Ukrainian woman who was raped has nightmares of soldier coming back for her

Rachel Younger's report and this article contain details viewers may find upsetting

To the west of Kyiv, there is a tiny village with gardens of homegrown vegetables and a stork nesting on top of an electricity pole.

Lit by spring sunshine, it would be idyllic, if it weren’t for the houses wrecked by Russian shelling.

Along with the burnt out tanks on the road into the village, they are the scars of occupation left by Vladimir Putin’s men.  

For three terrifying weeks, they stayed here. But almost two months on, some of the terrible damage they did to this place is harder to spot. 

Sitting by her back door, with newborn chicks pecking around her feet, is a woman who looks older than her 42 years. Lana, not her real name, is rolling a cigarette.  

Her hands shake as she pinches the tobacco and her nails are bitten down to the quick. A mother-of-two, Lana didn’t smoke until February. Her long hair is also gone.

The scars on the landscape are clear to see.

In the week since I last met her, she has cropped it close to her head.  

Despite the sedatives she takes daily now, there is a tremble in her voice as she offers us coffee, but her gaze is steady and she’s determined to say what we have come here to record. 

It isn’t easy listening. Lana describes how the Russian soldiers were as young as her sons. One evening, their commander came to her door unexpectedly. 

"You see my men have been drinking," he told her. "Now they want to have some fun." She tells me there were three soldiers.

One of them, still a teenager, dragged her to the home of her 41-year-old neighbour. When her neighbour’s husband tried to intervene, they shot him dead in the back of the head. 

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Lana describes how she and her friend were taken over the road to a house where some of the soldiers were living.

It is a crime scene now and normally she can’t bear to walk past it, but she takes us there because she wants us to see where it happened.

"I was raped on the ground floor," she says, pointing to a window. "My neighbour was raped by a soldier upstairs.

"He made me do things I feel ashamed of even talking about. I don’t want to talk about the things he made me do."

Lana tells me her neighbour escaped to Austria with her son, but she is determined to stay in the home where she raised her two boys, despite the constant reminders.

"Mentally they have destroyed me," she tells me. "I take sedatives, but I wake my husband up screaming. I have nightmares the soldier is coming back to look for me." 

Lana (left) hopes her story will help others come forward to bring Russian soldiers to justice.

It is rare to meet a woman like Lana. Shame and trauma mean some rape survivors choose never to disclose what happened to them.

For many others, the process of unlocking such an unthinkable ordeal can take years, but Lana tells me she decided to speak out because she wants other Ukrainian women to report what Russian soldiers did to them.

Her case is now in the hands of prosecutors in Kyiv and Lana says she doesn’t know if the soldiers are alive or dead.

Russia continues to deny its servicemen are guilty of any sexual violence, but she believes they used it as destructively as any other weapon of war. Rape may be older and cheaper than tanks or artillery, but its just as effective at creating terror and destroying lives.  

Lana is determined that this time that terrible damage won’t be pushed into the shadows and that justice will, eventually, be done. 

If you, or someone you know has been impacted by any of the details in this article. There are places you can turn to for help: