror have equipped you for deep insights in this matter..

Hugh Marcus
Hugh Marcus
2 years ago

Porn hub has a new category?? At 60 years of age I thought I’d seen or heard most things, but this truly appalled me. It seems the depth of human depravity has no bottom.

leculdesac suburbia
leculdesac suburbia
2 years ago
Reply to  Hugh Marcus

It is horrid. Unfortunately, the 1990s breakdown of Yugoslavia was a gold mine for the pimps and pornography profiteers–they had rape camps and set up cameras to capture and sell tens of thousands of images of sexual abuse around the world. No doubt they’re still circulating today.

Paul Smithson
PO
Paul Smithson
2 years ago
Reply to  Hugh Marcus

I really struggle to believe that any web site could have a “Ukrainian girls and war rape videos” category.that is “dominated by Russian soldiers documenting disgustingly brutal crimes”.

Surely this kind of exploitation should be illegal. If Pornhub does have any category for rape then is there not a way to prosecute the company directly?

I am not usually pro-censorship, but this kind of thing is surely completely unacceptable for any right thinkng person.

Someone please tell me it is an urban myth and not real.

Gillian Johnson
Gillian Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul Smithson

I honestly don’t believe that porn hub or any other porn peddling website should be allowed in a civilised society. Anyone accessing porn of any sort should be ashamed of themselves. Porn makes people “sick” and “sick” people destroy themselves and society.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul Smithson

Think of it as urban rot.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago

The notion of ‘rights’, female or otherwise, is being eroded, save when it serves as a convenient tool to bludgeon others into moral submission. The only person who can uphold your rights is you. To rely on others is folly.

Andrew Fisher
AF
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Human beings are social animals above everything else, and this helps to explain our unique attributes, including our moral sense. The libertarian Right always get this wrong; they delude themselves that ‘every man can be an island’. Perhaps somewhere in Alaska, this might be an option, it is hardly likely to be relevant for the vast majority.

Women in particular are simply physically weaker than men, which always puts them more at risk, and explains the particular social and legal taboos protecting them (of course incompletely) in most societies. So of course there needs to be state, societal and collective responses as well as whatever individual precautions we can take.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew Fisher
David Morley
David Morley
2 years ago

Local, national and international women’s organisations must confront the horrors faced by Ukrainian women; only then can they work out how best to respond to the Russian invasion.

Any idea of timescale on this one?

Rasmus Fogh
RF
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago

Timely and necessary article (somewhat to my surprise). Still, I would modify one of her concluding sentences: “Local, national and international women’s organisations must confront the horrors faced by Ukrainian women; only then can they work out how best to respond to the Russian invasion.” I would have removed the italicised half.

David Morley
David Morley
2 years ago

The press in Ireland and elsewhere have reported on babies “rescued” from war-torn Ukraine by their surrogate parents, and on surrogate parents “in limbo”, because “their” children are stuck in the now inaccessible country. 

So there’s child trafficking going on as well!

Annemarie Ni Dhalaigh
Annemarie Ni Dhalaigh
2 years ago

Comment deleted.

Last edited 2 years ago by Annemarie Ni Dhalaigh
Stephen Wright
Stephen Wright
2 years ago

I think men should have had a choice, protect their country or protect their women from these creeps. Forcing them to stay by martial law and splitting families putting women into this position I’m not sure was the right move. If all the men of Ukraine are sent into the Russian meat grinder what good is that for the women and country if the don’t have enough arms anyway?

Rick Fraser
RF
Rick Fraser
2 years ago

“It is really terrifying how capitalism and imperialism are going hand in hand to exploit those who cannot defend themselves right now.” Placing the abhorrent money-making activities described in this article under the banner of capitalism is simply ridiculous.

Victoria Cooper
Victoria Cooper
2 years ago
Reply to  Rick Fraser

Exactly what I thought. When opinion, aka emotion, enters a would be factual text, it weakens its argument. Which is unhelpful as the subject matter is clearly of the utmost concern.

Malcolm Knott
MK
Malcolm Knott
2 years ago

Ghastly, but not unexpected.

Jim R
JR
Jim R
2 years ago

When our righteous escalations lead to nuclear holocaust and the eradication of the species, who will be around to point out that even in annihilation, the women suffered more? Perhaps we should launch a probe with a plaque into space now, just to make sure the aliens draw the correct conclusions?

