Shelters for women facing domestic violence: how it works in Russia

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Svetlana Yefimova was not among the millions of Russian women who were given flowers by their husbands on International Women’s Day, a mix of St. Valentine’s and Mother’s Day celebrated on March 8. She divorced him in September 2010, several years after he first severely beat her, breaking her nose, and pledged to make her life “hell.”

“I understood that I should save myself and my children,” Yefimova, 43, a mother of two daughters, says taking a sip of coffee in a cafe in central Moscow. “It’s very difficult to make this step. But if you do, there is no way back.”

There are thousands of women in Russia like Yefimova, who have no place to go when they face domestic violence. There are only about 25 women’s shelters across the country, with places for a total of about 200 women, according to Moscow’s Anna National Center for the Prevention of Violence. That is in a country of 142 million, where every 40 minutes a woman dies at the hands of her husband or partner.

Unofficial data collected by the Anna Center show that as many as 14,000 women die annually from domestic violence in the country, around four times more per head than in the United States. Official statistics on the issue do not exist, says Russian Interior Ministry spokesman Oleg Yelnikov.

“Russian laws stipulate punishment for various offences such as hooliganism, beating, causing bodily injuries. But it is impossible to establish how many cases specifically involve domestic violence against women, among all such offences,” he told RIA Novosti.

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