She's got it 11:49 24 Jan 2023

Breaking Cycle of Violence: how women's shelters work in wartime

With the start of a full-scale war, domestic violence became less talked about. But it did not become less. Shelters for female victims of violence continue to operate even under fire. Some of them reformatted their work, and some continued to work as before. Rubryka tells about the experience of such shelters during the war.

What is the problem?
Crimes that no one talks about again

Without belongings, money, and no idea about the future — with two children and wearing home clothes, Olha ran away from her abuser (the editors have changed the heroine's name for her safety — ed.). Olya lived in civil marriage with Roman (husband's name changed — ed.) for ten years. But the violence in the family forced the woman to gather her strength and leave forever. At that time, Olya was in a difficult psychological state.

"You get used to someone saying no one needs you, and you start to believe it. When you hide that you communicate with your friends, with acquaintances at work, with relatives, when you could communicate only with his friends. We lived on his territory; there was no support from relatives; I was simply lost as a person, and my self-esteem was destroyed," Olya shares.

домашнє насильство

Earlier, Rubryka reported that in the first half of 2022, law enforcement agencies received 27.5% fewer reports of domestic violence than during the same period in 2021. But despite the decrease in documented cases, the real number has not decreased.

What is the solution?


There are women's shelters, hubs, and assistance centers for victims of domestic violence in Ukraine. But the full-scale war changed the work of such centers — they began to accept those fleeing the war.

As of September 2021, 497 specialized services were working in Ukraine to help victims of domestic violence. Namely:

  • 40 shelters;
  • 21 crisis rooms;
  • 19 daycare centers;
  • 23 specialized primary counseling services;
  • 365 mobile brigades.

They primarily work in big cities and regional centers. On the other hand, the situation is much worse in smaller settlements of the country.

The aid algorithm is the same everywhere. A mobile team, whose employees are specially trained in behaving and providing assistance to domestic violence victims, is dispatched to a call. If the brigade workers see that the woman has nowhere to go and the abuser must leave immediately, she will be brought to the nearest crisis room. These are small rooms for quick response to calls, where you can stay up to 10 days.

If the situation is difficult and the woman needs to stay somewhere, she can additionally turn to a shelter or a daycare center. There is an opportunity to stay there, on average, from three to six months. We will tell you more about the work of crisis rooms and shelters on the example of three such institutions in Kyiv, Vinnytsia, and Poltava.

How does it work?
Center for Gender Equality, Prevention and Counteraction of Violence in Kyiv

куди піти жінці, яка ховається від кривдника

One of the crisis rooms of the Center in Kyiv

A small living room with access to the bedroom, dressing room, and kitchen. There is everything you need here — kitchen appliances, cutlery, dishes. Neat and clean shower room. The bedroom has a bed, children's corner, TV, and air conditioner. The apartment looks like an ordinary one, but in fact, it is one of the crisis rooms of the Center for Gender Equality, Prevention, and Combating Violence. Those who find themselves in a difficult situation and need immediate help get here.

Центр гендерної рівності, запобігання та протидії насильству у Києві

Kitchen in the crisis room

It all started with a domestic violence hotline, and gradually crisis rooms appeared — places where police officers can always bring victims. Later, larger shelters with a longer length of stay and a Day Care Center were opened.

Director of the Center Tetyana Zotova says that immediately after the beginning of the full-scale invasion, crisis rooms and shelters began to receive people fleeing the war. 

Тетяна Зотова

Tetyana Zotova talks about receiving IDPs during the battle for Kyiv

"These were residents of settlements outside Kyiv. We put them here. We had bomb shelters, so it was safe. At that time, the crisis rooms were completely full; there were 20 people in the shelter, where only 12 people could stay," says Tetyana Zotova.

Tetyana says that even in the conditions of helping displaced persons, several spots were always left for those who needed to escape from the abuser in crisis rooms and shelters.

Seven adults can live in the center's two crisis rooms. Tetyana Zotova says that special mobile response groups should go to domestic violence calls. If necessary, they are the ones who take the victim to one of the crisis rooms. In addition, the Hotline "Helpline" is open.

You can stay in the crisis response room for 10 days. If a woman needs shelter for a more extended period, she can transfer to a shelter where she can stay for up to 90 days. The services in both shelters are the same: communication with a social worker, the services of a lawyer and a psychologist, and free accommodation in a safe place.

"Light of hope"

In Poltava, there is a shelter for women who find themselves in difficult life circumstances, СO "Light of Hope." From February 24, the shelter also started to help displaced people. The premises were designed for 34 beds. But after the start of a full-scale war, 57 people and their pets stayed there at the same time.

Room for accommodation in the "Light of Hope" Center

Viktoriya Miroshnichenko, head of the Shelter in Poltava, says that back then, they worked "like a mitten" but always left a few free places for women who needed to escape from violence at home.

Центр світло надії

One of the bathrooms in the Light of Hope Center

Here, women have access to social support, a "clothing bank," informational, medical and preventive, legal, social, and psychological consultations, and services for social integration. From the beginning of the full-scale war, there is also a hot food point.