Graham Stull
GS
Graham Stull
2 years ago

The plight of Ukrainian women is certainly a concern for all civilised people. Helping them and protecting them from predatory practices is of utmost concern for us all.
In this, the article does well. I also appreciate the fact that the men who have been forced into conscription and may well die in this war at least get a mention (albeit brief) – that is progress for many radical feminists.
Overall, the discussion strikes home the folly of allowing this conflict to drag on. The folly is of course first and foremost on the doorstep of the Kremlin. But the role played by the UA government and their Western allies should also, I believe, come under greater scrutiny.
As for the author’s willingness to embrace sending weapons into a war zone, I can’t help but wonder if she would be quite so eager to make the conflict bloodier and more brutal if, as it were, the high heel were on the other foot – that is, the men and children were allowed to flee, and the women forced to stay and fight.

leculdesac suburbia
leculdesac suburbia
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

In the 1980s leading radical feminist scholar Catharine McKinnon wrote of how profoundly unfair drafts are to men, that every man has a 1/2 chance better chance of not going if women were conscripted too. Any country with any real kind of gender equality, she said, would entail conscripting women.

Jim R
Jim R
2 years ago

The U.S. military has data on the objective performance of mixed gender military units in combat. There’s no need to discuss the results – because we all know what they are. We just don’t want it to be true.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jim R
Christian Moon
CM
Christian Moon
2 years ago

Only armies that don’t propose to do any fighting accept women as a substitute for men.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

The Ukrainians want to fight, even this radical feminist author wants to fight. So the West, deciding that they should not be given weapons to do so, would be utterly perverse.

The failure of western countries to support in any way the Republican government in Spain was a cynical and stupid policy which emboldened Italy and Germany, as well as giving their army and air force plenty of practice. It is just as well Hitler didn’t get on with Franco, otherwise the Straits of Gibraltar would have been closed to the Royal Navy and the war hugely prolonged.

T Doyle
TD
T Doyle
2 years ago

Really horrible story and the depravity of some men.

David Lewis
DL
David Lewis
2 years ago

How strange must the world look through the feminist prism! How bizarre to focus on the issues above amidst the chaos and misery that we see unfolding in Ukraine.
Nowhere have I seen feminist outrage expressed that women are being discriminated against by NOT being forced to remain in the country to fight and die. After all, why does it take a Y-chromosome to pull the trigger on a Kalashnikov or launch an anti-tank missile? Surely, equality of opportunity by total integration of women into the military forces of most progressive western nations is self-evidently a good thing, so why should they not be fully integrated into the defence of Ukraine?
Imagine the treatment of a chap who turns up at Ukrainian border control and claims the right to flee: “Because I am transgender and identify as a woman.’
It takes only a small degradation in the fabric of society for ‘toxic masculinity’ to be urgently rehabilitated into ‘courageous manliness’.
Most forms of wokeism can only survive and prosper in the abnormally oxygen-rich atmosphere of 21st century liberal democracy. The tiniest fracture in the bell jar sees a rapid return of oxygen levels to normal, when most of the ‘….isms’ rapidly become irrelevant

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
2 years ago

I think most Ukranian women would say win the war first and then turn to the ancillary issues.

leculdesac suburbia
leculdesac suburbia
2 years ago

Thank you Julie for your indefatigable advocacy and courage on behalf of women’s and children’s rights. Naturally, transactivists refuse to debate you. They’re terrified.

Bruno Lucy
BL
Bruno Lucy
2 years ago

The situation is exacerbated, though, by the fact that Ukraine is being invaded by a country which effectively decriminalised domestic violence in 2017. “
Not exactly the ticket for a quick admission into the EU where women also die by the hundreds ….in France anyway…..every year !!

Douglas H
DH
Douglas H
2 years ago

Thanks for this, JB. I hope this great article won’t attract the trolls who too often plague your work.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago
Reply to  Douglas H

It has attracted this one, Douglas. Bindel draws attention to what war can mean for women and girls (which is a good point of view on both moral and practical grounds), but she does so by deflecting attention away from what war can mean for men and boys (which is not a good point of view on either moral or practical grounds).
She mentions the latter only twice. On the first occasion, she notes that “when traumatised men return home, levels of violence against women increase.” Of interest to her is not the fact that war has traumatized these men in the first place, however, but the fact that they traumatize women in turn. In effect, therefore, she trivializes (and perhaps even condones) what war does to men.
On the other occasion, she offers a token acknowledgment of the obvious. “Of course, men are in danger too. Ukraine does not allow men between 18 and 60 to leave the country.” But then she immediately mitigates the effect of that acknowledgment by quoting her female (and somehow “pacifist” informant. “This rule is, Dmytrieva told me, ‘reasonable.’” Bindel clearly agrees that it’s “reasonable” to force men but not women into combat. That argument is tendentious not only on moral grounds (which is my main concern here) but also on those of evolutionary psychology. If men in general are so brutal by nature, after all, there would surely be no “need” for military conscription at all. (In this comment, I won’t go into the question of how useful women can be in combat unless someone asks me to do so.)
Bindel clearly agrees with what Dmytrieva says next: “But the women suffer a different and ongoing kind of violence.” They do indeed, because there are so many ways to suffer. The effect of combat, too, is “ongoing” and not only for those who lose limbs or suffer from exposure to toxic chemicals. Until recently, men who broke down in combat or refused even to enter combat were called “cowards” or “malingerers” and punished accordingly either informally (shaming them) or formally (executing them for “desertion”). During World War I, some physicians began to acknowledge a condition called “shell shock,” which they tried to cure before sending their patients right back into combat. We now call this condition “post-traumatic-stress disorder” and know that it can lead to a lifetime of pathological behavior whether directed inward (as suicide) or outward (as uncontrolled aggression)–or both. Moreover, we know that combat is not the only cause of PTSD. Rape is another. This afflicts mainly (but by no means only) women.
Generally speaking, it might be be unfair to criticize journalists for what they don’t say. No comment on the news can say everything, after all, and some selective comments might require more emphasis than others (although feminists have been doing that for decades and thus brought about changes in international law). But I do criticize Bindel in this case. She has chosen (probably on political grounds) to focus on what war does to women and to trivialize or ignore what it does to men–that is, in effect, to indulge in comparative suffering.
It has attracted this one, Douglas. Bindel draws attention to what war can mean for women and girls (which is a good point of view on both moral and practical grounds), but she does so by deflecting attention away from what war can mean for men and boys (which is not a good point of view on either moral or practical grounds).
She mentions the latter only twice. On the first occasion, she notes that “when traumatised men return home, levels of violence against women increase.” Of interest to her is not the fact that war has traumatized these men in the first place, however, but the fact that they traumatize women in turn. In effect, therefore, she trivializes (and perhaps even condones) what war does to men.
On the other occasion, she offers a token acknowledgment of the obvious. “Of course, men are in danger too. Ukraine does not allow men between 18 and 60 to leave the country.” But then she immediately mitigates the effect of that acknowledgment by quoting her female (and somehow “pacifist” informant. “This rule is, Dmytrieva told me, ‘reasonable.’” Bindel clearly agrees that it’s “reasonable” to force men but not women into combat. That argument is tendentious not only on moral grounds (which is my main concern here) but also on those of evolutionary psychology. If men in general are so brutal by nature, after all, there would surely be no “need” for military conscription at all. (In this comment, I won’t go into the question of how useful women can be in combat unless someone asks me to do so.)
Bindel clearly agrees with what Dmytrieva says next: “But the women suffer a different and ongoing kind of violence.” They do indeed, because there are so many ways to suffer. The effect of combat, too, is “ongoing” and not only for those who lose limbs or suffer from exposure to toxic chemicals. Until recently, men who broke down in combat or refused even to enter combat were called “cowards” or “malingerers” and punished accordingly either informally (shaming them) or formally (executing them for “desertion”). During World War I, some physicians began to acknowledge a condition called “shell shock,” which they tried to cure before sending their patients right back into combat. We now call this condition “post-traumatic-stress disorder” and know that it can lead to a lifetime of pathological behavior whether directed inward (as suicide) or outward (as uncontrolled aggression)–or both. Moreover, we know that combat is not the only cause of PTSD. Rape is another. This afflicts mainly (but by no means only) women.
Generally speaking, it might be unfair to criticize journalists for what they don’t say. No comment on the news can say everything, after all, and some selective comments might require more emphasis than others (although feminists have been doing that for decades and thus brought about changes in international law). But I do criticize Bindel in this case. She has chosen (probably on political grounds) to focus on what war does to women and to trivialize or ignore what it does to men–that is, in effect, to indulge in comparative suffering.

Last edited 1 year ago by Paul Nathanson
Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
2 years ago

Why are the 80000 female prostitutes in Ukraine before the war the result of high tech industries being repatriated back to Russia? When did this happen, 1992?