Anna describes how she was forced to find victims as drunken soldiers conducted a night of murder and mayhem in her small Ukrainian village
ByDanielle Sheridan, POLITICAL AND DEFENCE CORRESPONDENT, IN KYIV. 25 April 2022 •
Anna was told by her Russian rapist that if she disobeyed him, ‘she would be taken to the headquarters and made to serve all of the soldiers’ CREDIT: Paul Grover /for The Telegraph
The hunt for Ukrainian women to rape began at Anna’s house.
She had just fallen asleep next to her husband on the kitchen floor of their home in a small village near Borodyanka when the Russian soldiers started banging on her door.
Anna dragged herself off the mattress in the only room warm enough to sleep in since the electricity in the village was cut off, and opened the door.
She had already encountered the three men standing in front of her. Sasha, the commander, and Oleh and Dania, two younger soldiers, had torn her front door from its hinges earlier that day as they forced their way into her home to loot laptops and mobile phones.
She had gone to bed hoping that was the worst of it. She was wrong.
“You will come with us to find other women,” they ordered her, before shoving a gun into her husband’s back and telling him he would be taken to the Russians’ headquarters.
Terrified of the weapons the soldiers held, and conscious of the fact they had been drinking, Anna and Alex were separated as she was marched into the pitch-black street on March 9.
Then they went around her neighbours and forced Anna to knock on each door and enquire who was inside.
At the first door, the Russians made their intentions clear to the man who opened it. “They said they wanted to take his woman,” Anna told The Telegraph.
However, upon inspection, the men decided they would leave her. “She will not feed us,” they said.
Dania, the youngest, grabbed Anna by the hood of her coat and dragged her back into the street, where she was instructed to knock on another door.
By this point, she was paralysed with fear. The Russians had started arguing amongst themselves, and in the commotion became separated from the commander. Now it was just Anna and the two younger men.
When they knocked on the final door, the husband of their next victim tried to prevent the men from entering.
“They told him to ‘get back, we will take your woman’,” Anna said, grimacing. “When he refused, they shot him dead in front of me.”
The young men then marched the women to an abandoned house and forced them to climb through a broken window. When Anna hesitated, worried that she would cut herself on the shards of glass, her rapist pushed her through it, berating her.
“They were being rude to us,” Anna said, remembering derogatory remarks they had made about their “feed”. “The Russians were talking to each other and complaining: ‘One is 41 and the other is 43,’ and the other said: ‘Well, what can we do?’”
“I was afraid,” she said, as she watched the other woman being led upstairs, leaving her alone with Dania. She begged him not to attack her. “I asked him how old he was,” she remembered, shaking as she thought back to the moment he “did terrible things to me”.
“He told me he was 19 and I said to him that I could be his mother, that I have a son his age. I asked him how old his mother was, but he would not answer me. I think she was my age.”
After Dania raped her, he threatened Anna that, if she disobeyed him, she “would be taken to the headquarters and made to serve all of the soldiers”.
But when he left the room in search of his friend, she decided to take her chances and run. By now it was past midnight and she was screaming her husband’s name as she ran down the street. She went to a neighbour who tried to calm her and persuade her to lie down and rest, but she could not.
Hysterical, she went back into the street, aware that if the Russians found her she would be taken away again – or killed. She returned to her house, where she heard her husband whisper her name.
Alex was hiding on the roof. She climbed up onto the uneven, corrugated iron and lay next to her husband in the freezing cold, where they stayed until daylight.
Hundreds of women had been raped by Russian soldiers, Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, said last week.
The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe said that the war has seen a rise in “gender-based violence, such as rape, sexual violence or sexual harassment”.
Ukrainian police forces have said they are only officially prosecuting 10 cases of rape so far. However, Kateryna Pavlichenko, the country’s deputy interior minister, told The Telegraph this was likely to be just the “tip of the iceberg”.
Russians are believed to have burnt the corpses of many their victims, in turn destroying evidence of rape.
“For Russians, it is a routine tactic,” Ms Pavlichenko said. “We saw them use similar tactics in Chechnya and Syria. Russians rape to destabilise civilians.”
She said that Ukraine had established specialist teams for investigating rape in the wake of the war. The teams, made up of 20 people ranging from psychologists to police officers trained to speak with children, will comb the villages in the Kyiv region that were under Russian occupation to find evidence.
Such is the complexity of the situation that the teams will keep returning to villages to allow victims to come forward when they may not have felt comfortable before. The scheme will be rolled out throughout the country to reflect the prolific nature of the systemic raping of Ukrainian citizens during the invasion.
“It is a problem that people do not want to admit what has happened to them,” she added. “We are trying not to press them so as not to re-traumatise them. But we try to explain that if they share their story, it will help to tell the world the atrocities that the Russians committed in Ukraine.”
Ms Pavlichenko added: “Rape is the hardest crime to talk about. People want to forget it so the scale could be much bigger than we will ever know.”
The rape and murder that Anna was subjected to that night has left her with severe anxiety. If a dog barks, she jumps, and she still worries that the Russians will return and find her.
“Only a few people have told about being sexually assaulted because they are scared,” Anna said. “I am also scared.”
She has since visited a doctor, who has confirmed she is healthy and not pregnant.
When The Telegraph visited Anna, it was the day before her 42nd birthday and she was quietly preparing a meal that she would enjoy with her husband the next day in their now-liberated village.
“Now I feel like a wild animal and I am living in hell,” she said, before bursting into tears. “I am not crying about the rape. We need to win. Help us with more weapons. They are killing our children. They need to help us.”
All victims’ names have been changed