Violence Against Women in Ukraine
Click map to view larger image.

Population of women: 24,488,900/45,433,400
Life expectancy of women (at birth): 74
School life expectancy for women: 15
Women's adult literacy:
Women engaged in economic activity: 52%

Source: U.N. Statistics Division, Social Indicators, updated June 2011


last updated 17 July 2009  

Human Rights and Gender Equality

The Ukrainian Constitution, adopted on 28 June 1996, is the principle governing law of Ukraine, and it clearly affirms Ukraine’s commitment to protecting human rights. Article 3 of the Constitution states that “the human being, his or her life and health, honour and dignity, inviolability and security are recognised in Ukraine as the highest social value.”

The Constitution of Ukraine states and guarantees rights regarding life; respect for a person’s dignity and freedom from torture; rights relating to personal freedom and integrity; respect for private and family life; freedom of movement; freedom of speech; right to work and to choose the place of work; equal opportunities in work and education; protection from illegal discharge; right to social protection; right to housing; right to an adequate standard of living for a person and family; right to health protection, medical help and medical insurance; and equal rights and obligations for men and women in family and in marriage.

Gender discrimination is specifically prohibited under the Constitution. Article 24 of the Constitution guarantees freedom from all forms of discrimination, including on the basis of sex. This article states that:


  • Equality of the rights of women and men is ensured: by providing women with opportunities equal to those of men, in public and political, and cultural activity, in obtaining education and in professional training, in work and its remuneration; by special measures for the protection of work and health of women; by establishing pension privileges, by creating conditions that allow women to combine work and motherhood; by legal protection, material and moral support of motherhood and childhood, including the provision of paid leaves and other privileges to pregnant women and mothers.

The adoption of laws and other legal decrees in Ukraine are required to originate from the principles of the Constitution and should comply with Constitutional provisions. The right to protect constitutional rights and liberties of citizens before a court is also constitutionally guaranteed in Article 8.

But despite the guarantees in the Constitution, in 2005 the Ukrainian Parliament, or Verkhovna Rada, recognized that in many areas gender discrimination continued to be a serious problem, and legislative steps would be required to combat this. The law “On Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women and Men,” which went into effect on 1 January 2006, contains Ukraine’s first legal definition of “discrimination based on sex" and provides the right of judicial protection against it. The law’s text begins by reaffirming Ukraine’s commitment to upholding the principles of its Constitution:

  • The objective of this Law is achievement of equality of women and men in all spheres of social life through establishing a legislative base for securing equal rights and opportunities for women and men, elimination of all forms of gender-based discrimination and organization of special provisional activities aimed at elimination of misbalance between the opportunities of women and men to enjoy equal rights provided for in the Constitution and laws of Ukraine.

The law defines such concepts as “equal rights of women and men,” “equal opportunities of women and men,” “discrimination based on sex,” “gender equality,” and others.  It also outlines the main directions of state policy concerning equal rights and opportunities for women and men and authorizes government agencies, public institutions, and private organizations to take steps to achieve these goals.  The law defines “gender equality” as “equal legal status of women and men and equal opportunities for its realization that allows the persons of both sexes to take an equal part in all spheres of society life.”

But the existence of the law has not yet led to a significant change in the status of women in Ukraine. A study by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology found that over 60% of Ukrainians had never even heard of the law “On Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women and Men,” while only 5% had both heard of the law and understood its content.  Many Ukrainian women have been raised in a society that largely condones gender discrimination and are unaware of their rights under current Ukrainian law or how to have those rights enforced.  Distrust of law enforcement agencies and political bodies causes many Ukrainians to feel helpless and unable to receive justice through legal channels. 

Domestic Violence

On 15 November 2001, the Ukrainian Parliament adopted the law “On the Prevention of Violence in the Family,” the first legislation in Ukraine to specifically address the issue of domestic violence. As a follow-up measure, the Cabinet of Ministers issued Decree No. 616 on 26 April, 2003, providing for a standard protocol for authorities to receive and review reports of acts or threats of domestic violence. In addition, the Ministry of Internal Affairs in cooperation with the Ministry of Family, Children and Youth (now the Ministry of Family, Youth and Sport) issued a decree in 2004 establishing a procedure for cooperation between government institutions dealing with the prevention of violence in the family.

