‘Martynka’, a helpline for Ukrainian Women fleeing the war

I-Stories a Russian investigative journalism project based in Riga has interviewed Anastasia Podorozhnaya from Wadi’s partner organisation Martynka about the situation of women fleeing Ukraine and how Martynka is helping victims of rape and violence.


How activists from Poland help Ukrainian refugee women survive violence and get emergency contraception. By Ekaterina Fomina, I-Stories, 30.05.2022 (With Google translate)

Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Europe has faced a huge influx of refugees. At least 3.5 million of them ended up in Poland, one of the eu’s most conservative states with the strictest anti-abortion laws: only a pregnant woman is allowed to have an abortion on her own, and any “aiding or abetting” it is criminally punishable. Doctors who continue to perform abortions on women contrary to a legal order could face prison sentences ranging from six months to eight years. Access to emergency contraception in the country is also severely limited. Therefore, Ukrainian women who have become victims of sexualized violence in the new country may face additional difficulties.

“Many criminals take advantage of the vulnerable position of Ukrainians and, in particular, Ukrainian women”

Anastasia Podorozhnaya, the founder of the hotline for refugee women and the project to help women “Martinka”, writes about these problems in her blog. Since the beginning of Russia’s war with Ukraine, the girl has been helping Ukrainian women survive the consequences of violence, get support, as well as legal and medical assistance in Poland. Important Stories spoke to her about her work.

How did you get involved in volunteering and how did you come up with the idea of creating Martinka?

“The war found me in Lviv. I came there from Krakow because my older sister convinced me of the need for a meeting because of the tense political situation. But a week after the war began, her family and I fled back to Europe. At first, I volunteered as a journalist, I really wanted to do something important and useful, I wrote guides for refugees. But one day I was asked to interview human trafficking experts. It turned out that such a problem became extremely urgent after the influx of refugees from Ukraine. It was about the tenth day of the war.


Many criminals take advantage of the vulnerable position of Ukrainians and, in particular, Ukrainian women. For example, they offer them a trip to Paris, overnight stay is free and all that. And then it turns out to be not a trip, and not a place to sleep, but the exploitation of labor, the taking of a passport and rape. Then I thought it would be great to set up a hotline to help in such situations.

Are such cases actively investigated in Poland? What else do refugee women have to face here?

– Cases in which there is an episode of rape are poorly investigated here. I realized this after eight years of living in the country. Despite the fact that Poland adopted the Istanbul Convention (the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. – Editor’s note), here rape is considered only a very, very specific situation when the rapist undresses you and says: “Now I will rape you.” And you say, “Oh no, don’t you dare!” only then [the police] qualify it as rape.

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This has already happened to at least one refugee who was raped by a man in Wroclaw. He offered her a free night’s lodging. She appealed to law enforcement, and a week later there was the first court hearing. The process went quite quickly: they collected evidence, made her a forensic examination. However, precisely because the girl did not actively resist, the judge reclassified this as “sexual use in a dependent situation.” For rape, up to 12 years are given, and for “use” – up to three. If this were regarded as rape, the man would have been held in custody while the case was being considered, and now with this new qualification, the rapist walks freely around Wroclaw. I understand that there will be more such cases and that we will never know about many of them.

– What problems can we turn to Martinka?

“Refugee women come to us with a variety of problems. When it is necessary to go to the police station together, to help with the transfer, when a woman needs medical or psychological help … I know from the experience of my colleagues who have worked with refugees in other countries that sometimes the police cooperate with interpreters who translate not what the victim says, but down to completely opposite things.

“We receive about five requests a day with requests for assistance with abortion – specifically from Ukraine and Russian-speaking people. Probably, the women moved away from the shock, did a pregnancy test and there was a problem. “

I’ve personally had that experience. Four years ago in Krakow I was attacked by a man, he tried to rape me, but I fought back, and the police and I found him immediately, hot on the heels of it. I brought this case to court with great effort, because the police did not believe me. It was a very difficult situation. Why did I remember that? The man who attacked me turned out to be Ukrainian, and in court he was provided with an interpreter. This translator did his job so badly that he translated my word “face” as “beast.” It turned out that I allegedly called him a beast. A curious story came out: I had to translate [the words of the judge] for my rapist, because the translator from the Polish state stupidly could not cope.

– So you understood from your own experience that if women traumatized by war now face this, then their hands will completely drop?

– Who in such a situation will have the strength to seek their rights? I know how hard it is. Our hotline is written by people who are afraid to leave their shelter after the bombing in Kharkiv. And then you have to go, prove something in a foreign language, talk to strangers on intimate topics, explain in detail where the rapist touched you … Therefore, I understood that some kind of initiative was needed. She wasn’t. And that’s how “Martinka” appeared.


At first, it was primarily to counter fraud and so that the victim would not feel abandoned. But when Bucha happened and we saw all these terrible photos, we began to understand that people who might need abortions would begin to come to Poland. Martinka has already had such rare appeals. But is it worth explaining that there are problems with emergency contraception in Poland?

— Tell us in more detail: in Poland it is absolutely impossible to buy such pills without a doctor’s prescription?

– With emergency contraception, this is the story: in Poland, it is legally sold only by prescription. And often you will also be looked at very crookedly in the pharmacy. To get the drugs, you need to go to the doctor and ask for a prescription. This can be done free of charge only in a public clinic when registering in Poland. Now the queue takes about a month. And this is not the period that a person who needs emergency contraception can wait for.

The second option is to make an appointment with a paid doctor. The cost of admission varies from 150 to 200 zlotys, which is about 50 euros. For many refugee women, this is a significant amount. And even if you pay for this private visit, it is not a fact that you will receive a prescription. The doctor may not prescribe the drug – because of his beliefs or for religious reasons. (…)

– Martynka has a bot on telegram. Tell us how it works.

– The idea is that the bot is similar to correspondence with a friend in a messenger. Therefore, you can communicate with him in an emergency.


Martynka greets you with a message in one of four languages, depending on what kind of interface you have. Then she tells me what she can do. I want it to be possible to use it to send a signal about the danger, for example, to say some code word, and then our organization will contact the police. It will appear soon, but for now there is only a welcome message: “I will help you find a free lawyer, doctor or psychologist, I can go with you to the police station, I will help you with pills.”

The portrait on the avatar is some of our fantasy about what my younger niece Martin might look like when she grows up. Martinka has a human face because I wanted the bot to be talked to like a real friend. And Martina is a female name originating from the god of war Mars. To me, that’s a great name for a defender bot.

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We also like to thank the AJC Berlin for their support of the #SafeAid Campaign in Poland