Women’s rights groups have seen an increase in the demand for abortion pills since the war broke out in Ukraine. At the moment, deliveries are made to that country and to neighboring Poland, which has more than three million receive refugees. The goal: to make safe abortion possible for Ukrainian women who became pregnant while fleeing the war.
At least 25 Ukrainian women were raped by Russian soldiers, including in Bucha. Ukrainian ombudsman Lyudmila Denisova reported this to the BBC† Nine of those women, the youngest only fourteen years old, became pregnant. How many similar cases of sexual violence there are across Ukraine is still under investigation.
At Women on Web, they saw an increase in the number of applications for abortion pills after the drama in Bucha, director Venny Ala-Siurua told NU.nl. The Canadian foundation helps women worldwide to undergo a medical abortion for up to 12 weeks, when it is not safe to do so in their country.
In the case of individual applications, the abortion pills are sent to the applicant by post after a medical consultation. But Women on Web is also coordinating larger deliveries of thousands of pills to hospitals in Ukraine. According to Ala-Siurua, hospitals, medical facilities and emergency hospitals there are experiencing severe shortages of medicines, including abortion pills.
It is the first time that Women on Web, which operates worldwide, has started an operation in Ukraine. “We were not active here before because the country provided safe access to abortion,” said Ala-Siurua. “Pregnants from neighboring countries like Poland normally come to Ukraine regularly for an abortion.” But since the war it is virtually impossible to have an abortion there and the demand for abortion pills is increasing.
In addition, refugee women who became pregnant during the war in Ukraine are often unable to have an abortion in Catholic Poland. The country’s recently curtailed and controversial anti-abortion laws mean that termination of pregnancy is only allowed when the mother’s life is in danger, or in cases of rape or incest. However, that is sometimes difficult to prove.
People in Poland who help others have an illegal abortion risk a prison sentence. Polish abortion activist Justyna Wydrzynska, for example, faces a three-year prison sentence. According to Amnesty International Wydrzynska gave an abortion pill to an unwanted pregnant woman and was arrested.
The case is getting international attention. Last Tuesday during the weekly question time, the Dutch government also expressed its concerns about the activist after Sjoerd Sjoerdsma’s parliamentary questions.
Chatting with the abortion underground
Ukrainian journalist Nastia Podorozhnya has lived in Poland for years. When war broke out in her home country, she decided to set up a helpline for women on the run. “In addition to all the great aid initiatives, we heard several stories about abuse and violence against Ukrainian women. Then we knew we had to do something for them.” It was the beginning of the underground abortion, she tells NU.nl.
She developed Martynka: a chatbot on Telegram from which you can ask advice on psychological and medical matters, but which can also help you with practical things such as safe travel, places to sleep or translation. Martynka speaks Russian, English and Ukrainian and works with international women’s rights organizations.
“After the events in Bucha, we knew that the demand for information about help with termination of pregnancy would grow,” says journalist Podorozhnya. “In Poland, few refugees have direct access to health care, let alone abortion. The waiting times are sometimes weeks, and doctors can also refuse to perform the abortion. With Martynka we inform and connect women with organizations such as Women on Web .”
Currently, more than a hundred Ukrainian women are signing up to both Martynka and Women on Web each month. The latter normally receives about 25,000 thousand individual applications a year from Poland, a number that they expect to increase further due to the war.
Podorozhnya says she is afraid of the Polish authorities, but that her fear is nothing compared to that of refugee Ukrainian women. That is why she will continue to use her helpline, to do her part by offering reliable information.