Ukrainian women who sought refuge in European Union countries are being forced to travel through dangerous conflict zones to access abortions and contraception in their native country, a study has warned.
Research found some women from Ukraine now living in Poland, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia are having to temporarily return home as it is “easier” to access reproductive healthcare there, despite the stress of travelling back into the war-torn country.
The study, by the Center for Reproductive Rights and eight global and national human rights organisations, warned refugees are being put “at risk” as they grapple with issues such as legal restrictions and cost barriers when trying to access the right care.
Krystyna Kacpura, of the FEDERA Foundation for Women and Family Planning in Poland, an NGO involved in the report, said Ukrainian women have struggled to come to terms with the fact “there is no real access” to abortion in Poland and that other reproductive health services, such as emergency contraception, are “very limited”.
Anastasiia Podorozhnia, of Martynka, a Ukrainian organisation also based in Poland, added: “We were approached by a teenage girl, already of legal age, asking where to get the morning after pill in Poland, because she went to a pharmacy and they looked at her so strangely and she, as a person from Ukraine, didn’t expect that.”
Almost eight million Ukrainians have been forced to leave the country since Russia launched an invasion in February last year,with women and children making up the majority of refugees.
Leah Hoctor, a senior regional director at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said: “The European Union has promised to provide refugees from Ukraine with sanctuary and care.
“Yet women from Ukraine who are now in Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia often experience a very different reality when they need sexual and reproductive healthcare. Instead of care and protection, they regularly face an obstacle course of restrictions, confusion, stigma and discrimination”.
Ms Hoctor warned the “health and wellbeing” of some Ukrainian refugees are being put “at risk” by an inability to access “time-sensitive healthcare and support services” which is exacerbating “the harm they have endured” from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Anna Ivanyi, of the EMMA Association in Hungary, another organisation involved in the research, explained female refugees from Ukraine return to their homeland as it is “easier for them to go home and get the pill or the abortion pill” as medical abortions are not permitted in Hungary.
“These women can travel back and forth between Ukraine and Hungary, but it doesn’t mean that it’s peaceful or normal travel,” she added. “It’s very stressful for them.”
Yulia*, who is from Ukraine but is now living in Romania, claimed women “are driving back” to the Western part of Ukraine from other countries to find a doctor “and doing what they used to” because they do not have other options.
Refugees subjected to rape and sexual assault in Ukraine linked to the conflict are also struggling to get the right support after leaving their home country, the research said.
Ms Kacpura said she has spoken to women in their 40s with families who have burst into tears as they told her they were raped.
“But they said, ‘please don’t tell anybody, because I have my family, and my husband has been fighting,” Ms Kacpura added. “Could you imagine if I add to his troubles? What if he comes from the war and sees an additional child?’… When I explain to them that they can obtain legal abortion in Poland if they report and get a prosecutor’s certificate, they say: ‘My life, my family is the most important for me right now.’”