On March 27, the Slidstvo.Info team will present a documentary about sexual violence against Ukrainian men committed by Russian army soldiers in Kherson torture chambers. The journalists talked to Anton Drobovych, head of the Institute of National Remembrance, to learn more about the systematic nature of this type of violence used by Russians against men. And also why it is important to record cases of sexual violence against men during the Russo-Ukrainian war.

Why do Russian soldiers commit sexual violence against Ukrainian civilian men?

First, because they can, and no one controls it. Secondly, they use it as a tactic of warfare, to break down Ukrainian resistance, and to humiliate those who dare to resist them. Thirdly, it indicates deep psychological, social, economic, and other problems in the Russian nation itself.

Russians are likely using sexual crimes, like other war crimes, as a tool of war. In fact, in order to psychologically break down resistance, terrorize people, humiliate them, and so on. In fact, it is a part of military tactics. This is strictly prohibited during wars. But such cases have already occurred, and the Russians have been caught doing this more than once.

As far as I remember, according to Ukrainian law enforcement, as of March 24, more than 270 cases have been opened.

Are we talking about sexual violence against both men and women?

Yes, it is men and women. When we talk about sexual crimes as an element of war, gender division is not so fundamental. It indicates the general intention, the general use of this instrument of humiliation, destruction, and terror. These figures are important because they indicate systemic violence, not isolated cases.

What is the goal of the Russian military? What is their motivation for doing this to Ukrainian men?

They use old Gulag practices of breaking a person, destroying the individual. When you destroy a person using these prison methods, essentially, it is as if they are no longer a person who should have the dignity to resist further.

When sexual violence is committed against a man, in the sick imagination of the one who does this, he manifests his dominance. In fact, it is a very animalistic story.

Is there any systematic pattern in the perpetration of this type of violence by Russians against men?

Researchers who analyze and study these stories of sexual violence during military conflicts note that the number of known cases of violence is much lower than the number of actual violence. People are ashamed to admit it because this tactic of increasing terror, breaking people, and humiliation works in such a way that a person does not want to admit it. They are afraid that they will be judged, and of what people will think of them. And they don’t want to talk about it to law enforcement or family members.

If we look at the number of investigated crimes, we see hundreds of them, along with the already known and documented cases. This indicates a systematic approach. The fact that sexualized violence is used in these torture chambers in a tendentious manner suggests that it is not only a system, but part of a well-thought-out tactic.

If we look at Russian publications about what is happening in their prisons, what is happening in their army, where soldiers rape each other with various objects, and so on; if sexualized violence has become the norm in Russian society’s systems towards themselves, then obviously it indicates that they have a boiling cauldron over there. Clearly, when they get their hands on other [nations], and their authorities say that here you can do whatever you want, then, of course, it becomes simply a mass phenomenon.

Do you share the opinion that this stemmed from their so-called prison culture? What is this prison culture anyway?

Here, you know, we need to talk about a broader culture. Generally speaking, Russia is a big prison today. And the general Russian culture with these “The Boy’s Word” and “Brigades” (Russian crime series — ed.) is very criminalized. Researchers of the quality of Russia’s political class say that Russians themselves have legitimized all the patterns of law enforcement and criminal culture at the highest level. And it turns out that these patterns are approved by the top political leadership.

Obviously, in a broad cultural sense, Russia is a big prison. And, obviously, if the practices of sexualized violence are used in prison to break a person, humiliate them, or build a system of subordination, then Russians transfer them to war. So, yes, prison practices are used and, in particular, encouraged because Russia is a big prison.

Why is it important to record cases of sexualized violence against men?

The world needs to know how barbaric this war is. That is, there are many reasons to consider this war genocidal, aimed at destroying the community as such. There is a whole set of methods and means used by the Russians. Documentation and coverage of such crimes are important to show the face of the Russians. These facts begin to put pressure on the world with their reality and expressiveness. And accordingly, they become the subject of consideration by the tribunal.

All these Pushkins, Chekhovs, Dostoyevskys are, of course, one story. But electric shocks through the genitals, rape, camps – this is the real Russia. And the world needs to know who they are dealing with.

It is very important that such cases are investigated, brought to a conclusion, and become part of justice, including being cemented in international treaties. Because without this, this is another military conflict, another war that will end with thousands of people going unpunished.

Why is it important that people in Ukraine and the world know about this?

This is part of the important satisfaction of restoring justice and restoring people’s dignity. That is, he or she must know that the person who committed such a terrible crime will forever be known as such. If we are talking about transitional justice mechanisms, this is the right to the truth.

Every Russian who came to Ukraine, killed, raped, or maimed [people], must be branded for having done so. Forever. For the very simple reason that people have the right to know what kind of monsters they live next to.

Do you think that sexual violence against men is still a taboo topic in our society that people don’t want to talk about?

In my opinion, Ukraine has made great progress in this issue. Ukrainian society knows how to talk about complex topics related to sexualized violence.

What we saw in Bucha, Irpin, and Kherson Oblast caused many people to be outraged and to multiply the forces of resistance. They (Russians – ed.) are torturing, and we have to protect the victims. And this caused a rise in strength and a desire to fight for justice. This indignation and the desire to protect a part of one’s community as one’s own, I think, contributes to the fact that it will be easier to talk about this in Ukraine. And this false shame will fade into the background.

This is one of those beacons that says that Ukrainian society is sensitive to such topics, can accept them, and is ready to help victims of violence. Justice and a sense of dignity overcome pretended, artificial, or some kind of conservative silence.

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