The law provides victims of violence with an avenue to file a civil report of domestic violence, after which he or she can apply for a protection order or file a civil claim against the abuser, usually resulting in the awarding of money damages.  It also created the first definitions for “family violence” or “domestic violence.” The law defines domestic violence as any intentional action committed by one family member towards another family member which violates the constitutional rights and freedoms of the family member and causes harm to his or her physical, mental or moral health. The law identifies and defines the following types of violence:

  • Physical violence: an act of battery perpetrated by an individual against a family member;
  • Sexual violence: unwanted sexual advances or experiences, or any sexual abuse of a minor;
  • Psychological violence: any verbal abuse or threat that creates a sense of fear, lack of confidence, helplessness or any other mental suffering;
  • Economic violence: any act intended to deprive a family member of residence, food, clothing or other property, to which the victim is entitled or in which there is a protected legal interest and which may potentially cause death, mental or physical suffering.

While the creation of a domestic violence law helped to increase public awareness of domestic violence and provide some protection and opportunities for redress to victims of domestic violence, some aspects of the law were heavily criticized by Ukrainian activists.  The law punished victims for “provoking” domestic violence against themselves, and police could issue warnings to women who had “provoked” their abuser.  Victims who had been warned three or more times then became ineligible to receive an order for protection against the abuser.  These warnings were frequently distributed; the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported that 6,832 warnings for provocative behavior were issued in 2004.  These warnings could be easily used as a means to threaten victims or discourage them from reporting domestic violence.

Criticisms of these provisions eventually led to a series of amendments approved by the Parliament in 2008.  The amendments, which went into effect on 1 Jan 2009, eliminated the practice of issuing warnings for provocative behavior, increased procedural oversight for receiving and investigating complaints of domestic violence, and authorized the creation of a system of correctional programs for perpetrators of domestic violence.

While the domestic violence legislation provides victims with civil remedies for abuse, domestic violence is still greatly under-reported and under-prosecuted in the criminal court.  Domestic violence is not recognized as a separate offense under criminal law. Victims of domestic violence who press criminal charges against their batterers must do so using general criminal statutes on bodily injuries. The following crimes under the Criminal Code may apply in cases of domestic violence:

Political leaders and activists in Ukraine continue to discuss possibilities for new laws or social programs that will decrease domestic violence in the future.  Parliamentary hearings, entitled, “The Status of Women in Ukraine: Reality and Perspectives” were held in June 2004 during which experts were brought in to present data on domestic violence to the government of Ukraine.  The study, published by La Strada International, calculated the average cost of one case of domestic violence in Ukraine at 7,306 UAH. After the study was published, the Ministry of Family, Youth and Sports Affairs created the Expert Working Group for the Prevention of Domestic Violence Issues in July 2007.


Public awareness campaigns, including the 2009 “Stop Violence!” media campaign sponsored by the Ukrainian government and the United Nations Development Programme, have helped to raise the public’s consciousness of domestic violence and family violence laws. In December 2010 The Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine launched a 2010-2015 “Stop Violence” National Campaign and released the National Platform of Actions and the action plan for its realization. The number of victims who called Stop Violence hotline has increased and they have received more than 4000 calls in the past 5 years.


However, domestic violence continues to be a serious and widespread problem. Since the implementation of the 2001 law, Ukrainian law enforcement officials have kept data on reported domestic violence in each region of Ukraine. Comprehensive statistics on the prevalence of domestic violence had been lacking until the European Union (EU) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) conducted a study of domestic violence in Ukraine called “Assessment of Ukrainian National System of Prevention, Response and Combating of Domestic Violence” in 2009. The results of the study were presented in January 2010. It constitutes an analysis of domestic violence legislation, law enforcement, forensic medical expertise, and protective measures and social services available to victims. The experts pointed out the ineffectiveness of the response of the police, the fact that social services are available only in regional centers, and there is no efficient system of rehabilitation for violators. Following the study, EU/UNDP Equal Opportunities and Women’s Rights in Ukraine Programme conducted a roundtable in June 2010 where the amendments to the existing law “On Prevention of Domestic Violence” were discussed. The amendments offer a broader definition of domestic violence and suggest community service as a form of penalty for violators.


