Bombs, blood, civilians’ bodies lying on the streets, buildings burned to ashes and screams of horror. These are just a few of thousands of things that we imagine when we think of war. Sadly, it goes further, deeper and darker, and what’s happening in Ukraine is an example of that.

In February, Russia massively invaded Ukraine, escalating a war that has been going on since 2014 and its consequences began. Food shortages, price increases of basically everything around the world and the largest refugee crisis since World War II took place.

With most husbands sent out to fight for their country, Ukrainian women and children were left behind, remaining vulnerable. These women and children are constantly exploited and according to the United Nations Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, there is an urgent need to solve this “crisis within a crisis”.

Patten brought the issue of rape as a weapon of war during an event at ISUP on June 6, where she declared that “in the context of Ukraine, all the warning signals for crimes of atrocity, including conflict-related sexual violence, are flashing red.”

The UN Secretary General, António Guterres, has also exposed his concern on Twitter. “For predators and human traffickers, the war in Ukraine is not a tragedy, it’s an opportunity – and women and children are the targets.

They urgently need safety and support every step of the way”, Guterres concluded the post.

It’s no secret that Ukraine has been both the destination and source of human trafficking since the early 1990s. The motives are between the lines of sexual or labour exploitation, organ harvesting, forced marriage and many others. This problem started to increase rapidly during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the war has only aggravated it.

Now, the numbers have skyrocketed. Searching for a better life, or mislead by a false job opportunities, thousands of woman are become numbers for the annual statistics of human trafficking.

The Ukrainian police force has exposed an undercover gang who forced women into sex work by luring them with false job opportunities. A 31-year-old man was arrested and is suspected to be the leader of the gang based in Kyiv.

This is only an example, as the real numbers of human trafficling remain hidden. The UN’s last report concerning sexual violence explores five key elements that may help reduce the number of trafficking cases. These are: “concerted diplomatic action to ensure sexual violence is addressed in cease-fire and peace agreements; using early warning indicators of sexual violence to inform monitoring, risk assessment and early response; using the threat of sanctions to raise the perceived cost of sexual violence; gender-responsive justice and security sector reform; and amplifying the voices of survivors.”