Hundreds of Ukrainian women held in Russian captivity in alleged Geneva violation

According to data released by Ukraine’s Coordinating Headquarters for the Treatment of POWs, at least 403 Ukrainian women are currently being held captive by Russian forces.

Kyiv has accused Moscow of unlawfully detaining hundreds of Ukrainian women, many of them civilians, in a flagrant violation of international laws governing the treatment of prisoners of war.

According to data released by Ukraine’s Coordinating Headquarters for the Treatment of POWs, at least 403 Ukrainian women are currently being held captive by Russian forces. The Headquarters alleges the conditions of their detention grossly breach the Third Geneva Convention’s protections for POWs.

The Headquarters said Ukraine has repeatedly proposed Russia prioritize releasing captive women through prisoner exchanges, as international humanitarian law requires for female detainees as well as seriously wounded or ill prisoners. But it accused Moscow of obstructing those efforts through “manipulation” tactics like publishing dubious detainee lists.

The allegations echo long-standing accusations from Kyiv and international human rights monitors of systematic abuse, torture and extrajudicial killings of Ukrainian POWs by Russian forces during the 15-month war. Both sides have traded charges of Geneva Convention violations, though the scale has appeared more severe from Russian captors.

In March 2024, Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets said nearly 40% of freed Ukrainian detainees were considered missing upon their return from Russia, suggesting many had been held at undisclosed locations. The Coordinating Headquarters also said Russia continues to deny access to detention sites by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Human rights groups like Amnesty International and the U.N. have corroborated evidence of torture and summary executions of Ukrainian POWs by Russian troops and proxies. Reports have surfaced of extreme deprivation, beatings, electric shocks and other violations at facilities like the notorious Isolation prison in Russian-occupied Donetsk.

Moscow has claimed Ukraine is also failing to adequately care for captured Russian soldiers in compliance with international laws. But it has released scant evidence compared to the voluminous documentation of Ukrainian POW abuse.

In May 2024, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he was considering an “all-for-all” prisoner swap with Russia before the war’s end in a bid to bring the remaining detainees home. He stressed the urgency of securing the release of civilians and women held captive by Moscow’s forces.

For now, it remains unclear if or when such an exchange could materialize as fighting rages on with no end in sight. But as allegations mount of Russia violating the laws of armed conflict, the plight of the women allegedly languishing in its prisons has taken on added urgency and indignation for Ukrainian officials.