The Ministry of Internal Affairs reported that in 2010, police cited 103,795 people for domestic violence including 387 women, and issued 95,122 warnings and 6,801 protection orders. Domestic violence also makes up a very large percentage of Ukraine’s overall crime. A police official in Berdychiv reported that between 30-40% of the stations daily calls were related to domestic violence. However, a great deal of domestic violence goes unreported. According to the survey that was conducted by Gfk. Ukraine and Equal Opportunities and Women’s Rights in Ukraine Programme in November-December 2009, 44% of Ukrainians suffered from domestic violence and 30% suffered from violence in their childhood. The findings also revealed that 35% suffered from psychological violence, 21% from physical violence, 17% from economic violence and 1% from sexual violence. 75% of victims never sought help and only 1-2% of victims contacted NGOs and state social services.

A new study, The Monitoring of the Implementation of the Law of Ukraine about Preventing Family Violence (2001-2011), was published in 2011. It examines the practional functioning of each of the Law's articles and analyzes the responsibilities of the government and how they are met. General conclusions and recommendations are provided, along with a chronology of events over the last decade on combating domestic violence in Ukraine. For the Ukrainian version of the report, click here. For the English version, click here.

On 7 November 2011, Ukraine became the 17th member state of the Council of Europe to sign the Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.


Sexual Assault

According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs, the number of sexual assaults in Ukraine has been decreasing in the past several years. They reported that in the first nine months of 2008, 654 incidents of rape or attempted rape were recorded by police, a decrease of almost 6% from the previous year. Nevertheless, rape is a largely unreported crime, as many victims of rape are afraid of public shame, mistrust police officers, and harbor a belief that bringing charges will never result in justice. The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights estimated in 2000 that twenty percent of women in Ukraine from ages 17 to 21 years have experienced rape or attempted rape.

The Criminal Code of Ukraine recognizes five categories of sexual crimes, which are dealt with in the following articles:

Under Article 152, rape is defined as sexual intercourse using physical violence, the threat of injuries, or by taking advantage of the helpless condition of a victim. Other types of sexual assault generally fall under Article 153. The physical violence may consist of bodily blows, deprivation, or restriction of personal will to overcome the physical resistance of the victim. Physical violence may also include the use of narcotics or other substances administered without the consent of the victim with the aim of causing a helpless condition. It is irrelevant whether the perpetrator induced such a condition or if the victim was in the helpless condition from other causes. Intoxication from alcohol may be classified as a helpless condition only when the intoxication was sufficient to deprive the victim of the physical capacity to resist the attacker. Consent to the use of alcohol or other substances does not constitute consent to the sexual relations. The moral character of the victim is also irrelevant to the legal elements of rape.

The crime of rape is considered complete at the moment the sexual act begins against the will of the victim. A forensic medical examination is mandatory to determine the fact of sexual intercourse. The forensic expert’s conclusion usually is the most important evidence in cases of sexual violence and the only means of prosecuting the perpetrator under Article 152. Ukrainian law does not specifically disallow marital rape, and Article 56 of the Family Code of Ukraine forbids compulsion of sexual relations by physical or psychological violence. In practice, sexual assaults between spouses are rarely prosecuted.

Rape charges are brought only upon a victim’s complaint and once brought may not be dismissed at the victim’s request. The victim of rape can report the crime to the police, prosecutor’s office or directly to a court. In cases of the rape of a minor or rape with especially severe consequences, a medical institution can report the crime. In cases of the rape of a minor, the victim’s relatives can report the crime.

Sexual Harassment

The definition of sexual harassment was provided for the first time in the 2005 law “On Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women and Men.” According to this law, sexual harassment includes actions of a sexual nature, expressed verbally (threats, intimidation, improper remarks) or physically (stroking, pats), and that humiliate or offend a person. The law obligates an employer to “take measures to eliminate sexual harassment.” However, it does not determine which exact measures must be taken, and does not assign responsibility for overseeing violations of the law.

