Commoditizing Ukrainian Flesh


“They didn’t see us as human beings, but just as whores, just as flesh that they could use. That’s all.”, said Tania, a Ukrainian woman who had been a victim of sex trade. Yes. I used the word “trade” because it is what it is, plain business. Tania was 23 years old when it all started. Trafficked from Ukraine to Turkey, she was sexually exploited by the man who bought her for a ridiculously miserable amount of money (as she was not a virgin and did not poses any considerable monetary “value”). Like other victims of sex trade, she was offered a good job abroad in exchange for, what sounded back then, a good compensation. Now some are forced to do it, while others are just desperate to survive. Some started at the age of 23, other as early as 12.

“They (a foreigner and a Ukrainian woman) offered me work as a nanny at their house. They said that they had a very good friend whose girls work, two each at a villa. The woman said that she is taking her sister with her as well. She said it wasn’t hard. She said that we could just go and have a look, that if we didn’t like it there, we could just say so, and we would be given a ticket and sent back. She said that sending us back wouldn’t be a problem at all. She kept saying it was all for real and it wasn’t a scheme.”, Tania recounted.

Like most victims of trafficking, Tania’s first week was the hardest. She was exhibited in one of the many underground brothels of Turkey. She was raped by more than fifteen clients a day. Sometimes beaten, tortured and drugged when she attempted to resist. Use of condom was never an option. In the underground market, everybody wanted to try the “new girl”. When not working, she was held in a cramped room until a client comes. Her owner also confiscated her passport and other documents to ensure that she cannot walk away. This is considered a standard operating procedure. Victims of sex trade are left broken both physically and mentally, assuming they survive. Those were Tania’s most traumatizing times.

Tania is just one of the countless women trapped in this system of injustice and exploitation. Even within Ukrainian soils, coerced prostitution is quite rampant. Central to this massive underground business is Odessa City, considered as the organized crime capital of Ukraine and probably the biggest empire of sex trade in Europe. In this place, women are being managed by hierarchy of pimps called mamachka and mafiosi. This whole business empire is protected by bribed police officers and corrupt officials.

Women who are not trafficked find their luck at the streets of Odessa where brutality is a known feat. “They drive us to the city outskirts and we are raped and beaten. They leave us there. No one does anything because they pay the police.” said Mila, a Ukrainian who entered the world of sex trade at the age of 15. Here is a massive factory that commoditizes Ukrainian flesh in the form of trafficked women and children.

Most of the victims aspired to begin a new life. Finding a job outside this whole industry, however, proved to be almost impossible. In reality, a number of them tried but they just reverted to prostitution after a few months.

Before Dark Days

Tanya and her family lived in Chernobyl but was displaced, together with its 43,000 inhabitants, after the nuclear reactor explosion in the region on the 26th of April 1986. They currently reside in Freewill in Western Ukraine. Their exposure to the radioactive fallout, however, afflicted them with different illnesses. Her mother and older brother are suffering from tuberculosis, her sister has a brain tumor, and his younger brother is severely ill after series of abdominal operations. In addition, she has a daughter to raise.

Given her circumstances, Tania knew she was her family’s last hope. After seeing these vulnerabilities, a trafficker lured her by offering a “well-paid job” abroad. Her trafficker even promised her that she can return home anytime. Afraid of this kind of opportunity never coming around again, she accepted the offer – not knowing the future ahead of her. Before leaving, her daughter begged her mother to stay. “I won’t be long. I’ll come home very soon”. So Tania promised.

Misused Authority

Human trafficking is considered as one of the largest organized-crime around the world. Since 1991, more than 110,000 Ukrainians had been coerced into exploitative situations in different parts of Europe, Middle East, and Russia. Forced labor and commercial sexual exploitations are the usual motive for trafficking. Based on CARIM-EAST Report of 2013, women aged 18 to 26 with very low socio-economic standards, and children, primarily girls, aged 13 to 18, are the Ukrainian population most vulnerable to human trafficking. Trafficking in Persons, a comprehensive report published by US State Department in 2014, estimated that up to 800,000 individuals are traded across borders. A big chunk of this number comes from Ukraine. Globally, women account for 55 – 60% of all trafficking victims and 27% of this population are children.

After the breakdown of Soviet Union, Ukraine is gradually integrating into the movement of global migration processes. This global integration and outward labor migration, however, increased the incidence of human trafficking.
This is a modern day slave trade. As Charlotte Bunch stated, “If you count the number of women and children in bonded labor, domestic slavery or sexual slavery today, there are more slaves in the world than at any other time in history.”

The most puzzling thing, however, is that the State refuses to break this continuing circle of abuse. During trials, victims are not taken as witnesses and just shoved in the dark (some of them do not even know the dates of court trials). For no legitimate reason, some victims are barred to enter the courtroom. In 2010, 337 criminal cases related to human trafficking were filed in Ukraine. Only 85 of these resulted to verdict. And even successful verdict cannot be equated to acceptable punishment since most cases only resulted in fine, not imprisonment.

Final Thoughts…

The exuding insincerity alienates the victims that are supposed to be protected, discounting their basic rights to live a humane life. Because of the neglect, women like Tania are pressed to enter the same line of work again and again, hoping to provide a good life to their family. This system has become a slow war of attrition, consuming little by little, the life of the poor, especially women and children, until they lie dead on the ground.