Domestic violence. Where to look for protection and support in war

  1. Home
  2. Society
  3. War in Ukraine. The storybook
  4. Domestic violence. Where to look for protection and support in war
How to survive domestic violence in wartime
Credit: Getty Images
10:56, 19.05.2023

Stress and uncertainty over the war of expectation have exacerbated the problem of domestic violence.

  • How is it to live with an abuser?
  • What punishment awaits the offender
  • How to recognise domestic violence
  • Where should a victim of abusive behaviour go?

In crisis situations, all negative social phenomena are always exacerbated, and situations of violence are unfortunately no exception," points out the profile organisation La Strada.

Some women are now able to leave their abusers abroad. However, the trauma of the experience does not automatically disappear. In addition, not everyone has the opportunity to leave. And sometimes even after fleeing, life forces you to confront the person who hurt you again. However, there is a way out of even the darkest of situations.

How is it to live with an abuser?

Domestic violence. Where to look for protection and support in war

Tatiana from Obukhiv in the Kyiv region tells her story. For many years she and her children suffered from male violence. After the Russian invasion, she went to Germany, where she reconsidered the whole experience. However, she experienced a terrible loss there - her youngest son died. Accusations of the tragedy poured in on her. Trying to cope with the pain, Tetyana went to a psychologist, who advised her to speak publicly about her experiences.

I want to share my story of domestic violence because it is important to me that women who get into relationships where they do not feel well do not delude themselves with hopes that the domestic tyrant will one day change. Last year I escaped with my children to Germany, not only from the war but also from the abuser. It was only here, contemplating the healthy communication between men and their children and wives, that I realised the horror of my own relationship. And I decided that I would never do it again," Tatjana says.

Domestic violence. Where to look for protection and support in war

However, because of tragedy, she was forced to turn again to her abuser.

A month ago, my son passed away. Forgetting old grudges, I waited for my ex-husband to agree with him on the burial of our child. All hell broke loose from the first phone call. I remembered everything my traumatised psyche wanted to hide from me. The ex was working from home during the quarantine and it was unbearable. If the kids and I were 'naughty', he would buy groceries, hide them on the balcony, and lock the room. And when one of us would go in there and take something, he would rush in with shouting, insults and accusations. My relationship with my ex-husband was like a rollercoaster. It was bad, then it was like a good family relationship again. But every 3-4 years it just became unbearable, I thought if I didn't leave now, I would either kill myself or go mad. Each time I would leave and then come back after a year or two," says Tatiana.

According to her, those around her claimed that he was a good man.

He loves me, earns good money, bought a car. A perfect man, according to friends, colleagues, relatives. My uncle, whom I looked up to and trusted, assured me that I could control the situation at home. In the meantime, my children and I would simply lock ourselves in our room, afraid to go out. And we were glad when our "dad" went to work. I know from experience - an abuser is not going to change. My 20 years of waiting is proof of that. Still my ex does not consider me a human being and treats me accordingly. We often ate in our rooms because he would come out to the kitchen, stand over me and say: 'Did you buy this to eat? Did you cook this? Did you say 'thank you' to daddy? Who didn't clean it up? Who left it here? Could have opened the door with a knife from outside to get into the bathroom or the toilet when one of the children was there," says the woman.

Domestic violence. Where to look for protection and support in war

She ran away from home many times, but was afraid that the man would do something to the children.

She was afraid to leave home for a few days, and if she had to, she made arrangements with friends to intervene if something happened. If I got between him and the children when he hurt them, he would say that I didn't let him bring them up. He liked to watch us get scared, loved to take a swing and see us duck in fear. Last time, in my absence, he did some "parenting". Dragged one child by the hair and smashed her head so hard against the floor that it left a wound. The other had bruises on her arms. After my son called, I called the police and came myself. The police drew up a report and left. The violence continued. We hid in the room and held the door for about half an hour until he went to his room. He shouted that I was insidious and ungrateful because I called the police and turned the children against him, but that he only wanted them to grow up to be good people. Only he can give them anything they want. And their mother doesn't even have a job. Who will buy them clothes and take them to the sea?

In the end the woman and her children decided to move.

Even though we all lived together in the same room, and my sister's family lived next door, we were happy. Unfortunately, no one had told me before that it was difficult to collect myself after domestic violence. After a while the joy turned to helplessness, apathy, dejection. It was the same emotional rollercoaster," stresses Tatiana.

She strongly believes that running away from the abuser is only the first step. The second is to diagnose and work with the trauma.

Despite all the pain and trauma Tatiana has found the strength to move on with her life and speak publicly about her experience, thanks to support:

Be sure to take care of yourself! I am now in a new relationship with someone who is able to care, negotiate and does not play the role of "ideal". For the first time, I felt what it is like to have something done to you not to humiliate, devalue, reproach, hurt, insult, trample on your human dignity.

