Abortion pills and emergency contraception are being sent to Ukraine as reports of rape since Russia’s invasion continue to rise.
Emergency contraception had been widely available in Ukraine, but the war has destroyed local supply chains and displaced many Ukrainians.
To meet the demand amid increasing reports of Russia’s alleged use of rape as a weapon of war and the broader turmoil of the war, the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) has sent some 2,880 packets of emergency contraception, commonly known as the morning-after pill, to Ukraine. Russia has denied accusations of rape and other human rights abuses by its soldiers.
The IPPF has also sent post-rape kits, which include emergency contraception, pregnancy tests and abortion pills that can be used up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, said Caroline Hickson, the regional director of the IPPF European Network. Other supplies that have been sent include HIV treatments and intrauterine contraceptive devices, she said.
It is not known exactly how many of those receiving the medication are victims of rape or sexual assaults. “What we do know is there’s a significant demand from our partners, who are overwhelmed with the number of survivors presenting for services,” Hickson told Newsweek.
“We don’t need data to tell us that this is happening. We know that in ordinary life, violence against women is endemic in Ukraine… So the most important thing for us is to act to care right now, and to make sure that the medical services and the psychosocial services are there to support those women.”
Hickson said it was also important to remember that emergency contraception and abortion care were not only needed by survivors of rape and sexual assault.
“There may be many women who find themselves pregnant and it’s just the very worst moment in their lives to be pregnant because they may be fleeing, they may be displaced, they’re separated from their families, from their support structures,” she said.
“To be pregnant at that moment in time may be devastating for some women, and they also need access to emergency contraception and to abortion care… It’s absolutely vital for survivors of violence and it’s also incredibly important across the board.”
Since the start of the war, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has delivered more than 88,000 pounds of “desperately needed” reproductive health supplies, medicines and equipment to hospitals and mobile teams in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Dnipro and Zaporizhzhia.
“Additional kits will be delivered to war-torn cities soon as stocks in health centers run dangerously low,” Jaime Nadal, a UNFPA representative in Ukraine, said in a statement to Newsweek.
UNFPA has distributed 33 post-rape kits to 19 hospitals across Ukraine, Nadal said. The agency is supporting 30 facilities across the country that offer assistance to survivors of gender-based violence.
“Women’s and girls’ needs are increasing, but health services for women who have suffered sexual violence, including rape, are scarcer on the ground,” Nadal said.
“Facilities have been damaged or destroyed, and resources are being stretched or diverted to respond to the needs of displaced persons. Many service providers have themselves been displaced.”
Nadal added: “We will continue working with partners on the ground to prioritize the rights, needs, and wishes of women who have experienced physical and sexual violence and are seeking support and services.”
Earlier this month, Ukrainian human rights ombudsman Lyudmila Denisova said nine pregnancies had resulted from the rape of Ukrainian women and girls during the occupation of Bucha, a town northwest of the capital Kyiv.
“About 25 girls and women aged 14-24 were systematically raped during the occupation in the basement of one house in Bucha,” Denisova said. “Nine of them are pregnant. Russian soldiers told them they would rape them to the point where they wouldn’t want sexual contact with any man, to prevent them from having Ukrainian children.”
But Denisova said it was impossible to assess the true scale of sexual assaults being committed by Russian troops in Ukraine.
Russia has repeatedly denied attacking civilians since launching its invasion of Ukraine on February 24. At a U.N. Security Council meeting earlier this month, Russia’s deputy U.N. Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy accused Ukraine and its allies of “a clear intention to present Russian soldiers as sadists and rapists.”
Update 4/28/22, 10:45 a.m. ET: This article has been updated to include additional information and a statement from the United Nations Population Fund.