Ukrainian Woman Allegedly Raped by Russian Troop Who Said She 'Reminded Him' of Female Classmate

“I’m lucky to be alive,” the woman said after an incident she described in a village school where about 40 residents were sheltering in eastern Ukraine

A view of damaged sites aftermath of the battle for Malaya Rohan in Kharkiv, Ukraine on April 01, 2022.
Photo: Wolfgang Schwan/Anadolu Agency via Getty

When invading troops arrived in Malaya Rohan, a village in eastern Ukraine, the day after Russia launched a war against its neighbor, 31-year-old Olha and her family were among about 40 residents who took shelter in the basement of a school.

Two weeks later, a Russian soldier forced his way in, she says. "He broke glass windows at the entrance to the school and banged on the door," Olha, whose real name is not used to protect her identity, told Human Rights Watch, which is documenting alleged war crimes in Ukraine.

According to Olha, a guard opened the door in the basement for the soldier, who held an assault-style rifle and a pistol and told the group of mostly women and girls to line up.

Olha's 24-year-old brother was also there and was told to follow the soldier to help him find food. About two hours later, they returned, she said.

"People started asking if they could go to the bathroom and he let them, in groups of two and three," said Olha, whose 5-year-old daughter, mother and 13-year-old sisters were all with her.

That night, the soldier took Olha upstairs and into a classroom where he allegedly raped her.

"The whole time he held the gun near my temple or put it into my face," Olha said. "Twice he shot at the ceiling and said it was to give me more 'motivation.'"

A view of damaged sites aftermath of the battle for Malaya Rohan in Kharkiv, Ukraine on April 01, 2022.
Wolfgang Schwan/Anadolu Agency via Getty

After the attack, Olha asked the soldier if she could get dressed in the frigid classroom. He told her she could put on her top but not her pants or underwear, she said.

"While I was putting on my clothes, the soldier told me that he was Russian, that his name was [withheld] and that he was 20," Olha said. "He said that I reminded him of a girl he went to school with."

Her captor told Olha to return to the basement to get her things so she could spend the night with him in the classroom, but she refused, she said: "I knew my daughter would cry if she saw me.

The man allegedly pulled out a knife and threatened her before raping her again, cutting her neck and cheek, slapping her repeatedly and beating her with a book.

Rape is considered a war crime.

Human Rights Watch reports that dated photographs of Olha's injuries are consistent with her account of what happened in the Malaya Rohan classroom.

The morning after the assault she described, the soldier ordered Olha to find him cigarettes, she said. They returned to the basement and she asked the guard to give some cigarettes to the man, who took them and left.

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The next day, Olha and her family left the school and walked to Kharkiv, a large city in Ukraine, where she received medical attention for her injuries before moving into a bomb shelter.

"I'm lucky to be alive," she said.

Sima Bahous, the executive director for United Nations Women, told the United Nations Security Council earlier this month that stories like Olha's are not uncommon.

"We are increasingly hearing of rape and sexual violence," Bahous said. "The combination of mass displacement with the large presence of conscripts and mercenaries, and the brutality displayed against Ukrainian civilians, has raised all red flags."

In the same hearing on April 11, a Russian official denied allegations of its soldiers engaging in sexual violence against women and children in Ukraine.

A view of damaged sites aftermath of the battle for Malaya Rohan in Kharkiv, Ukraine on April 01, 2022.
Wolfgang Schwan/Anadolu Agency via Getty

"No convincing evidence has been presented for any of these crimes, but it's understandable that you have trampled the presumption of innocence a long time ago," Deputy U.N. Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy told the council at the time.

The Kremlin has similarly played down mounting reports their military has targeted civilians — some accounts, Russia claimed, were faked.

In a phone call reportedly intercepted by the Security Service of Ukraine, the wife of a Russian soldier is heard apparently giving her husband permission to commit an act of sexual violence, suggesting that some Russian troops may allegedly be planning to rape women they encounter during the invasion.

"You go there, rape Ukrainian women and don't tell me anything. Understood?" the woman reportedly told her husband in the intercepted audio. "Yes, I allow it. Just wear protection," the woman said later in the call, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), a U.S.-funded outlet which identified the couple on the phone.

(The man in that audio has not been accused of raping anyone and no charges have been filed against him or his wife, according to the RFE/RL report, which also noted that the couple, who are heard laughing on the call, could be joking.)

Ukraine's U.N. Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya has said officials in his country were creating a "special mechanism" to document cases of sexual violence by Russian soldiers.

Russia's attack on Ukraine continues after their forces launched their large-scale invasion on Feb. 24 — the first major land conflict in Europe in decades.

Details of the devastation change by the day, but thousands of civilians have already been reported dead or wounded, including children. More than 5 million Ukrainians have also fled the country with millions more displaced inside its borders.

The invasion, ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, has drawn condemnation around the world and increasingly severe economic sanctions against Russia.

With NATO forces massing in the region around Ukraine, various countries have provided aid or military support to the resistance. Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called for peace talks — so far unsuccessful — while urging his country to fight back.

Putin insists Ukraine has historic ties to Russia and that he is acting in the best security interests of his country. Zelenskyy has vowed not to bend.

"Nobody is going to break us, we're strong, we're Ukrainians," he told the European Union in a speech in the early days of the fighting. "Life will win over death. And light will win over darkness."

The Russian attack on Ukraine is an evolving story, with information changing quickly. Follow PEOPLE's complete coverage of the war here, including stories from citizens on the ground and ways to help.

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