Ukrainian refugees in Slovakia struggle to access abortion

Some have been forced to return to Ukraine.

Some Ukrainian refugees have returned to Ukraine to get abortions. (Illustrative photo)Some Ukrainian refugees have returned to Ukraine to get abortions. (Illustrative photo) (Source: Ján Krošlák, SME)

Ukrainian refugees living in Slovakia because their country is at war are being forced to return to Ukraine in order to obtain safe abortions. Many of them also face difficulty accessing reproductive health products via the public health care system.

Among the Ukrainian refugees are many who have survived sexual assault and rape by Russian soldiers, attacks that threatened their lives. Despite this, Ukrainians have to face intimidation, racism, and language and financial barriers to health care, news website Euractiv reports, citing a new study by the Center for Reproductive Rights that examines the situation in Slovakia, Hungary, Poland and Romania.

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“A group of women with a great trauma came to us," said Zuzana Juráneková of IPčko, an organisation that helps people with mental health issues, and which operates mental health-care refuges. "A lot of them were sexually assaulted by Russian soldiers that threatened them with death. They needed somebody to help them with their trauma, but the [public health] system's response was to send them back to their temporary housing.”

Slovakia lacks the option of an abortion pill and women seeking an abortion are, in most circumstances, required to wait 48 hours before being granted the procedure. Doctors, and sometimes entire hospitals, can use their right to conscientious objection – i.e. to refuse to perform abortions on moral grounds – something that Ukrainian refugees are not used to.

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The study found that hospitals offer reproductive health care in a limited way. The European Union has published guidelines on care for Ukrainian refugees, but member states interpret these in their own way. Financial stress also negatively affects Ukrainian refugees, many of whom struggle to afford menstrual health products.

“Sanitary products [provided by charities] ... went like hot cakes,” said Juráneková.

LGBT+ Ukrainian refugees also face obstacles obtaining safe and accessible healthcare in Slovakia, said Róbert Furiel of Saplinq, a LGBT+ activist organisation: “We’re telling transgender people to not stay in Slovakia, but instead to travel to Prague.”

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