The youngest was four years old, the oldest was 85.
Olena Zelenska, wife of the Ukrainian premier, was addressing a gathering of peers and MPs in Commons Committee room 14 this afternoon. Large portraits. Ornate ceiling. Raked benches. The comforts of civilisation. She was referring to the unknown number of Ukrainian women and children raped by Russian soldiers. She said the youngest victim was four years old and the oldest was 85.
As Speaker Hoyle said she must, she shocked us awake.
Rape is a weapon of war, as waged by these people. It is in their rules of engagement. What would get a British squaddie ten years in jail is regarded as soldiers’ perks by Russian soldiers. When they invaded Berlin in 1945, it is thought there may have been as many as 100,000 victims. Who knows what Russians have done in Ukraine? Olena Zelenska told us about the sirens, the missiles, the bombardment, the wrecked hospitals, the numberless dead, the mines left behind in 200,000 square miles of the country, the traps.
To hear these things said out loud by someone who has been witness to it helps us some small way closer to the unimaginable reality.
Ms Olena wanted not just victory, she said, she wanted justice, and that Britain – with its record in these matters – was uniquely placed to take world leadership in her cause. She reminded her audience of Britain’s war against the Nazis – the air raids, the city bombings, the carnage – and how Britain, like Ukraine, did not surrender. She also recalled how in 1942 the UK drafted the document that would form the basis of the Nuremberg trials that brought justice and punishment to those who ordered the atrocities.
Ukraine wants Britain to support the creation of a special tribunal “to punish the primary crime” of aggression. There’s no doubt who is guilty. Is there any question of getting him in front of a tribunal? Would it be a step forward for our civilisation if leaders who ordered these bestialities were to be held responsible? Prosecuted? Punished?
And what are the chances of that? The UN recently announced that they’ve signed up 50 countries to fight sexual violence against women and girls by addressing “triggers such as gender inequality”.
Never mind. Olena Zelensky and her husband have achieved what most of us thought impossible. Maybe the their chances are better than we think.