EU project opens first shelter for women in Kyiv region

Even if a woman wants to leave her husband who beats her, she often has no place to go. There are few shelters, and the state-owned ones have serious restrictions. Our story is about one of such shelters in Kyiv Oblast – it welcomes everyone who needs protection, rest, rehabilitation.

– I suffered four types of violence, Ania says.

She lists: physical, psychological, sexual, economic.

The women has learned to distinguish between forms of violence already in the shelter, where she is hiding from her former husband.

She tells frankly what is the essence of each of them, her voice breaks from time to time: beating, raping, taking away money, beating Ania’s mother, kidnapping her daughter.

– I found my baby in April on the threshold of the church – Ania’s voice begins to tremble.

Her daughter is two years old, Ania is 24.

Ania’s husband holds a respectable post in Kharkiv Oblast. He is well connected. He is much older than her.

– He says about me that I’m mentally ill and people believe him”, Ania says.

She also tells that her husband grabbed her baby and kissed her “with tongue,” and she could not do anything. Anya tells about what’s terrible to pronounce.

Actually, after that kidnapping of the child in April, she decided to escape.

Police advised her “to find some drugster to drown her husband”.

– I tell them: it is you who deals with drugsters, so find someone. And they say: “We can’t, we wear shoulder marks”. And I have a child! Why do you advise me to do such a thing?!

Police responded as follows: “You know, then it’s easier for us to do as he says, to avoid unnecessary headache…”

At first, Ania was hiding in a shelter for victims of domestic violence in Kharkiv Oblast, but her husband found her there, and then she was secretly transported to another one, near Kyiv.

The woman has no other place go to, and she does not know what will be next.

– Ania is traumatized, but not sick, – Natalia Reshetova, director of shelter for women, explains.

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Natalia Reshetova, director of shelter for women

She tells that they managed to initiate proceedings through ombudsman’s office concerning Ania’s story, that they have two more cases: one woman’s husband is a well-known “philanthropist”, Natalia calls him so, hinting that he is a very famous person, and the other woman’s husband is a lawyer.

– Influential men do not only beat, they also write statements that these are beaten women who are abusers, they find witnesses. It’s easy for an influential person in a small city, – Natalia says.

That is why the shelter for women who have suffered from domestic violence is classified. The address is not called.

– One day, near our gate, a red car pulled up sharply, so the children fell to the floor, because they were afraid that their father had found them – he had a red car, – Natalia recalls.

 

We thought it is for IDPs, but it turned out that it is for everyone

The shelter we are writing about was founded by Convictus Charitable Organization in 2017 – until that time, there was no center for women who suffered from violence in Kyiv Oblast. They simply had no place to go.

– From the beginning, we imagined this project somewhat differently, –Yuliia Tsarevska, Convictus manager, explains.

The project was entitled “Mobilization of Internally Displaced Women Against Domestic and Gender-Based Violence”. It was a large-scale three-year project with financial support from the European Union, and the shelter is only one of its parts.

Everything started in February 2016, and the first six months we conducted a study, during which we interviewed more than one thousand internally displaced women.

The second stage was training of women.

– We have launched 7 subgrant initiatives in the regions to counter gender-based violence,” Yuliia explains.

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Yuliia Tsarevska, Convictus manager

According to her, they were faced with the fact that women who escaped from the war had very high tolerance for violence.

Those who survived the shelling, were in the epicenter of hostilities, violence on the part of their husbands was on the background, it was not identified with violence at all, –Yuliia says.

The project promoted social initiatives to help victims of gender-based violence at the regional level.

Partners from various public councils under local authorities helped us with this.

The shelter has become something like a logical result of the study, training and advocacy.

The first client was welcomed in April 2017.

– When we opened, we saw that internally displaced women, ATO soldiers’ wives and their mothers turn to us, but this is about 30% of all resorts. The rest are ordinary women. We could not refuse them, – Yuliia says.

As a rule, women learned about the shelter when they called to the hotline of “La Strada” or turned to social services.

Already one month after the opening of the shelter, Convictus wrote a letter to donors about that it sees the need to expand the boundaries of the target audience.

So the shelter for internally displaced women who suffered from domestic violence has turned into a shelter for all women from all over the country who have found the strength in themselves to leave their house, where they are beaten and treated cruelly.

And also for female refugees, migrants and stateless persons – all who have suffered from violence.