Article 154 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine criminalizes “Compulsion to sexual relations,” which can be:

  1. Forcing a person who is financially or professionally dependent into sexual relations, or
  2. Compelling a person into sexual relations under threat of destruction, damage or withdrawal of property of the victim or his or her relatives or disclosure of information which dishonors him or her.

This allows the filing of criminal charges against perpetrators of domestic violence if they used financial pressure to attempt to induce sexual relations.  The crime is considered complete from the moment the threat is made, so the reaction of the victim (rejection or acceptance) is irrelevant. But the victim of sexual harassment, in order to qualify under the statute, must be in a serious financial position of dependence upon the harasser, such as a professional or academic subordinate (employee/boss, student/teacher) or the perpetrator must be the only or most important source of income for the victim.

Sexual harassment at the workplace or in educational institutions is a very widespread problem in Ukraine. Although no hard figures currently exist on the prevalence of sexual harassment in Ukraine, Human Rights Watch suggests that up to 50% of women have been victims of sexual harassment in their workplace. But most sexual harassment goes unreported and unprosecuted. Currently, there is no legal recourse for a victim of sexual harassment unless it satisfies the requirements of Article 154 of the Criminal Code. Due to the strict requirements of the statute, most forms of sexual harassment do not fall under the statute, and even those that do are very difficult to prove.  In many areas, sexual harassment in the workplace is considered so “normal,” many women fail to recognize when they are being sexually harassed and to understand that they have a right to protection against such behavior.  

Human Trafficking

In the aftermath of the economic and political turmoil Ukraine faced in the 1990’s, human trafficking has emerged as a serious and extensive problem. Ukraine is a destination, transit, and source country for sex and labor trafficking, with Ukrainian women most frequently being trafficked to European and Middle Eastern countries.  Women, men and children are also trafficked within Ukraine for purposes of exploitation for agricultural or service sectors, commercial sexual exploitation, and forced begging. In 2006, a survey by the International Organization for Migration found that since 1991, 117,000 Ukrainian men, women and children had been forced into exploitive situations in Europe, Russia and the Middle East.  The number of people being trafficked from or through Ukraine appears to be on the rise, although exact figures don’t currently exist.

Trafficking in human beings has been in the Criminal Code of Ukraine since 1998 and was then revised during the full Criminal Code revision in 2001. Additional amendments to the Criminal Code concerning human trafficking went into effect in January 2006 and include a new formulation of trafficking in compliance with the U.N. Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, which Ukraine ratified in 2004.

  • Article 149. Trafficking in human beings or other illegal agreement on person

In the past 10 years, Ukraine has taken significant steps towards creating and implementing a more thorough attack on trafficking.  Trafficking cases are investigated by the Ukrainian police department, and in 2000 Special Divisions on combating crimes of trafficking in human beings were established within the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which oversees police activities. In June 2002, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine adopted the Complex Program Concerning the Prevention of Trafficking in Humans for 2002-2005. In December 2002, a special permanent body, the Interdepartmental Coordination Council on Combating Human Trafficking, was created to coordinate activities geared toward program implementation. Government departments that are involved in program implementation have each adopted their own Action Plan to reach the Complex Program goals.  For example, the Ministry of Health adopted “Activities on Realization of the Complex Program Concerning Prevention of Trafficking in Humans for 2002-2005” in July 2002. In recent years, Ukraine has made steps in the punishment of convicted traffickers, the prosecution of labor trafficking, training judicial officers, and the carrying out of some prevention activities. Local governments working with NGOs have made progress regarding repatriation and victim assistance.

In 2007, the government performed 82 criminal investigations and arrested 56 people on trafficking charges, with the number of prosecutions for labor trafficking increasing from 3 to 23 in one year. Under Article 149, there were 95 cases and 83 convictions of trafficking offenders. However, 59 of those convicted were placed on probation and were not imprisoned. As a result, in June 2007, the Prosecutor General ordered prosecutors to be more aggressive about sentencing the offenders or to appeal those cases where probation was given. By the second half of 2007, 44% of convicted traffickers received jail time. 

