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Women, Wagner Group, and War Crimes – Applying a Gender Lens to Russian Aggression in Ukraine and Syria





Sahana Dharmapuri, Director of Our Secure Future, One Earth Future Foundation @sahana1325


Oleksandra Matviichuk, Head of the Center for Civil Liberties, Ukraine @avalaina

Dr. Evelyn Farkas, Executive Director, McCain Institute @EvelynNFarkas

Ben Dalton, Program Manager of Future Frontlines, New America @wbend

Nada Al Rashed, Volunteer and Board Member, White Helmets

As the war in Ukraine drags on, the Russian military has remodeled its strategy to mirror aspects of its approach in Syria. The Kremlin has turned to “scorched earth” and “ant’s crawl” approaches, which slowly destroys the enemy territory by bombing Ukrainian towns and cities and slowly invading afterward. Russia’s whole-of-society approaches have resulted in numerous war crimes including massive civilian casualties and displacement, the complete destruction of Ukrainian homes and livelihoods, and countless human rights abuses. Similarly, in Syria, Russia aided the Assad regime by employing this tactic in Syrian rebel-controlled areas with similar effects on the civilian population.

In both Ukraine and Syria, Russia has also deployed the non-state military Wagner Group to maintain key infrastructure and administer Russia-occupied areas. In particular, the group’s administration of occupied areas has led to a myriad of war crimes committed against Ukrainian and Syrian women and girls.

On June 20, 2023, the McCain Institute and Our Secure Future at the One Earth Foundation hosted the event “Women, Wagner Group, and War Crimes.” Panelists included Oleksandra Matviichuk, Head of the Center for Civil Liberties for Ukraine and a Nobel Peace Prize recipient; Dr. Evelyn Farkas, Executive Director, McCain Institute; Nada Al Rashed, Volunteer and Board Member, White Helmets; and moderator Sahana Dharmapuri, Director of Our Secure Future, One Earth Future Foundation. They discussed lessons from Syria that can be applied to the Russian war with Ukraine and the important role women play in helping those affected by the war.

Five key takeaways from the conversation:

The Treatment of Women by the Russian Invaders is Barbaric.
“They told me horrible stories of how they were beaten, raped, how they were smashed into wooden boxes, how they were tortured with electricity, how their fingers were cut….”- Oleksandra Matviychuk

Women Help Spread Word of These Atrocities
“[Women] participated in advocacy efforts on the national level and international level. Women try to influence policies as well, utilize resources, and pressure for accountability to hold war criminals accountable.”- Oleksandra Matviychuk

“Women are able to mobilize their communities to reach bigger audiences to share knowledge and information.”- Nada Al Rashed

Putin Must be Held Accountable
“It is essential to establish a special court of aggression and hold Putin accountable…We need international assistance to be able to provide a chance for all people.”- Oleksandra Matviychuk

Putin’s Way of War is Particularly Destructive
On Russia bombing the United Nations Convoy, Dr. Evelyn Farkas said, “they wage war against innocent civilians, primarily women and children.” They use the air force to destroy civilian areas in Syria.

Women Have a Good Role in Documenting Evidence, Meeting Different Needs
“[Women are] able to highlight experience of vulnerable and marginal groups, and they highlight the different forms of violence, and gender-based violence… Women are well equipped to meet the different needs, they understand the vulnerabilities of women and children…provide for needs based on gender needs”- Nada Al Rashed

Click here to watch the full event.

About the McCain Institute at Arizona State University
The McCain Institute is a nonpartisan organization inspired by Senator John McCain and his family’s dedication to public service. We are part of Arizona State University and based in Washington, D.C. Our programs advance democracy and human rights, empower character-driven leaders, combat human trafficking, and prevent targeted violence. Our unique power to convene leaders across the global political spectrum enables us to make a real impact on the world’s most pressing challenges. Our goal is action, not talk, and like Senator McCain, we are fighting to create a free, safe, and just world for all.

About Arizona State University
Arizona State University has developed a new model for the American research university, creating an institution that is committed to access, excellence and impact. ASU measures itself by those it includes, not by those it excludes. As the prototype for a New American University, ASU pursues research that contributes to the public good, and ASU assumes major responsibility for the economic, social and cultural vitality of the communities that surround it.

Date / heure
Juin 20, 2023
9:30am ET