Domestic violence. Where to look for protection and support in war

What punishment awaits the offender

A total of 814 cases of domestic violence were reported to the police last year in the town of Obukhiv, where Tetyana is from. Criminal proceedings were opened in 5 cases. In 149 cases, administrative proceedings were initiated and in 76 cases restraining orders were issued (these prohibit the abuser from approaching the victims for a certain period of time).

However, in the first months of 2023 alone, the Obukhov police received 644 reports, drew up 193 reports and issued 120 restraining orders.

On the person, who has three times been brought to administrative responsibility under Article 173-2, the court found guilty, and he commits it for the fourth time, criminal proceedings are registered. This is already handled by the pre-trial investigation body, i.e. the investigation.

From the moment the fact of domestic violence is detected, the National Police takes the offender under preventive registration and carries out full preventive work with him. Verification under the Act to prevent further commission of more serious criminal offenses - told the head of Obukhivske district police department Lt Col Maxim Demin.

Children are particularly affected by domestic violence. As noted by Svetlana Shkurko, head of the Juvenile Preventive Sector of the Obukhov District Police Department:

Not only physical violence harms the child, even witnessing scandals in the family, shouting, insults, the child gets a psychological trauma. He closes himself up, stops communicating with his peers, his appetite may disappear, suicidal thoughts may appear. In severe cases, the child may attempt suicide. There are cases when a child has to be temporarily removed from the family. For example, the parents are in a state of intoxication and cannot properly fulfil their parental responsibilities. First I look for the next of kin: grandparents, uncles or aunts. If I cannot find any, I inform child and family services and in the presence of a member of staff, a transfer is made to the child's hospital ward. The child is then handed over to the child welfare service.

How to recognise domestic violence

Domestic violence. Where to look for protection and support in war

Ukraine has relevant legislation where the term 'domestic violence' is clearly defined. Article 1 of the Law on Preventing and Combating Domestic Violence states that domestic violence is "an act (action or inaction) of physical, sexual, psychological or economic violence committed within the family or within the domicile or between relatives" or between former or current spouses, or between other persons living together in the same household but who are not married to one another, whether or not the person who committed the domestic violence resides in the same place as the person who has suffered, as well as threats to commit such acts".

The person who commits the mentioned unlawful acts is most commonly referred to as a user. The scope is from the English word "abuse" - violence, insult, cruel treatment. In other words, it is a violent, abusive relationship.

According to psychologist Marina Manych: An abuser is a person who humiliates, blackmails, abuses morally and physically, sexually abuses or manipulates. He or she can be found anywhere: in the street, on public transport, in educational institutions, at work and at home. These people are deeply dissatisfied with their own lives, insecure, depressed and humiliated by someone else in their lives. Most ab'yusers are children who have been physically punished or humiliated as children: "you are no good", "you are a loser", "no one wants your opinion". Such people later do the same to their own children, their partner or a weaker one.

Domestic violence is a widespread problem throughout the world among all segments of the population. It takes many forms, of which Marina describes the main ones:

Abuse comes in: physical, psychological, economic and sexual.

  • Physical - beatings, abuse, restrictions on the victim's movements.

  • Psychological - intimidation, threats, blackmail, arguments, moral humiliation and violence, manipulation.

  • Economic - control of monetary resources, deduction of funds, restriction of employment, career destruction, coercion to take loans.

  • Sexual - sexual claims, manipulation of consent to sex, reproductive pressure, coercion to have sex.

If we mentally divide the types of abuse on a scale, psychological abuse ranks first, economic abuse second, physical abuse third and sexual abuse fourth.

Statistically, women predominantly suffer more from domestic violence, but the term also includes violence against men, children, parents, older relatives or in-laws.

So how to recognise domestic violence is told by a psychologist:

The main sign of abusive relationships can be described as systemic. It is difficult to get out of such a relationship and rebuild one's life. Often the victim simply does not see the abusive relationship, closing herself off with excuses: "because it has to be this way", "everyone does", "he will change", "it's just the way things are".

Violence in society is quite common, and wherever it occurs, the signs are roughly the same:

  • Sexual harassment of all kinds.

  • Physical abuse. Slapping, kicking, pushing, pinching, flogging, biting.

  • Control of monetary expenses or receipts. Prohibition to work at all or where the victim wants.

  • Restriction of social circle or isolation of all important people from the victim's life.

  • Unsubstantiated accusations by all means.

  • Selfishness. Everything the user does is for his or her own good.

  • Only their own desires are taken into consideration. The needs of the victim are ignored.

  • Pressure and exploitation. The partner takes advantage of the victim's domestic and intellectual work, pressuring, threatening, manipulating.

  • Insulting words. Even in an affectionate way or in a joke, the user will try to offend.

They may be anyone in their environment: siblings, parents, sexual partners, colleagues, friends, relatives or casual acquaintances. They are not difficult to identify:

  • unreasonable jealousy;

  • isolation from friends and family;

  • constant control;

  • regular humiliation;

  • shifting the blame onto the victim.

The psychologist emphasises that if you notice even one of the above signs, run away from that person immediately. To change it alone will not succeed, but it is extremely ruin your psychological state just get.

Remember that domestic violence is not a family matter but an action which should not be kept quiet. Ukraine has laws to protect against violence. The first thing to do in case of any unlawful acts against you is to call 102.

Where should a victim of abusive behaviour go?

In Ukraine, mobile socio-psychological assistance teams have been set up. The teams include a social worker, a psychologist and a driver. Their activities are implemented with the support of UNFPA, the UN Population Fund, in coordination with local authorities and the executive partner of the Initiative ICF. With financial support from USAID, the Ukraine Humanitarian Fund and the governments of the United Kingdom and Canada.

The teams' work is not only focused on crisis intervention, but also on awareness-raising and educational activities.

Domestic violence. Where to look for protection and support in war

on 25 July 2022, such teams also started working in Obukhiv district, said Lilia Boiko, social work specialist and team leader:

We make planned visits to Obukhov and the villages in our community. We visit families in difficult circumstances and vulnerable categories of families.

Since the beginning of the work, an average of about 500 cases of domestic violence among women, children and men have been identified. At least 12 visits to victims are made by one team per month. During these visits, we provide information about domestic violence and its types. We tell them how to prevent and counteract it. We give talks to children in schools on topics related to violence.

We often visit families where domestic violence has already been detected, counselling and talking to the perpetrator, but the woman continues to live with him. We conduct in-patient counselling directly at our location, we also do online counselling: by phone, Skype, Zoom, etc. Preferably women who are abroad because of the war.

Domestic violence. Where to look for protection and support in war

At the end of last year, our teams were trained in first aid. Each worker has a first aid kit with everything they need. And if necessary, we can localise bleeding before the ambulance arrives: we can apply a tourniquet, tampon or treat a wound. Fortunately, this has never happened before.

If necessary, we draw up a safety plan together with the victims and develop mechanisms to move her away from her abuser.

Every Wednesday, we hold psychological support groups for victims of domestic violence. Working with a psychologist helps them understand the situation they are in and decide how to proceed.

Remember: you can get help if your life and health are in danger.

Domestic violence. Where to look for protection and support in war

Victims of domestic violence can receive free legal assistance, said Olga Chigirin, head of the department of the "Obukhiv Bureau of Free Legal Aid":

Victims of domestic violence are guaranteed free primary and secondary legal aid according to the Law of Ukraine. It is not necessary to prove income in order to receive it. Usually, the social service writes a referral. We are also provided with a passport, a code and a document confirming the status. This can be a police summons, an abuser's administrative record for domestic violence, any rehabilitation programmes. Anything that confirms the victim's status as a victim of domestic violence.

Domestic violence. Where to look for protection and support in war

The lawyers or solicitors then draw up a procedural document. If the person voluntarily refuses, says that only help with the paperwork is needed, this is handled by the lawyer, who then does not take part in the court proceedings. But if the victim is afraid to go to court in person, we can appoint a lawyer who will either join her or defend the client's rights themselves. We provide victims of domestic violence with counselling and assistance in various matters, whether it is a restraining order or help with divorce. The main thing is that they confirm the category. In fact, there are not many applications, last year and at the beginning of this year, there were about 20 at the most. People are scared, so yes.

  • Mobile teams of social and psychological help in Obukhov and district: 0660332039, 0960332039

Where can people from other regions go to break the cycle of violence?

Similar support centres operate throughout Ukraine, except in the temporarily occupied territories. The first place to go for help is through the main phone lines.

  • Police 102

  • National Domestic Violence, Human Trafficking and Gender Discrimination Hotline, at 116 123 or 0 800 500 335

  • Government hotline for the prevention of domestic violence 1547

Online, you can contact the Women's Marching Line, which will provide crisis support and psychological help when a woman is in danger.

Also a service that can provide further support to women is SafeWomenHUB, which can be found on Instagram or Telegram.

The platforms or UA Mental Help are available for anyone who needs psychological support.

Separately, teenagers and their parents can turn to the Poruch project.

In general, free support options for Ukrainians are now numerous and can easily be found online. However, it is important that the physical threat is removed first.

Support us on Patreon
Like our content? Become our patron
Iryna Yukhymchuk

Iryna Yukhymchuk specialises in events in the capital region. As a civic activist with extensive experience, she is an expert on social welfare education for vulnerable groups.