A 1-year-old Ukrainian boy is allegedly dead after being raped by Russian soldiers in a village near Kharkiv, according to the Ukrainian human rights ombudswoman. A growing number of accusations that Russian soldiers are raping the youngest and most vulnerable war victims is the latest disturbing twist in a modern war defined by archaic brutality.
The dead boy is among dozens of alleged child rape victims which include two 10-year-old boys, triplets aged 9, a 2-year-old girl raped by two Russian soldiers, and a 9-month-old baby who was penetrated with a candlestick in front of its mother, according to Ukraine’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Lyudmyla Denisova.
Ukraine’s main Psychological Assistance Line reports receiving calls regarding widespread rape—of children, women and men—every single day.
“In just one hour, 10 reports of rape by the [Russian] occupiers, including 8 children, were received from newly liberated villages in the Kharkiv region,” Denisova posted on her Facebook page. “Yesterday - 56 reports.”
Rape has long been a weapon of war, but it is generally perpetrated against women and girls. In Syria, human rights groups say women and girls were raped with the goal of impregnating them to add an extra insult to the injury. “I have received reports, not yet verified... about sexual violence cases [involving] men and boys in Ukraine,” Pramila Patten, United Nations special representative on sexual violence in conflict, told a press conference in Kyiv this week. “It’s hard for women and girls to report [rape] because of stigma amongst other reasons, but it’s often even harder for men and boys to report... We have to create that safe space for all victims to report cases of sexual violence.”
Reports of rape of children in front of their mothers is an increasingly frequent accusation almost too horrific to contemplate, and—if verified—would mark a sick and twisted torture meant to devastate the population, according to Denisova, who also reported that two men aged 67 and 78 were among the rape victims.
Some of the reports were first exposed by Ukrainian journalist Iryna Matviyishyn, who has been reporting from the areas liberated from Russian forces. She filed her findings to the Ukrainian parliament, which published them in a report as part of a war crimes dossier. “This is a very small part of territory that was liberated from Russians, compared to those towns, villages and cities that are still under the occupation,” Denisova said in the report. “We can only imagine the number of such atrocities in Kherson, Melitopol, Mariupol, Berdyansk, and others.”
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace says the increasing brutality is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s last resort, after Russian technology, intelligence and leadership have largely failed in what was clearly seen as a far easier challenge. “If you win your war by killing, murdering, raping, bombing civilian territories, breaching all human rights, all Geneva Conventions, corruption, and that becomes the battle-winning component, the message that sends around the world to other adversaries around the world is incredibly dangerous,” Wallace told the Defense of Europe conference in London this week. “That you don’t need to have all the best kit or the best training or appropriate rule of law, you just need to be able to be more brutal than the other person and more prepared to destroy everything in your path. That’s why it matters to the international community, and should matter, that if Putin is successful in Ukraine, then watch out.”