Efforts are underway to get emergency contraception into Ukrainian hospitals as quickly as possible, with reports of rapes continuing to grow after the Russian invasion.
The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) sent around 2,880 packages of the medication, also known as the morning-after pill. UkraineA network of volunteers across Europe collects donations of medicines from abroad and delivers them to hospitals.
“The time frame for treating victims of sexual violence is really essential,” said Julie Taft, of the International Planned Parenthood Federation. “If a woman is seen within five days of the event, this medication should be administered to her automatically.”
Taft said IPPF is also sending out the prescription abortion pill, which can be used up to 24 weeks into the pregnancy.
While emergency contraception was widely available in Ukraine, the war destroyed local supply chains, displaced patients and health care providers, and increased the rate of sexual assaults.
There is a demand for emergency contraception, but it rarely comes from hospitals in the West. “They are mostly hospitals located in the east, in Kharkiv, Mariupol, those areas,” said Joel Mitchell of Barakro, a humanitarian aid organization that provides food and medical equipment to Ukraine. “Once we contacted the hospitals in those areas, we had standing orders to get this drug.”
It is not clear how many victims of sexual assault received the drug, but a volunteer with Barakro told the Guardian he had delivered emergency contraception directly to a hospital in a town north of Kyiv, where hospital staff told him. A number of rape victims were treated.
Ukraine’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Ludmila Denisova, said in early April that there were nine official cases of pregnant women having been raped by Russian soldiers. Reports of rape victims raise concerns about areas in the east still under Russian occupation.
Jimmy Nadal of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said that in a crisis situation, reported cases of violence, including rape, are likely to be “just the tip of the iceberg”.
The United Nations previously included emergency contraception in “post-rape kits” for hundreds of women and girls in armed conflicts around the world, including the Bosnian war. In addition to emergency contraception, survivors were given drugs that prevent sexually transmitted diseases such as hepatitis B and HIV. Distribution of medicine to rape survivors in post-conflict areas remains a United Nations policy. The United Nations has so far dispatched 40 metric tons (40,000 kg) of reproductive health supplies to Ukraine and 33 clinical rape treatment (CMR) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) kits to 19 hospitals in 10 regions of Ukraine.
Denisova said her office has officially documented cases of 25 women who were held in a basement and systematically raped in Bucha, a town now north of Kyiv that is now synonymous with Russian war crimes, but the true number of victims may be much higher.
A volunteer who evacuated residents from towns north of Kyiv at the beginning of April told the Guardian: “What usually happens is that rape survivors initially want to tell their story, but then they leave, and not so long after months have passed. That. Come back to talk.” She said she encountered three women in the area who came out of homes and basements naked. One of them, who was immediately taken away by an ambulance, was badly beaten and his bones broken.
Watchman I mentioned this week Post-mortem examinations of corpses in mass graves north of Kyiv have revealed evidence that some women were raped before being killed by Russian forces.
“There are so many psychological, emotional, and physical issues that a survivor deals with, and the anxiety about the possibility of pregnancy is really huge for many women,” Taft said. “It can lead to stress and PTSD, so being able to prevent it in the first place is key.”
However, the grain supply inside Ukraine was severely affected by the invasion, and volunteers who spoke to the Guardian described several logistical problems that have delayed attempts to obtain much-needed medicines in the country.
“Many of the pharmaceuticals were previously produced in Ukraine, but a lot of that manufacturing has been halted or stopped in the big cities because transportation is not safe,” Taft said. In addition, the current capacity of health service providers and goods [is insecure]Especially because we are seeing a lot of destruction in health facilities.”
Alexandra Widder Soica, a Polish activist based in Oslo who worked with Barakro, coordinated the collection of 500 pills from Norway but came under scrutiny by the Norwegian Directorate of Health, which did not condone the unofficial donation of the drug. A large chain of pharmacies in Norway also refused to deliver the drug to her for this the reason. She had to withhold more donations while trying to reach an agreement with the Norwegian authorities to allow her to continue working.
Taft said strict drug controls in some countries along the Ukrainian borders, such as Romania, Hungary and Poland, have made buying the pills more expensive, difficult and time-consuming. “In those countries you can’t buy emergency medicine in bulk, so we had to get it from providers in Denmark and the Netherlands,” she said.
“In the early days of the war, international organizations reached out to offer emergency contraception, but we had to advise them to send it directly to Ukraine via the Czech Republic, where we could not be seen dealing with Controlled Substances.