With the influx of refugees to a number of Western countries, thousands of Ukrainian sex workers also are migrating to various countries with the hope of making extra money. Although Ukrainian leaders are showing the current war as the cause of extreme sufferings and misery, to Ukrainian sex workers and even those females who are stepping into this profession – the war brings a grand bonanza. While the prospective customers looking for beautiful Ukrainian girls and females for meeting the sexual fantasies and urge, one thing certainly is ringing the alarm of high risk. As according to international media reports, in 2016, Ukraine had a population of 80,100 female sex workers, 5.2 percent with HIV positive. This percentage increased greatly in conflict zones and was estimated to be as high as 38.2 percent, for example in Donetsk. This elucidates the linkage between prostitution and militarization—which as feminist scholar stated “are a natural twosome”. Displacement, destruction and deterioration of the economy caused by war, leave many women, without a home or income.
Ukraine has the second largest HIV epidemic in eastern Europe and central Asia, with an estimated 250,000 people living with HIV. These rates have, in a large part, been spurred by militarization and conflict in the country, factors which have disproportionally affected women, increasing their vulnerability to HIV infection and exposing them to stigma, marginalization and violence.
The catastrophic destruction triggered by the Russian invasion has rapidly escalated the risk of HIV infection and concomitant violence for women in Ukraine.
For women who have often had no access to education, prostitution is the only available profession for them to make a living. Their precarious situation also heightens the risk of exploitation and trafficking. According to a study, some Ukrainian women were coerced into sex in exchange for money or just food. Currently there also are reports emerging of criminal gangs targeting Ukrainian girls and women refuges, particularly young girls, who are later trafficked by the organized rackets and sold to prostitution rings or individuals as sex slaves.
According to a recent research, seven out of 10 Ukrainian females are exposed to gender-based violence and sexual exploitation during the ongoing war. Sexual violence makes women more susceptible to contracting HIV given the likelihood that perpetrators has abuse multiple victims without taking protective measures against STDs.
A UNFPA report on gender-based violence in the conflict-affected regions of eastern Ukraine, also confirmed women’s vulnerability to domestic violence increased during conflict. Reasons cited include the normalization of violence culture within society, the wider availability of weapons and the fracturing of communities and loss of support networks.
There is a correlation between domestic violence and increased rates of HIV given that women who flee domestic violence often find themselves in vulnerable situations, without shelter or economic security. Many victims also adopt harmful coping practices such as substance abuse to deal with the psychological trauma. These factors make women susceptible to exploitation and forced prostitution, thus heightening the risk of HIV infection.
European Union officials and the United Nations fear that as many as seven million people, could cross into neighboring countries such as Poland, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary which campaigner say will create a ‘disturbing spike in human trafficking’.
Ukrainian females are in vulnerable condition
Ukraine is now known to have a greater number of trafficking victims than any other Eastern European nation after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In 1998, the Ukrainian Ministry of Interior estimated that 400,000 Ukrainian women were trafficked during the previous decade; other sources, such as non-governmental organizations, state the number was even higher. According to the International Organization for Migration over 500,000 Ukrainian women have been exploited with trafficking to the West since its independence in 1991 up to 1998.
Ukrainian women have been exported to countries across the world, such as Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Spain, Hungary, United Arab Emirates, Syria etc. According to multiple reports the Ukrainian sex-workers are the largest group of foreign women in Turkey involved into prostitution and the second largest group of foreign women involved into prostitution outside the US military bases in Republic of Korea.
Of trafficking victims, 80 percent were unemployed prior to leaving Ukraine. Traffickers use this economic vulnerability to recruit women into prostitution. Many victims were convinced to leave Ukraine with the promise of profit by traffickers. The traffickers say they will work as dancers or in-store clerks. Victims are usually exported with legal documents such as travel visas. Ukrainian police say 70 percent of trafficked women travel with genuine documents obtained from corrupt officials. The majority of women cross the border with these genuine documents as opposed to being smuggled. Once they arrive in their destination country, they are frequently trapped by pimps taking away their visas, or by owing the pimps money to be paid off with prostitution. If they succeed in paying off their debt, some become recruiters, going back to Ukraine and telling friends and family they made a significant amount of money by going abroad. Approximately 60 percent of traffickers are Ukrainian women. While an IOM survey says that 92 percent of Ukrainians were aware of sexual trafficking, trafficking continued to increase since then. Ukrainians working irregularly abroad increased from 28 percent to 41 percent from 2011 to 2015.
Women fleeing their homes in times of war are often targeted by those seeking to turn a profit from their plight — including on social media, where ads inviting Ukrainian women to work in prostitution abroad have become all too frequent.
According to Fernand Cohen of the volunteer group Rescuers without Borders, the phenomenon has become exceedingly common at the Ukraine-Poland border, where he and his team were stationed.
“[They were] like a small mob. They looked for women with very small children, usually beautiful women. We have seen several such cases… The police cannot contend with the influx of people, no one can,” Cohen said.
“Every day, dozens of buses full of women and children arrive. In the end, they will certainly find victims who can be seduced with money or other things. They are easy to reach”.
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