Ukrainian POWs Display Trauma, Sexual Violence Scars: A Deep Dive into War’s Hidden Horrors

Many Ukrainian Prisoners of War Show Signs of Trauma and Sexual Violence

Among the thousands of Ukrainian soldiers released from Russian captivity, many carry deep, invisible wounds. They are the survivors of a brutal war, who have endured a harrowing ordeal of physical and psychological torture. Their stories, largely untold and unaddressed, reveal the cruel reality behind the Russian prisoner of war (POW) camps where human rights are blatantly violated.

The Enduring Trauma

A Ukrainian marine infantryman, who chose to be identified by his call sign, Smiley, spent nine agonizing months in one such Russian POW camp. Despite the extensive physical and psychological damage he endured, he was given only three months of rest and rehabilitation before being ordered back to his unit. Smiley’s story is not uncommon. The Ukrainian government, under pressure to maintain its frontline strength, is returning many of these traumatized soldiers to active duty with inadequate care and recovery time.

Inadequate Rehabilitation and Support

As Ukraine continues to grapple with the consequences of a Russian invasion, the plight of its former POWs often goes unnoticed. The government’s rehabilitation program, typically consisting of two months in a sanitarium and a month at home, is woefully insufficient. Critics argue that the program fails to address the varied and complex needs of these individuals, who have suffered prolonged physical and sexual torture, and psychological abuse.

Sexual Violence in POW Camps

The Russian government’s treatment of Ukrainian POWs has been well documented by the United Nations, with reports of relentless beatings, electric shocks, rape, and mock executions. Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Andriy Kostin, stated in September that about 90 percent of Ukrainian POWs have been subjected to such forms of ill-treatment. However, the Russian military has consistently failed to respond to these allegations.

Voices from the Shadows

Smiley is one of the few who has chosen to speak about his experience. Captured at the beginning of the war, he hopes that by shedding light on the horrific conditions of Russian prisons, he can help not only his own recovery but also advocate for the thousands of POWs still in captivity.

Another anonymous serviceman, who spent nine months in Russian detention and returned critically underweight with an injured spine, shared his horrifying experience. He spoke of brutal daily beatings, mental and physical torture during interrogations, and a shocking lack of medical care. He was subjected to a mock execution and threatened with rape.

The Long Road to Recovery

Even after their release, the ordeal for these former POWs is far from over. The psychological impact of their experiences is so profound that many find it difficult to adjust to normal life. They continue to live in fear and struggle with the memories of the torture they endured. Programs such as YOUkraine, a meeting space in Kyiv for former prisoners opened by Maj. Valeria Subotina, a military press officer and former POW, provide much-needed support.


The personal accounts of Smiley and the anonymous serviceman are just two of the many stories that reveal the hidden trauma of Ukrainian POWs. As the war continues, it is crucial that these stories are shared, and the survivors provided with adequate support and rehabilitation. It is equally important that the international community takes note of these human rights violations and holds the perpetrators accountable.