Amid mounting evidence of Russian war crimes in Ukraine, a young Ukrainian mother is speaking out about what may be the first rape case connected to the 2022 invasion to go before The Hague: She says she was repeatedly raped by Russian soldiers while her 4-year-old son sat just a few feet away.
In an interview with The Times of London published Tuesday, the woman, identified only by the pseudonym Natalya, says she still has not been able to bring herself to tell her son that his father was murdered by the Russian soldiers.
“We cannot bury him, we can’t get to the village, because the village is still occupied,” the 33-year-old mother said of the family’s home in Brovary, a suburb of Kyiv.
It was there that she says Russian soldiers arrived on the morning of March 9 and, despite a white sheet hanging from the family’s home to indicate there were no military targets. They killed the family’s dog before gunning down Natalya’s husband a few hours later.
“I heard a single shot, the sounds of the gate opening and then the sound of footsteps in the house,” she was quoted telling the Times. “I cried out, ‘Where is my husband?’ then I looked outside and I saw him on the ground by the gate. This younger guy pulled gun to my head and said: ‘I shot your husband because he’s a Nazi.’”
After that, she said, things became only more harrowing. While her son sat sheltering in a dark boiler room at the home, the soldiers set their sights on her.
“[One of the Russian soldiers] said ‘You’d better shut up or I’ll get your child and show him his mother’s brains spread around the house,’” she said. “He told me to take my clothes off. Then they both raped me one after the other. They didn’t care that my son was in the boiler room crying. They told me to go shut him up and come back. All the time they held the gun by my head and taunted me, saying ‘How do you think she sucks it? Shall we kill her or keep her alive?’”
They brutalized her again less than a half hour later, she said, but she and her son managed to flee when both the soldiers got “so drunk” they passed out.
“While I was opening the gate, my son was standing next to his father’s body but it was dark and he did not understand it was his father. He said ‘Will we get shot the same as this man here?’” she said.
Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Iryna Venediktova, announced last week that Ukrainian authorities had identified one of Natalya’s rapists, and that a warrant was out for his arrest.
“We will find every villain and make him answer to the fullest extent of the law,” Venediktova wrote on Facebook.
Natalya said the Russian commander who raped her had introduced himself to her by name, and she later managed to track him down on social media. There are unconfirmed rumors that he was ultimately killed by Ukrainian forces, but, she said, “I still do not know for sure if it is true.”
While Natalya’s story stands out because she was able to identify one of her attackers, reports of rape by Russian marauders have multiplied since the Kremlin launched its all-out war against Ukraine on Feb. 24. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has said he intends to bring such cases before the International Criminal Court.
And while evidence of such war-time rapes is typically difficult to collect, Ukrainian authorities say Russian troops have openly talked about systemic rape in intercepted phone calls.
Ukraine’s Security Service released audio this past weekend of a man it identifies as a Russian soldier telling a female acquaintance about troops killing civilians and preying on women in an occupied village.
“The guys in the neighboring village raped a grown woman and a 16-year-old girl,” he can be heard saying.
Authorities did not reveal where the Russian soldier captured in the recording was based.
In another audio clip shared earlier this month by Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, a man identified as a Russian soldier laughingly tells a friend about one of his comrades boasting about executing civilians and committing rapes.
“‘And they will give me a medal for that,’” he recalled the soldier joking.