First trial of Russian soldier charged with rape starts in Ukraine

Trial could potentially be first of what amounts to dozens of equivalent cases

Maya Oppenheim
Women’s Correspondent
Friday 24 June 2022 17:04 BST
Mikhail Romanov, the 32-year-old suspect is not being held in custody and will be tried in absentia, which means he will not be there during court proceedings
Mikhail Romanov, the 32-year-old suspect is not being held in custody and will be tried in absentia, which means he will not be there during court proceedings (AP)

The first trial of a Russian soldier charged with raping a Ukrainian woman in the wake of Moscow’s invasion has begun.

However, Mikhail Romanov, the 32-year-old suspect, is not being held in custody so will be tried in absentia.

The case could be the first of what amounts to dozens of equivalent cases involving Russian soldiers accused of raping Ukrainian women.

Romanov stands accused of murdering a civilian in the Kyiv capital region on 9 March and then repeatedly raping the man’s wife, according to court files.

He is accused of raping the 33-year-old woman after he and another Russian soldier shot her husband at point blank range in a village near Kyiv.

According to the court files, the two soldiers then left and later returned twice more to rape her. But the identity of the second soldier had not been established.

The woman asked for the trial to be held behind closed doors as she wanted to avoid details about her and her family being publicised, prosecutor Oksana Kalyus told reporters after the preliminary hearing in a Kyiv court.

Ms Kalyus said Ukrainian authorities believed Romanov was in Russia. While he could not be arrested there, he could be arrested in another country if he is found guilty, she said.

“If he crosses the border, he will be arrested and delivered to Ukraine,” Ms Kalyus added.

Russia’s Defence Ministry did not respond to a request for comment, while Reuters was not able to get in touch with the soldier. Moscow has denied allegations of war crimes.

A prosecutor working on sexual violence cases told Reuters that up to 50 such crimes were being investigated, but that the number of instances of sexual violence by Russian soldiers since the invasion of Ukraine on 24 February was likely to be substantially higher.

Officials, activists and doctors have said that many survivors are scared or reluctant to come forward to the police and prosecutors with their cases due to worries they will face reprisals from Russia and stigma from their Ukrainian neighbours.

Ukraine says it is investigating thousands of potential war crimes perpetrated during the Russian invasion. Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova told Reuters that many of the suspects are in Russia but some have been taken captive by Ukraine as prisoners of war.

It comes after experts recently told The Independent reports of sexual violence against Ukrainian women carried out by Russian soldiers are likely to just be the tip of the iceberg.

Nadine Tunasi, survivor champion for the British government’s preventing sexual violence in conflict initiative, said: “Sadly, whenever men in uniform begin attacking civilians, it is inevitably women and girls who suffer the most and the conflict in Ukraine is proving no different.

“I know from my work with survivors how sexual violence is used during conflicts to destroy not only the lives of individuals but entire communities.”

Ms Tunasi argued it is imperative measures are implemented to safeguard victims and make sure perpetrators are held accountable for their actions.

Steve Crawshaw, of Freedom from Torture, told The Independent: “Sexual violence by Russian armed forces has been frequently reported during many of Putin’s military engagements, dating back to his brutal war in Chechnya where Freedom from Torture found the practice to be widespread.

“Growing reports of the use of torture and sexual violence by Russian forces in Ukraine are thus sadly unsurprising.”

Additional reporting by Reuters

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