Kateryna, a 31-year-old social worker at UNHCR’s partner NGO Rokada, coordinates the gender-based violence (GBV) programmes in ten oblasts of Ukraine and oversees the work of 20 specialist staff.
“We see that because of the war, there is an increase in gender-based violence. Apart from sexual violence linked to the war, the war has also triggered a shift in the psychological state of people as they face hardship from staying in places heavily affected by the hostilities or they experience displacement and have resorted to relieving stress through negative coping mechanisms like alcohol abuse,” explains Kateryna.
GBV can take many forms including sexual, physical, mental and economic harm inflicted in public or in private. It can include threats of violence, coercion and manipulation, intimate partner violence and sexual violence. It disproportionately affects women and girls, and in situations of displacement, their risk of exposure to GBV increases.
“When people are forced to flee their homes, they can lose their network of friends and family and their livelihoods, finding themselves in new towns or cities. This can compound their vulnerability,” continues Kateryna.
The subject of gender-based violence, including domestic violence is often a taboo in Ukrainian society according to Kateryna. In small towns and villages, people are ashamed to talk about their abuse. “Victims are often blaming themselves for what has happened, and it just worsens their condition.”
UNHCR and its partners have intensified efforts to meet critical service gaps through a variety of means, such as multi-functional mobile teams, which go to hard-to-reach or insecure locations, where access to social and protection services have been disrupted.
“One mobile response team is usually made-up of a few specialists – social workers, lawyers and psychologists, who provide specialist support to the local population. Such groups are in the field every day, meeting with communities,” explains Kateryna. Apart from individual consultations and counseling, the experts conduct group discussions and training on different subjects including gender-based violence prevention and response, and where to access available services.
“People in the community can be the first to identify GBV, they see the signs of it amongst their group of friends or acquaintances. It is therefore important that they too can share critical information with survivors so that they can receive the support they need” adds Kateryna.
UNHCR’s partner Rokada uses mobile teams to provide psychosocial and legal support to men, women, boys and girls, including GBV survivors, in 10 regions across Ukraine including Kyiv, Zhytomyr, Chernihiv, Khmelnytskyi, Ternopil, Rivne, Volyn, Lviv, Chernivtsi, Ivano-Frankivsk.
Karen Whiting, UNHCR Assistant Representative for Protection believes that the mobile response teams enable GBV specialists to reach communities in hard-to-reach areas, which may not otherwise receive the specialized services that survivors need. “UNHCR is a part of a larger network of organizations that collaborate in the area of preventing and responding to GBV, working in close cooperation with the state institutions in Ukraine. Through localization of our protection services, we are engaging local specialists across Ukraine who know their communities and the situation on the ground. They are therefore best placed to respond to the needs of survivors. We also recognize that women and girls with disabilities are up to ten times more likely to experience gender-based violence than women and girls without disabilities, and therefore we must reach under-represented women and girls in our work.”
Ten UNHCR partners are engaged in preventing, mitigating and responding to GBV, includuing Rokada, Neemia, Neeka, Insight, Proliska, Intersos, Triangle Generation Humanitaire, Right to Protection, Crimea SOS and Stabilization Support Services. In 2022 alone, they have provided over 87,000 individuals with a combination of psychosocial support, targeted GBV assistance, and training and awareness raising on protection from GBV and Psychological First Aid.
UNHCR is grateful for the support of donors, including EU Humanitarian Aid which makes the work of GBV specialists possible.
Kateryna believes that this work must continue: “The war worsens the psychological condition of people and as we have learned from the GBV survivors who were assisted in recent months, old traumas tend to re-open when triggered by the stress caused by the war. These people suffer tremendously, often blaming themselves. Some are even children. We must bring relief to these people and ensure that they receive the help that they so urgently need.”