The worst weapon of the Russian War? – Rape!

Disturbing tales continue to come out of Ukraine about the systematic sexual abuse and rape of Ukrainian women and girls at the hands of the Russian invaders. The first reports of this particularly unpleasant and criminal aspect of the Russo-Ukraine war arose in April this year, after the Russian defeat at Kyiv and their subsequent withdrawal from the territory they had occupied.

Now Ukraine’s First Lady Mrs Olna Zelenska has been visiting the UK to highlight the plight of the Ukrainian people, millions of whom face a harsh winter with regular power cuts both planned and unplanned in the face of continuing Russian aggression. Speaking in the UK’s House of Commons, Mrs Zelenska compared Russia’s bombardment of Ukrainian cities to Nazi Germany’s bombing of Britain during World War Two, saying; “You did not surrender, and we will not surrender.”

During her trip, Mrs Zelenska also met Camilla, the Queen Consort, as well as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s wife, Akshata Murthy. Earlier, the Queen Consort had greeted her at a reception to raise awareness of violence against women and girls. In her speech at the event, the Ukrainian First Lady said many women had been raped by Russian soldiers. “The youngest victim of rape is four and eldest is 85,” she said.

This is distressing stuff. Sadly, the sexual abuse and rape of women and girls has been a part of warfare since time immemorial. In Classical times, the infamous “Rape of the Sabine Women”, sometimes known as the “Abduction of the Sabine Women”, relates to an incident in Roman mythology in which the men of Rome committed a mass abduction of young women from the other cities in the region.

It has been a frequent subject of painters and sculptors, particularly during the Renaissance and post-Renaissance eras. It records an incident in the early stages of the founding of Rome when there were few women inhabitants, and so there was little chance of sustaining the city’s population, without which Rome might not last longer than a generation. Surrounding peoples agreed to their women marrying Romans, but not the Sabines, whereupon Rome literally took matters into its own hands and carried them off..

In the early part of the 20th century perhaps one of the most infamous occurrence of mass rape took place during the Second Sino-Japanese War of 1937-45, and became known as the Massacre or Rape of Nanking (now Nanjing). Here there occurred the mass murder of Chinese civilians after their capital city was captured by the Imperial Japanese Army. The massacre lasted six weeks. The perpetrators also committed other war crimes such as mass rapelooting, and arson. The massacre was one of the worst atrocities committed during the Second World, resulting in an estimated 200,000 murders and at least 20,000 cases of rape.

The shocking rape count in Nanking pales almost into insignificance (but never can, of course) when compared to the savagery dished out to the female population of Germany by the Soviet Red Army in 1945. Mass rape by Soviet soldiers first began during the Battle of Romania and during the Budapest offensive in Hungary. Such assaults then continued in the territory of Nazi Germany, beginning approximately in October 1944.

Although the western allies were by no means innocent of such events, the majority of the assaults were committed by Soviet troops during the war and afterwards in the Soviet zone of occupation. Some estimates of the numbers of German women raped by Soviet soldiers during this period are as high 2 million, and some women were subject to multiple assaults. Historian Antony Beevor has described it as “the greatest phenomenon of mass rape in history”. Grim stuff indeed.

The point here is that, sadly, the Russians have previous form here, and perhaps we should be suitably aghast but little surprised that it has happened again in Ukraine.

Such behaviour is intolerable in a civilised society and the perpetrators should rightly be sought out and brought to justice. But many of them will have the anonymity afforded to them by the horror and chaos of war and may never be found. And, if they are, their conviction and punishment will depend on the bravery and courage of the women who have suffered at their hands enduring the legal process. We all know how difficult that is even in peacetime.

But we can’t let this slip and ignore what we find difficult to comprehend. We owe it to the women and girls of Ukraine to ensure to the very best of our ability that such criminal acts do not go unpunished,.

Lt Col Stuart Crawford is a Defence Analyst and a former Army officer, author & broadcaster – sign up to his podcast at

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