Day after day, in city after city, a police officer and a prosecutor go door to door in the Kherson region of southern Ukraine. Walking through muddy streets, past homes damaged by shelling, they search for those left behind. The two men form a specialized unit that has traveled from the capital, Kyiv.
A mother and her daughter come out into their yard. “We are looking for sexual offences,” says the prosecutor, Oleksandr Kleshchenko.
Until early October, this area of the country was occupied by Russian troops. Burnt-out cars litter the fields. The letter “Z” — a symbol used by Russian forces — marks the walls.
The scars of war run deep here. Russia has used sexual violence as a “weapon of war” — a deliberate “military strategy” — in its conquest of Ukraine, United Nations investigators said. They have even aired accusations that Russian soldiers were carrying Viagra.
Russian authorities have denied accusations of war crimes in Ukraine
In two weeks of work in the Kherson region, the Kyiv team has documented six reports of sexual assault. The real number is surely much higher, they say.