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Infographics on statistics of domestic violence from TSN.ua

 

A shelter without restrictions

When Convictus analyzed the charters of state institutions that receive women who suffered from violence we realized that, as Yuliia joked, even their office staff “will not pass this casting”.

For example, most of the centers existing in Ukraine regulate woman’s age: some of them set up to 36, the other – up to 55.

At the beginning, we also set the age limit of up to 55 years. And on the very first day the fate taught us a lesson: the first woman who turned to us was … 66-year-old raped woman, – Yuliia says.

The second flagrant rule that exists, for example, in mother and child centers, is the age of a child.

Mother and child centers also receive victims of gender-based violence, but with children only up to three years old. And if the mother has two children – one three-year-old, and the older one – four-year-old, for example, then the older child will not be admitted, – Yuliia explains.

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In the shelter for women. Photo of the text author

In addition, the reason for refusal to provide shelter can be a state of alcohol or drug intoxication.

That’s also a critical indicator: most of the terrible cases of violence occur in the state of alcohol or drug intoxication. Where to drive this woman out?

There are cases where women are made drunk or drugged. These are not isolated cases, especially when it comes to victims of trafficking in human beings. The state believes that we do not have the right to receive such women.

“But where should they go?”, –Natalia Reshetova asks me, explaining that not giving a shelter to a woman who has suffered violence but is drunk means with great probability to condemn her to further violence.

In state centers there are also restrictions on what region the woman is from, whether she has some documents.

And new standard regulation of the Ministry of Social Policy on shelters does not even give a woman the right to go there by herself: there must be a referral from one of the services – for example, from the social service, – Yuliia tells me.

The problem, however, is that the social service never works when most cases of violence are committed: evening and night time, holidays and weekends.

Yuliia believes that the fact they managed not only to open the shelter, but also to change the regulations on the work of shelters in the regions, is one of the project’s achievements.

– Unfortunately, we cannot change the standard regulation of the Ministry of Social Policy, but we can work at the local level, – she says, reminding of advocacy, which was also part of the EU project: last year they changed five such regulations.

 

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In the shelter for women. Photo of the text author

 

When the grant has ended

For the past year and a half, 116 women and children have found a retreat in the shelter.

The grant has ended, but the shelter is not closed. It moves: it was taken onto the books by Vasylkiv Raion. This happened on 8 November 2018, and now the new building is undergoing renovation. Vasylkiv Raion Council has allocated UAH 400,000 for this purpose.

Absolutely all the equipment that remained from the EU project, we handed over to this shelter, – Yuliia says.

Natalia Reshetova remains the director of the municipal institution now.

Thanks to Nataliia Balasynovych, Chairperson of Vasylkiv Raion Council, the shelter can continue its operation.

Every Wednesday she holds deputy reception.

– The women and women’s mothers often come to me with complaints that their husbands drink, beat them, drive out of the house, asking what to do, where to turn… And what can I say if there are no shelter in Kyiv Oblast for such women, because no one ever wanted to busy oneself with this? – Balasynovych says.

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Nataliia Balasynovych, Chairperson of Vasylkiv Raion Council

Earlier, she says, such women were taken to a hospital – to wait out. There were times when she called around village heads, looking for some empty house.

– For some reason it is believed that these are family problems. But we opened the eyes of our community to the scale of this phenomenon: it’s no longer personal, it’s social, – Nataliia convinced.

She says that at the session they voted unanimously  for the shelter: before that she has held about ten meetings with the RSA, deputies, the police, social services.

After that, we held narrow meetings – separately with the doctors, separately with the teachers, separately with the police, separately with social workers. With all those who face the victims of domestic violence for the people not to be silent.

For a long time, family violence was considered almost a norm of everyday life. Therefore, the main thing was to shake people up, to say that times have changed, that women and children cannot be beaten anymore. Violence cannot be tolerated. Whatever – says the chairperson of raion council.

She is convinced that the shelter should become an oblast project, but, until this has happened, she will try to keep it at the expense of the raion’s funds.

– And what if a woman not from your raion turns to you? – I ask.

– We will give her a shelter, – Nataliia nods affirmatively.

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In the shelter for women. Photo of the text author

As Yuliia Tsarevska says, this project could not be launched without donor funds, and it could not be continued without the support of Vasylkiv Raion Council.

By the way, this is the second case, when Convictus transfers its shelter to the balance sheet of local authorities.

Tsarevska believes that it is necessary to go to the authorities with figures, analyzes, ready-made documents. It is necessary to clearly imagine the mechanism of decision-making: how to pass a project through deputy commissions.

