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‘I wanted to take off my skin’: Ukrainian women recount rape by Russian soldiers

(LONDON) — The three Russian soldiers arrived at Victoria’s house claiming they needed to seize her cell phone. But they weren’t looking for phones.

Victoria, a 42-year-old Ukrainian woman, told ABC News she and another woman, a neighbor, were raped by two of the Russian soldiers occupying her village near Kyiv in March.

ABC News spoke to the two women who agreed to talk about what they say happened to them, on condition that their location and last names not be revealed.

Another soldier, a commanding officer who was not involved in the assault, threatened Victoria, she says.

“He looked at me and said, ‘You see, our boys have had a drink and want to have fun,"” Victoria recounts. “I understood that something terrible would happen.”

Two of the soldiers took the women to a house converted into headquarters for the Russian occupiers and raped them, they say.

That neighbor, 44-year-old Natalya, recounted the events to ABC News.

“He says, ‘do you want everything to be fine with your son? So get upstairs and do as I tell you,"” Natalya recalled, describing her encounter with one of the Russian soldiers she says raped her. “He was like an animal…And that rifle was hanging around and swinging.”

Natalya says she later learned the soldiers killed her husband after she was taken away. Its unclear how many soldiers or which ones were involved in the killing. The family buried her husband the next day.

The two Russian soldiers the women say raped them have not yet been identified but face international arrest warrants, according to Kateryna Duchenko, the Ukrainian prosecutor in charge of sexual violence cases committed by Russian soldiers. Both cases are being investigated with slim chances of the suspects being taken under custody or doing any prison time, she said.

Stories of rape and other atrocities at the hands of Russian troops are not unheard of in small towns and suburbs of Kyiv. Residents of Bucha and Borodyanka have reported human rights violations including rape, murder and torture by Russian forces during the invasion.

Russian authorities have not responded to ABC News’ requests for comment on the cases.

“The last case [we identified] was in occupied territory of Zaporizhzhia region, where allegedly 10 Russian soldiers raped a woman,” Duchenko said.

Communication with residents inside Russian-occupied territories is extremely difficult, making the investigation and prosecution of these cases nearly impossible, Duchenko said.

“We know she is alive and that she had medical treatment and those details are all we’ve got,” Duchenko said on the limited information in the case in Zaporizhzhia.

The United Nations reported in June it had collected 124 reports of alleged acts of conflict-related sexual violence but qualified that number as “the tip of the iceberg” and added that it did “not reflect the scale of sexual violence in the context of Russia’s war against Ukraine.”

Victoria and Natalya say they are now undergoing counseling with a psychologist about their trauma.

“I wanted to take off my skin and throw it away,” Victoria says. “The person I was before the war is no longer there. I became more aggressive. I began to fight more for my own.”

Natalya says she is still coming to terms with the assault.

“Many people have asked me, why aren’t you crying, why haven’t you gone crazy?” she said.

In June, Ukrainian authorities said they opened the first trial on sexual violence committed by a Russian soldier, according to the Kyiv Post. The suspect will be tried in absentia.

Duchenko’s office says it is working on prosecuting two other cases of sexual violence committed by Russian soldiers in addition to the case opened in June. The suspects will also be tried in absentia, since they are not in Ukrainian custody.

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