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Ukraine launches first trial against Russian soldier accused of rape

Written by Javed Iqbal

KYIV, June 23 (Reuters) – Ukraine on Thursday held a preliminary hearing in its first trial against a Russian soldier accused of raping a Ukrainian woman during Russia’s invasion, the first of what could be dozens of such cases .

The suspect, Mikhail Romanov, 32, who is not in Ukrainian custody and will be prosecuted in absentia, is accused by law of murdering a civilian in the capital region of Kiev on March 9 and repeatedly raping the man’s wife.

Russia’s Defense Ministry did not respond to a written request for comment, and Reuters was unable to reach the soldier. Moscow has denied allegations of war crimes.

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Romanov is accused of raping a 33-year-old woman after he and another Russian soldier shot her husband Oleksiy at close range in the village of Bohdanivka northeast of Kiev.

The two soldiers then went and later returned twice more to rape her, it is stated in legal acts. The identity of the other soldier had not been established.

The woman asked that the trial be held behind closed doors as she wanted to avoid details of her and her family being made public, prosecutor Oksana Kalyus told reporters after the inaugural hearing in a Kiev court.

Kalyus said that the Ukrainian authorities believed that Romanov was in Russia. Although he could not be arrested there, he could be arrested in another country if found guilty, she said.

“If he crosses the border, he will be arrested and delivered to Ukraine,” she said.

A prosecutor working on sexual violence cases told Reuters that up to 50 such crimes were being investigated, but that the number of cases of sexual violence committed by Russian soldiers since February 24 is likely to be significantly higher.

Officials, activists and doctors have said that many survivors are afraid or unwilling to appear before the police and the prosecution with their cases for fear of reprisals from Russia and stigma from their Ukrainian neighbors.

Ukraine says it is investigating thousands of potential war crimes committed during the Russian invasion that began on February 24. Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova told Reuters that many of the suspects are in Russia, but that some have been taken prisoner by Ukraine as prisoners of war.

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Reporting by Joanna Plucinska and Max Hunder; Edited by Tom Balmforth, Mark Heinrich and Toby Chopra

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Javed Iqbal

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