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

The Ukrainian marine infantryman endured nine months of physical and psychological torture as a Russian prisoner of war, but was allotted only three months of rest and rehabilitation before being ordered back to his unit.

The infantryman, who asked to be identified only by his call sign, Smiley, returned to duty willingly. But it was only when he underwent intensive combat training in the weeks after that the depth and range of his injuries, both psychological and physical, began to surface.

“I started having flashbacks, and nightmares,” he said. “I would only sleep for two hours and wake up with my sleeping bag soaking wet.” He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and referred for psychological care, and is still receiving treatment.

Ukraine is just beginning to understand the lasting effects of the traumas its prisoners of war experienced in Russian captivity, but it has been failing to treat them properly and returning them to duty too early, say former prisoners, officials and psychologists familiar with individual cases.

Nearly 3,000 Ukrainian prisoners of war have been released from Russia in prisoner exchanges since the 2022 invasion began. More than 10,000 more remain in Russian custody, some of whom have endured two years of conditions that a United Nations expert described as horrific.

The Ukrainian government’s rehabilitation program, which has usually involved two months in a sanitarium and a month at home, is inadequate, critics say, and the traumas suffered by Ukrainian prisoners are growing with the length and severity of the abuse they are being subjected to as the war drags on.

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