War Brings Rise in Sexual Violence and Anti-Trans Oppression

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky released a video on Monday to admonish Russia for breaking promises to let Ukrainian citizens evacuate safely through “humanitarian corridors,” as Russian forces have continued to lay siege to civilian centers. We travel to western Ukraine in order to meet Olena Schevchenko, Ukrainian human right’s and LGBTIAn activist who fled the Russian military attack on Kyiv together with her parents. She has been helping others evacuate. Shevchenko said that people with disabilities and transgenders have a harder time fleeing to safety.


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AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show looking at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has entered its 13th day. The United Nations estimates that over 2 million people have fled Ukraine, making it the largest exodus in Europe in 20 years. According to Ukrainian officials, civilian evacuations started after Russia announced a temporary truce in some of the most affected areas. This included Sumy in northeastern Ukraine, where 21 people including two children were killed in airstrikes shortly before the evacuations began. Russia has been accused of bombarding civilians fleeing Mariupol. Many residents have been left without food and water for days. Russia is also accused of continuing to attack civilians in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, which has been devastated by days of Russian attacks. One Ukrainian woman named Maryna said she was hit by shrapnel from Russia’s shelling when she went to donate blood. Reuters spoke with her while she was in a wheelchair in a hospital.

MARYNA: [translated]My brother and me came to give blood and were shelled. The blood transfusion center was also shelled. We had just left the center when we were bombarded by Russian occupiers. My brother, who was also in the center, was killed on the 27th of February. I was still in hospital with shrapnel wounds in both my legs.

AMY GOODMAN:Michelle Bachelet, former president of Chile, was the U.N. High Commissar for Human Rights and called on all forces to stop attacking civilians earlier today.

MICHELLE BACHELET: Since the council’s urgent debate, the number of civilian casualties has continued to grow. I’m deeply concerned about civilians trapped in active hostilities in numerous areas, and I urge all parties to take effective action to enable all civilians, including those in situations of vulnerability, to safely leave areas affected by conflict. There have been reports that pro-Ukrainian activists were arbitrarily detained in areas recently under the control armed groups from the east of the country. We have also received reports of beatings of people considered to be pro-Russian in government-controlled territories. I reiterate my urgent appeal for a peaceful halt to hostilities.

AMY GOODMAN: As we mark International Women’s Day, we’re joined by Olena Shevchenko, Ukrainian human rights defender, LGBTIactivist, fled Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, with her parents, and moved to Lviv, Ukraine.

Welcome back Democracy Now!, Olena. It’s great to have you with us. Why don’t you just tell us about that journey, what that meant — we’ll be showing a map right now of Ukraine — going from Kyiv to Lviv? How did your parents manage it? What was your experience? How did you get there?

OLENA SHEVCHENKO: Hi. It was a long and difficult journey. It started the day before we left. I was able transfer my parents from one bank to the other. It took me four hours to get there by taxi. The taxi cost us more 300 euros. So you can imagine, for instance, for those people who don’t have any money, for instance, in occupied cities, in Kharkiv and Kyiv now, in Mariupol, how they can get out. It’s almost not possible.

We had only two options to leave the city. It’s the train and the bus. The train station is the worst because it’s impossible to get on the train. There are lines for two or three days. And the most — those of vulnerable communities, I mean, people with disabilities, for instance, women with children, they don’t have any chances to get on the trains, because this is the huge fight between those who want to leave Ukraine. It took almost 24 hours to get to the safer place.

So, yeah, now I am in Lviv, because it’s not possible anymore to stay there without electricity, without water, without heat. It’s not even possible to do something like to help, because we are working now via internet connection. We are trying help people get out of these cities. So, it’s not — I don’t have any sense to be there without such things. So, I’m now in Lviv and we have shelters for those who can escape.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Olena, you’ve been — as you said, you’ve been helping others who are trying to get to safer regions. Could you talk about some of the people that you’ve been helping and their stories?

