Fighting gender-based violence in western Ukraine

Amid Russian air raids, Women’s Perspectives in Ukraine continue to help women who have suffered from gender-based violence. They fear that violence against women won’t be a priority once the full-scale invasion ends.

Halyna Fedkovych and Marta Chumalo, together with three other women, initially founded Women’s Perspectives for over 25 years ago to improve women’s economic empowerment in Ukraine. Since then, the organisation has developed and now has gender-based violence as their main focus. Photo: Jakub Bors/TOWER FILMS
Halyna Fedkovych and Marta Chumalo, together with three other women, initially founded Women’s Perspectives for over 25 years ago to improve women’s economic empowerment in Ukraine. Since then, the organisation has developed and now has gender-based violence as their main focus. Photo: Jakub Bors/TOWER FILMS

For more than 25 years, the women’s rights organisation Women’s Perspectives has been working to advance women’s rights in Ukraine. Based in Lviv, they focus on fighting gender-based violence, especially domestic violence, human trafficking and discrimination.

The organisation works with groups in vulnerable situations and on different levels. For example, they provide services such as shelters, psychological services and legal support to survivors of gender-based violence. Besides providing this support, they also cooperate with the police to improve their response to domestic violence.

A key area of Women’s Perspectives’ work is advocating for the improvement and implementation of domestic violence and gender equality legislation. To support their advocacy, they conduct research and analysis. They also support other feminist and women’s rights organisations in Ukraine.

Adapting to new challenges

Since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Women’s Perspectives has had to adapt its activities to meet the needs of internally displaced persons (IDP) in Ukraine. These adaptions have required them to bring in more psychologists, lawyers and trainers, open new shelters for women and children IDPs and domestic violence survivors.

The organisation has also seen an increase in case applications related to sexual violence—including domestic sexual violence and conflict-related sexual violence.

Besides the change in their approach and the overall increase in work, it has been challenging to just keep the operation going. Despite being located in Lviv in the western part of Ukraine, an area not targeted quite as much as eastern Ukraine, Women’s Perspectives’ work has been affected by repeated Russian air attacks on the city.

“Last winter, we had big challenges with blackouts,” says Marta Chumalo, co-founder and psychologist at Women’s Perspectives.

Halyna Fedkovych, co-founder and lawyer at Women’s Perspectives, continues:

“We did not have these problems before and it was a challenge with all the power banks, generators and heaters. We had many electric heaters but there was no electricity.”

With no end of the war in sight, they expect the same kind of challenges this coming winter. When the temperature drops below zero degrees, they are particularly afraid of missile attacks against electricity infrastructure and services.

“Our work is paralysed in such situations because our clients can’t come to an office without electricity,” Marta explains.

Halyna describes how people have learned to identify the different air alerts and sirens, and from there decide if they need to seek shelter or not. This is their new reality that has been going for more than one and a half year.

Increase in mental health problems

Marta and Halyna can also notice an increase in mental health problems and psychiatric conditions with their clients.

“Everyone is in permanent stress situation. Due to these alarm sirens, you don’t have proper sleep. Additionally, the domestic violence…your brain can’t stand it”, says Halyna.

They meet women who sometimes have lost everything in the ongoing war. Their home, their families. They often suffer from depression and do not have enough strength to start new lives.

“We often hear ‘when the war ends, then I will do something’. Now, they just put their life on pause,” says Marta.

Men use kids to avoid mobilisation

For men in Ukraine, there are laws that state that if you are between 18 and 60 years old, and are relatively healthy, you can be called up for military service. Although, there are some exceptions to this. Women’s rights organisations have witnessed several cases where men who previously didn’t live with their families suddenly try to force their children to live with them, as men with children in their custody (even if it is not legal custody) cannot be drafted. In some cases, men have even kidnapped their children to avoid being mobilised.

“In the beginning of the war, we had cases where the man took two children from the first wife and one kid from the second wife, even if they had been living separate for a few years. He just took all kids in a car and ran away,” says Halyna.

Together with Polish colleagues, Women’s Perspectives could locate the man and the children. They have also seen other examples of the consequences of this law.

“Kids are manipulated and used for avoiding mobilisation. We already have the term ‘mobilisation pregnancy’: for example, parents may have two kids and didn’t plan to have a third, but by having another kid and the father can avoid mobilisation,” says Halyna.

“But we don’t know how it was. Was it consent? We don’t know how it was for this wife or woman,” Marta continues.

Perpetrators seen as heroes

Women’s Perspectives can also see an increase in toxic masculinity in society, a term which is defined as a set of traditional masculine behaviours and which entails dominance, competition, violence, self-reliance and emotional repression. This also takes place in the court rooms and has devastating consequences as the perpatrator of domestic violence are not held accountable for their crimes.

“Now, we can see these trends in court practice regarding domestic violence cases where a military perpetrator is involved. Due to the fact that he was fighting in the war, the court decides that it wasn’t so bad and the damage done to the survivor was not that severe,” says Halyna.

Women’s Perspectives tries to raise awareness of this problem and highlight that these men with war experiences and traumas do not receive proper psychological and psychiatric rehabilitation. The court, they say, has the possibility to admit perpetrators to psychological programmes—but often choose not to.

On the contrary: They have witnessed a trend where law enforcement and the courts put the responsibility on survivors who have suffered domestic violence at the hands of their partner.

“They try to explain to the survivors ‘you should be together. You should try harder to help him’,” says Halyna.

Violence against women must be a priority

The support that Women’s Perspectives receives from Sweden and other countries is vital. For the past two years, Women’s Perspectives says that the international community has prioritised working against conflict-related sexual violence, for example through specific funding and projects. They fear that violence against women won’t be of the same priority once the full-scale invasion ends.

“After the war, the rebuilding and reconstruction of the country will be prioritised. It is very important to understand that domestic violence and sexual violence against women during the war and after the war will increase. We have seen these trends in other countries and it’s not like Ukraine is unique,” says Halyna.

“In practise, we can see that it will be difficult to ensure the proper services and protection for women.”


The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation has supported women’s rights in Ukraine since 2014. Learn more about our work in Ukraine »

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