Ukrainian refugees at risk: gender-based violence, trafficking and exploitation (SEREDA CEE)

This project examines the risks, experiences and awareness of GBV and trafficking in Poland and Ukraine to help develop adequate policy and safeguarding measures.

This project is related to the research on Sexual and gender based violence in the refugee crisis: from displacement to arrival (SEREDA).

The war against Ukraine forced millions of people to flee, escalating one of the fastest-growing displacement crises. Children, pensioners and women constitute a disproportionately large share of refugees, with most working-age men remaining to defend the country. Evidence of gender-based violence (GBV) towards female refugees exposes a lack of vetting system in refugee accommodation provisions and rise of trafficking during transportation across Europe. In eastern Ukraine, every third women witnessed or experienced conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV), compared with every fourth man (Busol 2020). There are also evidences of CRSV in Ukraine from the Russian army (The New York Times 2022).

Conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) support is limited due to stigma, shortcomings of the criminal justice system, and lack of mental health professionals. Anecdotal information indicates enormous risks and increasing prevalence of trafficking. Most international aid programs focus on immediate humanitarian assistance – issues of GBV and trafficking remain unaccounted. Women also have no voice to report sexual abuse and CRSV during strenuous journeys of refuge. An urgent need to examine the risks, manifestations, and awareness of GBV and trafficking arises to develop adequate policy and safeguarding measures.

Funder and partners

The Institute for Global Innovations and Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of Birmingham supports interdisciplinary research, offers funding to help prime new research, build capacity, and maximise impact. The project’s partners are Convictus in Ukraine and La Strada in Poland – both organisations hold a long-term record of working with victims of GBV.

Project leads 

For further information please contact

View SEREDA Associated Videos

This graphic outlines seven tips for displaced people how to stay safe in transit and refuge and to avoid risks of abuse. It provides emergency phone numbers and numbers of service providers offering support in Poland for victims of GBV.
This graphic presents a story of an internally displaced person from Eastern Ukraine to Lviv. Being not ready to leave, she sent her daughter away with her father. She then joined them to live in occupied areas where they had to hide in the cellar. Eventually she moved to Lviv where she lived in overcrowded shelter without privacy. Disguised job offers demanded sex services.
This graphic illustrates a story of a refugee woman from Ukraine who was forced to flee her country due to war violence. She has been abused on her journey to Poland but did not report to police. She continued to suffer from war-related trauma. In Poland she stayed in overcrowded accommodation where she faced physical and emotional violence. She could not find work and was subjected to sexual harassment.

Research objectives

  • To examine protection and safeguarding concerns in the recent feminised displacement emergency from Ukraine with a focus on experiences in transit and countries of (temporary) refuge
  • To help understand conflict-related (sexual) violence in Ukraine
  • To explore GBV and trafficking prevention and response initiatives in Poland and Ukraine
  • To explore coping strategies of victims of GBV, trafficking and exploitation
  • To understand risk mitigation and perceptions of risks among refugees and internally displaced people and awareness of access to support
  • To build on prior extensive SEREDA evidence and AHRC project led by Dr Kuznetsova, impact and policy engagement with UN agencies, international organisations and NGOs, with the aim of impacting policy and practice.

Outputs and impact

The project will generate baseline data on GBV in forced migration routes from Ukraine and in Poland against Ukrainian refugees in the current humanitarian and displacement emergency. It aims to highlight the voices of the unheard in displacement contexts, in particular, refugee women to provide an evidence base for policy development. 

The outputs and impact include:

  1. New dataset on emerging GBV and trafficking risks in war-torn Ukraine and forced migrant journey to, and refuge in, Poland based on interviews with Ukrainian refugees and stakeholders in Poland
  2. Research report with findings and recommendations
  3. Policy briefing and ongoing advocacy
  4. Public awareness and policy engagement workshop
  5. Development and dissemination of infographics via social media to inform at-risk populations about risks of GBV and trafficking, and available supports

Latest publications

Research team

  • Dr Sandra Pertek, University of Birmingham, School of Social Policy
  • Dr Irina Kuznetsova, University of Birmingham, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences
  • Madiha Z Sadiq, Research support
  • Malgorzata Kot, Researcher (Poland)
  • Nataliia Semytotska, Convictus, Community-based researcher (Poland)
  •  Evgeniia Dergacheva, Convictus, Community-based researcher (Poland)
  • Yuliia Tsarevska, Convictus, Researcher (Ukraine)
  • Liliia Huk, Convictus, Researcher (Ukraine)


30 May 2023

Intersectional gender analysis in policy and programme planning: Refugee protection and inclusion in Poland.

This is in partnership with  UNHCR Poland, University of Warsaw, Faculty of Applied Social Sciences and Resocialization, the Centre for Women's and Gender Research, Jacob of Paradies University in Gorzów Wielkopolski

This training aims to introduce how to design and implement gender-sensitive social policy and programmes for marginalised forced migrant groups, and to develop basic gender analysis skills for ongoing projects/activities (gender analysis for project management). The training also aims to explain the nature of gender-based violence in forced migration as a form of discrimination against women and to identify the state's obligations to prevent and counter it under the existing law.
Participants after attending the introductory training will be familiar with the basic principles for integrating gender perspective into their policy and programme design and implementation. 

The training will be facilitated by experts in the field of integration of gender perspective in refugee programmes and policies: Dr Sandra Pertek (University of Birmingham), Dr hab. Aleksandra Szczerba (Jacob of Paradies University in Gorzów Wielkopolski, EUHatEq), Dr Marta Pietrusińska (University of Warsaw), Aleksandra Gulińska (University of Warsaw). 

26 July 2022 

The SEREDA CEE Project Team invited stakeholders based in Poland to participate in the consultation meeting: Ukrainian refugees at risk: gender-based violence, trafficking and exploitation at the premises of Students’ Council of the University of Warsaw (Krakowskie Przedmieście 24). The event was co-hosted by the University of Warsaw Center of Migration Research and Centre for Women’s and Gender Research.  

The aim of the event was to share and discuss key research findings and jointly develop recommendations to strengthen protection of refugees from gender-based violence (GBV) and human trafficking, and to develop assistance mechanisms for survivors and people at risk. 

The event’s working language was Polish and Ukrainian. It was a hybrid event.

Further details

Project posts

For victims/survivors in Ukraine:

  • Free phone for psychological support in Ukraine 0 800 211 444
  • National Hot line for prevention trafficking in Ukraine – 527 or 0800 505 501
  • National hot line of La Strada 116 111
  • Free legal service 0800 213 103
  • Chat bot of national policy for victims of violence #ДійПротиНасильства 

For victims/survivors in Poland:

  • Directory of services and hotlines here from The No More Project
  • Polish Migration Forum psychological helpline for Ukrainian refugees: 669 981 038
  • Governmental help to Ukrainian refugees in Poland: 19524
  • Helpline of Ministry of Justice: +48 222 309 900
  • Psychological support Hotline for Ukrainian refugees: +48 727 805 764
  • Child helpline phone by Children’s Rights Ombudsman: 800 12 12 12 

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