OLENA SHEVCHENKO: You know, I have so many stories now, and I am not sure if anybody actually want to hear those stories, because mainly stories are about those people who can’t even leave their houses because they don’t have any access to elevators anymore, and they are still at homes, women who are trying to get out with their parents, people with disabilities, like I said, like elderly people, those who are sick. So, I don’t know how to help them. And we receive like thousands of messages every day, and you just suffer because you can’t help anymore. You can help, I don’t know, 10, 20 people a day, but that’s thousands of requests.

Especially — I’m not talking just about LGBTQI people. We also — the founder of the Women’s March, the huge initiative. We received the requests for assistance through our social networks, which were mainly from women from different cities. They don’t have medicines. They don’t have food. They don’t have any chances to survive. Two people on wheelchairs called us yesterday to inform us that they were in Bucha, very close to the Kyiv, in a basement and that nobody knows who will save them. I am not sure if they’re still alive.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you mentioned the Women’s March. Today is International Women’s Day. Could you speak about the impact of the invasion and fighting on women and children and your message to international community?

OLENA SHEVCHENKO:International community, this is not what women invent. I mean war. That’s not something we invent. We are at the center of this conflict. We are at the heart of the humanitarian crisis because women are everywhere. We have heard of so many cases of rapes occurring in these occupied areas. I felt like a woman screaming. The Russian troops sent in the videos. I can hear the screams of women being raped simultaneously by soldiers. I don’t think this is — like, it’s not about heroism. It’s not like about heroes. War is a disaster for everybody, and it needs to be stopped, because that’s not about human rights. That’s not about geopolitic. That’s just a disaster. Why somebody needs to come to other places, just, you know, with this aim to put the flag on some buildings and said, like, “Now it’s mine”? Women are still considered to be something that can be taken. So, basically, that’s still about the power.

And that’s why we are in need to more solidarity around the world, not only women, everybody, against the war, against the violence. So it was our main message for today’s manifestation, which we prepared during the year. But it’s not possible now to go to the streets. So that’s why we’re asking others, other women in different cities, in different countries, go to the streets and say no to war, say no to violence.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about reports of trans Ukrainians unable to leave because their gender identity on their passport did not match their gender identity — that’s the case of trans people — and the whole issue of having to show a passport, which so many people do not have, and the discrimination against Roma, Black students who are in Ukraine trying to flee, who we interviewed.

OLENA SHEVCHENKO: Yeah, that’s the case. It’s almost not possible for those people who have these male documents still or for other trans people to cross the border, because during the war they need to be on the war by law. So, basically, they don’t have any possibility to leave the country. That’s why they are staying in our shelters. And, of course, there is an option, like you said, for Roma people, as well, just to trying to cross the border without documents, but it’s also very problematic, even taking into account that we’ve been said by different bodies — I don’t know — in Ukraine and different countries that it will be possible for people without documents to cross the border, but it’s not.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you, Olena, about a group in Ukraine that is trying to reach out to Russian parents or people, relatives of Russians who are looking for their loved ones, Russian soldiers in Ukraine, to see if they’re dead. It’s an antiwar hotline. And people call in, and the Ukrainians try to get information on those Russian soldiers — these efforts we so rarely hear about of peace across borders.

OLENA SHEVCHENKO: I don’t know what to say. Yes, there are many small initiatives that try to talk about peace. And, of course, it’s not like the highly popular theme right now in Ukraine or in other countries, of course. Everyone is more focused on winning something or who will win this war. But I don’t think that this is the good action to make. In summary, there are many people trying somehow to make the connections. And, of course, for those who live in Russia, I mean, for mothers, first of all, it’s really important to know what happened with their children. I personally don’t think they need to be responsible for Putin’s actions. They need to know the truth.

AMY GOODMAN:Olena Shychenko, Ukrainian human rights defender, we want to say a special thank you for being here. LGBTQIactivist, fled Kyiv with her family and moved to Lviv in western Ukraine.

Next up, we go to Moscow to speak with the head of the Memorial Human Rights Center, which has been ordered shut down as part of a widening crackdown on Russian civil society, as we continue to honor International Women’s Day. Stay with us.