Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February plunged many liberal-minded Russians into a state of shock and apathy. But for Anna Rivina, the country’s leading expert on domestic and gender-based violence, the way forward in the chaos of war was clear.
“When the whole world seems to be falling apart, it’s hard to decide what to do, so I decided it would be right to do what I know best and help solve the problem of gender-based violence,” Rivina told The Times of Moscow.
Rivina is well known in Russia and abroad as the founder of the country’s leading anti-domestic violence group, Nasiliu.net (No to Violence), which helps victims of abuse and draws attention to an issue still largely taboo in Russian society.
Her new project, Labirint (Russian for “labyrinth”), aims to help women who have been forced to flee war, political repression or who have simply left their homes in search of better economic opportunities – and now find themselves under threat. .
Cases of gender-based violence are known to increase in times of war and conflict.
the UN said by June it had received 124 reports of conflict-related sexual violence across Ukraine, although growing evidence of alleged Russian war crimes suggests the true number of cases is likely much higher.
Labirint is ready to help all victims of war violence, including women who were raped by Russian soldiers and fled to neighboring countries in search of help, according to Rivina.
The NGO also seeks to help women who have been targeted by human traffickers, coerced into sexual exploitation or who are simply unable to respond to a case of domestic violence in a state of economic dependence and insecure.
“We thought it made sense to give them [the women] all the cards, so to speak, so they could call for help if they needed it,” Rivina said.
“We are not just talking about [the issue of] domestic violence, but also rape, bullying and violence against children. »
In just a few months, Labirint has formed a network of over 100 female volunteers and trained psychologists who are ready to work with refugee women and other women who have left their home countries.
“I follow closely what the big aid organizations do, so news of Labirint’s creation reached me online almost instantly,” a 30-year-old Labirint volunteer told the Moscow Times.
Like most others involved in the initiative, the Russian volunteer, who requested anonymity to speak freely, is currently living abroad – an experience which she says makes the project’s mission a mission. personal for her.
“I was lucky and didn’t face any cases of violence, but I understand very well that immigration makes women more vulnerable,” she said.
“This is especially true for refugees: when [one] has no income and often does not know [local] language, all [they] can hope for is the kindness of others. Unfortunately, there are instances where women’s trust could be exploited.
Located in different countries, Labirint volunteers usually speak several languages, including Russian and that of the country where they are based. The NGO’s website is available in Russian, Ukrainian, English and Belarusian.
Rivina said making “Belarusian women visible” was particularly important to Labirint.
Tens of thousands of women have fled Belarus due to growing political repression following a wave of anti-government unrest in 2020 and Belarusian support for Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
Belarusian independent organizations working on issues of women’s rights and gender-based violence have been “destroyed” by the government, Rivina said, leaving Belarusian women in vulnerable situations with no one to turn to.
Rivina hopes Labirint can become the much-needed helping hand for Belarusians and other women in the former Soviet space and beyond.
“Our geography is extensive. We had people from Ukraine, people from Kazakhstan, people who moved to the Americas, including South America,” Rivina said.
“We have received dozens of requests so far, but few people know about us yet… Our resources currently outnumber the demand.”
To raise awareness of its services and the resources it can offer refugee and immigrant women, Labirint has worked with other groups helping those affected by war, including the Helping to Leave Foundation, which helps Ukrainians leave the area. of conflict and – in the event of forced deportation – flight from Russia.
Rivina says she and her team have ambitious plans for the future.
“We want to be able to say that in every country where a woman might be, we have a willing woman who speaks the local language, knows how to work in such cases and is able to hold a woman’s hand through this. journey.”