At the same time, "Light of Hope" continues to accept internally displaced persons. Places were specially allocated for them in rooms that were previously reserved for games or studies.

"There are cases when a woman is an internally displaced person, but she has already suffered from domestic violence here. That is, she came, but the situation became complicated because of the war, because of the loss of property, and of money issues, which caused an aggression episode in the offender. We also respond to such cases and already provide the full range of services of our shelter," says Viktoriya Miroshnychenko.

Вікторія Мірошниченко

Вікторія Мірошниченко

"Source of hope"

In Vinnytsia, the "Source of Hope" shelter helps victims of domestic violence. It works with the assistance of the Vinnytsia Regional Human Rights Organization. Its head, Alla Studilko, says that there was a flow of migrants through Vinnytsia back in 2014 — first from the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and then from the east of the country. Then the organization specially created the Resource Center for Assistance to Internally Displaced Persons.

The shelter for victims of domestic violence has been operating since 2018 and can accommodate 30 women with children. Here they provide conditions for psychological adaptation, social integration, and socio-economic development.

притулки для жінок

Accomodation in the "Source of Hope" shelter

Ms. Alla says that despite the full-scale war, the shelter's target audience has not changed because the Resource Center was involved in helping displaced people.

The shelter for women is a completely safe place, the address of which is classified, and there is security on site. Social workers, lawyers, and psychologists help women here. Their task is to stabilize the victim's condition and help find a solution without returning to the abuser.

"It is very important that a woman in our shelter understands in three months where she should go next. We are trying to show concern, support, and work out all the steps together with a psychologist and lawyers in order to move on and break the cycle of violence, not to return to it again," says Alla Studilko.

Джерело надії

Alla Studilko

The center is able to provide complex assistance to women. This is full support, which includes psychological and socio-economic adaptation, legal advice, and support. Currently, more than two thousand women regularly visit the center, including participating in development and self-improvement programs.

Does it really work?
Assistance, support and accommodation

Olya and her children dared to run away from the abuser. At first, the woman was helped by her friends, and then she turned to the mobile response team in Vinnytsia. Olha was given a place in the shelter almost immediately.

The first thing Olya felt then was safety. The woman admits that she was surrounded by strong psychological support, both individual sessions with a psychologist and group sessions.

кризова кімната у Вінниці

One of the rooms in the Vinnytsia Center

She was helped to write a statement against the abuser and was provided with legal advice through legal proceedings involving children. In total, Olya spent half a year in the shelter. During this time, she was able to gather her thoughts, start thinking about the future and dare to move on, although the story with the abuser did not end so easily.

"My youngest daughter was diagnosed with a rare pathology. During pregnancy, I didn't do an ultrasound once — he forbade it. Therefore, no one knew anything. A complex operation was required, and we collected money for it — helped everyone who could. And at that time, he was abroad and working; he knew everything and did not help in any way. He blamed me for everything," Olya recalls.

With the beginning of the war, the abuser returned to Olya's life again. He found her and started pressuring her, threatening to take the children away. Currently, the court process is ongoing based on the claim of the abuser, who is trying to establish that he is the legal father of the children and can claim them.

Therefore, Olya once again turned to the organization for legal assistance. Lawyers are now helping woman go through court cases.

Tetyana Zotova says that in 2021, the crisis response rooms of the Center for Gender Equality in Kyiv received 212 people who needed immediate help in accommodation. 41 persons were assisted in the shelter of the Center. The results of 2022 have not yet been tallied. The head of the Center for Gender Equality calls it a good result that not a single woman in the shelter returned to the cycle of violence. The situation is different with statistics regarding crisis rooms — 60% of women, unfortunately, return to the abuser, and another 40% — move on and try to start a new life.

Victoria Miroshnychenko from the shelter for women in Poltava says that according to her observations, the number of domestic violence cases has increased, but the number of women ready to come to the Center has decreased. This is explained by the current issue of security, the issue of employment, and stability.

"The woman is afraid that she may not find a job in the new place. She thinks that it is better with him in a familiar place than in an unfamiliar one without him. Therefore, martial law really affects this situation a lot. This is noticed by social workers, police officers, and psychologists. This is another problem today," says Victoria.

In 2022, the Poltava shelter provided assistance to 75 women. For the entire time of operation since 2017, the number of processed appeals has reached more than 370.

During the entire time of work at the "Source of Hope" shelter, which is about five years, about 200 women and 250 children visited it.

Olha, the Vinnytsia shelter resident, says that the country needs such shelters:

"When you finally dare to leave, you realize that there is a solution, that there is such help, that you are simply not alone. And in these centers, you talk to other women, they also tell their stories, and you understand that you are not the only one who suffered. And the problem at such a moment ceases to be terrible," says Olya.

Our heroine urges women not to tolerate domestic violence but to boldly make the decision to leave because, thanks to such centers, there will always be a place where you can find help.


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