Day after day, town after town, a policeman and a prosecutor go door to door in Ukraine’s Kherson region.
Walking through muddy streets, past homes damaged by artillery strikes, they search for those left behind. The two men form a specialist unit that traveled from the capital, Kyiv.
A mother and her daughter walk out into their yard. “We are looking for sex crimes,” prosecutor Oleksandr Kleshchenko said.
Until the beginning of October, this region of the country was occupied by Russian troops. Burnt cars litter the fields. The letter ‘Z’ – a symbol used by Russian forces – marks the walls.
The scars of war run deep here. Russia used sexual violence as a “weapon of war” – a deliberate “military strategy” – in its conquest of Ukraine, United Nations investigators have said. They even relayed allegations of Russian soldiers wearing Viagra.
Russian authorities have denied accusations of war crimes in Ukraine.
In two weeks of work in the Kherson region, the Kyiv team documented six allegations of sexual assault. The real number is almost certainly much higher, they say.
Tatiana, 56, said to be one of the victims. CNN is withholding his last name and that of his village to protect his identity.
Stepping on broken glass, she ushers us into her brother’s house, where she says two Russian soldiers broke into her door on August 26.
“They walked around these rooms,” she said. “One stayed there, and the other, who raped me, came here. He came in, walked around the room a bit, and here, at this spot, he started groping me.
“I said, ‘No, no, I’m not old enough to give you anything, look for younger girls.'”
He slammed her against the wardrobe, she said, and tore her clothes. “I was crying, begging him to stop, but to no avail,” she says. “The only thought I had was to stay alive.”
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