But the main thing is to find the right person.

In Kharkiv Oblast, where Convictus has founded its first shelter for women discharged from places of imprisonment and women who suffered from domestic violence, the person who took an interest in the project was Yuliia Svitlychna, Governor of Kharkiv Oblast.

In Vasylkiv Raion the shelter was taken under the wing of Nataliia Balasynovych

– Always look for a woman! – Yuliia Tsarevska says.

 

Stories and order

Natalia Reshetova is IDP from Donetsk, before the war she worked at Donetsk Oblast Council. She is an economist by the first education and a psychologist by the second one. She met with Convictus at a training session on gender equality.

– It seemed to me that the life of those women who came to us should change immediately. One of my first cases: a 26-year-old woman, two children, we are already looking for  a job for her, dreaming of a new life … And suddenly I find out that she secretly goes on dates with her abusive husband. She comes back cheerful and happy. I then faded a lot, – Natalia recalls.

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In the shelter for women. Photo of the text author

Over time, Reshetova realized that the main thing that the shelter gives is protection from the offender, a roof over one’s head, three meals a day, and psychological help.

For those who need it, they will find a lawyer, take to a doctor or social service, help place their children in school.

But a new life is a personal choice. And not all women do it.

– I think that: if a woman came to us, even if it was one night, this was the night when she was not beaten, killed or raped. And nothing terrible has happened to her or her child. If she chooses to return to her husband in the morning, then this is her choice. But she knows: she can always come back to us. And often women come to us several times, – Yuliia says.

And the shelter workers are aware that victims often return to their executioners, but they never persuade or berate the women.

– She’s an adult person, it’s her life, – Natalia says.

She has a lot of stories. Different.

Natalia also tells about three women who met here in the shelter, each of them having a terrible story, and now they have rented a dwelling and live there together. Like a commune: two work, one looks after children.

However, she also tells about those who use the services of the center without any shame. Sometimes, Natalia says, the psychologist feels themselves the one who commits violence:

– We offer her: here is a vacancy, here is a training, and the person begins to hide from us, – she makes a helpless gesture.

Natalia also advised me to talk with Oksana.

 

Oksana: a story of hope

Oksana has been married for 16 years, her sons are now 9 and 16, she is 38.

All her life she worked for her husband’s business – he had a shop and a sauna. Now Oksana has nothing, but she has a new life.

Few people dare to leave her husband, she says. Because this is life between two fears: the fear of uncertainty and the fear of violence.

She also says that domestic violence is growing like a snowball – at first he insults, then beats, then asks for forgiveness.

Beat once – there will surely be the second one; forgave once – why not forgive again. She lived so 16 years.

The last straw was when the older son called and shouted: “Mom, save me, he kills me…”

Oksana flied out, closed the shop and rushed home. The husband was gone.

She says that while she was going home, she passed though the point of no return – she was very afraid of coming late.

The woman took her children away and took up quarters with her friends for a few days. This happened on 6 October 2017.

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In the shelter for women. Photo of the text author

– At first, you tolerate, and later you just don’t care: you don’ care what will be with you, what will happen to your life … You do not want to live – this is understandable, but the children… Who needs your children? – Oksana recalls what she once felt.

Two days Oksana called to the center: “What if it’s some kind of trap.” Meanwhile, her husband’s sister tried to reconcile them.

– When I talked to him last time, he told his sister: “Do you understand that she has no place to go to?” She is not going anywhere, she will come to heel”.

She remembers the first night in the shelter “It was important to me that my children fall asleep without scandals and are not afraid that they will be waked up by shouting in the middle of the night”.

– I have had terrible panic attacks: what have I done, how  could I took the children out of the house, what will be with all of us…

But Oksana was undergoing therapy, the children visited psychologist… One month later she had already found a job, five months later she moved in a rented apartment.

Now Oksana has a new job, a beloved husband and a dream to go all together to the Carpathians, because she never was there.

– For 16 years of marriage, me and my ex-husband were only once by the sea – for three days. He always said that it was expensive, – Oksana says.

It doesn’t seem that she wants to give an interview: to recall what was happening, what hurts. But Oksana consulted with her beloved, and he said: “You endured it because you have been helped. Maybe someone will read this and this will help this person too.”

– Remember, once he beat you – no matter how much you love him – turn around and leave, – this is the main thing that Oksana wanted to say.

And now she calls herself Ksenia: new life – new name.

By Lesia Hanzha

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