Russian soldiers have been ordered ‘from the top’ to use rape, castration and sexual abuse of children as weapons of war, the wife of Ukraine’s president has claimed.
Speaking at a conference in London, Olena Zelenska said Vladimir Putin’s troops were systematically using sexual violence during the invasion of her country.
She also alleged some Russian wives were even urging their husbands to rape Ukrainian women.
Her demand to bring the perpetrators to account comes after a UN report last month found evidence that a string of war crimes had been carried out since the conflict began in February, with most violations committed by the invading Russian forces.
Investigators also uncovered multiple cases of sexual abuse and violence. Cases include allegations that Ukrainian prisoners of war were tortured and castrated, along with claims of children being sexually abused and women raped.
However, UN workers are still looking into the extent to which the atrocities amounted to a ‘widespread pattern’.
But speaking at the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict conference yesterday, the wife of president Volodymyr Zelensky said she had no doubt such horrific incidents were a tactical decision.
‘Sexually related crimes are not just about violence or threatening people, they are, in fact, another weapon in their arsenal in this war,’ she said.
‘This is why it’s extremely important to recognise [these] as war crimes and bring all the perpetrators to justice.’
Ms Zelenska added: ‘This is systematic, because it is coming from the top down, and Russian servicemen are very open about this – they talk about this over the phone with their relatives.’
Ukraine’s first lady said intercepted phone calls had even shown ‘their wives are encouraging this, [they say] “go on, rape these Ukrainian women, just don’t share it with me”.
‘I do hope there will be, and has to be, a response from the free world to every- thing that’s happening in Ukraine now.’
Representatives from 70 countries are attending the UK conference. Organisers said evidence had shown up to 30 per cent of women and girls in conflict-affected regions experience sexual violence.
Foreign secretary James Cleverly said: ‘Sexual violence in conflict was a clear breach of international law.
‘We will not rest in our efforts to protect potential victims and prosecute the perpetrators.’
Later, Ms Zelenska met prime minister Rishi Sunak’s wife Akshata Murty at No.10 and is due to visit parliament today to address MPs.
In his Mansion House speech last night, Mr Sunak said: ‘In Kyiv, I saw how Russia’s focus is shifting from bruising encounters on the battlefield to brutalising the civilian population.’
He said it was ‘written in the stories of the first responders I met from liberated Kherson, from the torture chambers to the booby traps left in children’s toys’.
Russia has denied its troops have committed war crimes and, in some cases, has accused Ukraine and the West of ‘staging’ atrocities.
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