Geopolitics

Raped, abused, exploited: Ukrainian women seeking refuge in Israel find no haven

A harrowing examination reveals much abuse sliding under the authorities’ radar — or being willfully ignored — while the perpetrators remain free to commit further crimes

Svetlana fled the war in Ukraine in March, crammed into the back of a truck with her 6-year-old child and other refugees under bombardment by Russian forces. Invited to Israel by a close family friend, she hoped to recover and begin a new life in the Holy Land.

A few months after arriving, she said, she was raped by the man who wrote the letter of invitation that had gotten her out of the war zone.

“She was sleeping and he woke her up and roughly dragged her into his room,” says Olga Udovichenko, whom Svetlana later approached for help at the Volunteer Help Center for Refugees from Ukraine in Haifa. “She suffered deeply from both the war and the rape — but here she could barely get any assistance from the authorities. Instead of help she encountered a maze of bureaucracy and lost any motivation she had to hold the man to account and seek justice.”

The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 is estimated to have killed more than 40,000 civilians and displaced up to 30 million more. As the war surpasses 300 days, 17.7 million Ukrainians around the world need humanitarian help and protection, according to the United Nations.

Svetlana is one of over 47,000 Ukrainians — the vast majority of them women — who traveled to Israel since the start of the invasion but who are not eligible for citizenship under Israel’s Law of Return, according to Israel’s Welfare Ministry. Of these, only approximately 15,000 currently remain in Israel, with the rest having chosen to leave. Not a single Ukrainian fleeing the war has been accorded refugee status by Israel.

A Times of Israel investigation has documented cases of rape, sexual harassment, workplace exploitation and other abuses faced in Israel by these women, many of whom have had their homes destroyed and lost their livelihoods. At least one of the women’s lives ended in death by suicide.

Many of these abuses remain at best under the radar of the authorities or at worst willfully ignored, leaving the victims in a cycle of violence and poverty that only deepens the trauma they have endured to date. The perpetrators remain free to commit further crimes.

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Categories: Geopolitics, Men and Women

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