While the Ukrainian government has gained praise from the international community for enacting these recent decrees and laws, outside observers feel that some of the efforts fall short.  In their Trafficking in Ukraine Assessment, UNICEF criticized the Ukrainian government’s plan for failing to include sufficiently specific steps and deadlines for combating trafficking and for focusing almost solely on sex trafficking rather than all human trafficking. The U.S. Department of State ranked Ukraine as a “Tier 2” country in its 2008 Trafficking in Persons Report, indicating that Ukraine is making significant efforts to combat human trafficking, but does not yet fully comply with all of the standards given in the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

Lack of government funding has also led to under-trained government staff with limited resources who are inadequately prepared to combat trafficking, but this problem is primarily being tackled by Ukrainian NGOs and the international community. The Ministry for Family, Youth and Sports has authorized training seminars funded and organized by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe for law enforcement officers, judges and prosecutors on topics that involve trafficking prevention and victim assistant. Over 250 regional governmental officials are participating in the seminars. The Ukrainian government continues to cooperate with other governments on enforcement of anti-trafficking laws, but its efforts to simplify procedures for mutual legal assistance is recognized as problematic, and has adopted an Action Plan on Trafficking for 2007-2010 in an attempt to address some of these issues. 

The Ukrainian government has also started media and educational campaigns to improve public awareness about the realities of sex trafficking. In 2007 the government spent $53,000 on a print and television campaign aimed at raising awareness of the risks of trafficking. However, sex trafficking victims are still incorrectly characterized by many Ukrainians as “willing prostitutes.” They are frequently denied confidentiality, there is only a weak witness protection program in place, and bias against the victims discourages many from testifying in court. Many victims have great difficulty finding financial assistance for repatriation and re-establishment in Ukrainian society. However some are able to receive temporary shelter and medical, psychological, legal and job placement assistance, usually from Ukrainian or European NGOs. While Ukraine has been very open to NGO assistance with trafficking victims services, they have yet to allocate any significant funds to assist their work with victims directly or to address combating the demand side of trafficking within Ukraine.

Compiled from:

Global Report on Trafficking in Persons,” United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (Feb 2009).

2008 Country Report on Human Rights Practices: Ukraine, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State (25 Jan 2009).

"OSCE Project Co-ordinator Trains Ukrainian Regional Authorities to Address Trafficking in Human Beings," OSCE (22 July 2008).

2008 Trafficking in Persons Report, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, U.S. Department of State (4 June 2008).

Martsenyuk, Tamara, “Gender Politics vs. Gender Research in Ukraine,” National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy (Apr 2008).

Fedkovych, Halyna, “Domestic Violence and Criminal Law in Ukraine – Critical Aspects,” West Ukrainian Center “Women’s Perspectives” (Feb 2008).

Fedkovych, Halyna, “Implementation of Domestic Violence Law – Punishment of Perpetrator,” The Advocates for Human Rights (29 Mar 2006).

The Law on Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women and Men,” Parliament of Ukraine (8 Sept 2005).

2005 Trafficking in Persons Report, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, U.S. Department of State (3 June 2005).

 “Trafficking in Ukraine: An Assessment of Current Responses,” United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) (Apr 2005). (PDF, 212 pages). 

Women's Work: Discrimination Against Women in the Ukrainian Labor Force, Human Rights Watch (Aug 2003). (PDF, 52 pages).

Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Integration of the Human Rights of Women and the Gender Perspective - Violence Against Women, Addendum 1United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (27 Feb 2003). (PDF, 435 pages). 

Fedkovych, Halyna. “Criminalization of Sexual Violence in Eastern Europe,” West Ukrainian Center “Women’s Perspectives” (June 2002).

Domestic Violence in Ukraine,” The Advocates for Human Rights (Dec 2000). (PDF, 51 pages).

Women 2000 - An Investigation into the Status of Women's Rights in Central and South-Eastern Europe and the Newly Independent States,” International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (5 Nov 2000). (PDF, 20 pages).

Ukraine Reproductive Health Survey,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (1999).

Constitution of Ukraine, Adopted at the Fifth Session of the Parliament of Ukraine (28 June 1996).