Artist hopes getting tattoos over scars is the last pain abuse survivors will ever feel in their lives

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TRIGGER WARNING: This article features language of physical abuse.

Abuse is a taboo subject in Russia, which makes living with its scars difficult. One tattoo artist has found a way to help victims take control of their lives.

Her appointments are no ordinary tattoo sessions, it's a rebirth. That's what Zhenya Zahar calls her project. She tattoos over women's scars left by the domestic violence their partners have inflicted on them.

It's a huge problem in Russia.

READ MORE: Abuse increases during lockdowns: Women stuck between 2 pandemics, coronavirus and gender-based violence 

"The physical scars last forever, the women are afraid someone will see them. This isn't so much about covering the scars, it's about helping women lead normal lives again," says Zhenya.

Victoria has visited the artist many times, she was one of the first women Zhenya helped in her Rebirth Project. 

"My husband and his friend dragged me into the woods, they were both drunk. They stabbed me in the throat and under my arm," says Victoria.

There are no reliable statistics on the number of women who are beaten, abused or killed by their partners in Russia. Human rights activists estimate that one in every three Russian women experiences violence at least once in her marriage. 

READ MORE: After Criselda Dudumashe recently shared how her husband allegedly beat her up we thought we'd remind women how they can seek help 

Many stay silent, afraid their partners will take revenge and because they think the state won't help them.

A woman from the outskirts of the central Asian city of Ufa says a few survivors aren't taken seriously when they go to the police, she wants to remain anonymous.

"My husband was a drug addict. When he was high he would attack me with a knife, he'd beat me and rip out my hair," she says.

Zhenya doesn't believe it's only the abusers who should be held to account, she also feels Russian society and the state are to blame. 

She says, "Whenever the women come to me, they tell me the same story. Their partners - drunk or on drugs - many of their partners are jobless and they drink because there is nothing else to do. Domestic violence is getting worse because no one cares about people here. Many sink into a deep hole they think they can't get out of without alcohol."

When the Rebirth Tattoo Project first started in Ufa four years ago, few people knew what went on behind closed doors or how many women needed help. 

READ MORE: Abused women can text 'hi rainbow' on Facebook messenger and get help and support

When 30 women from across the region turned up on the first week, Zhenya recognised her calling - to help them work through their trauma instead of oppressing it. 

"They come here to tell their stories for the last time. The memories stay in their hearts, you can't tattoo a heart. What's the saying? Out of sight, out of mind? Now at least they don't have to look at their scars every day. I hope they won't dwell on them either," she says.

For Zhenya, the pain these women feel while getting tattooed is all part of the support. She hopes it's the last pain they'll ever feel in their lives. 

Report by Juri Rescheto for Deutsche Welle

Compiled by Phelokazi Mbude

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