December 27, 2004

Now that you know where Ukraine is....

I'm half Ukrainian. For years I've told that to people when they ask what nationality I am and they've just looked at me and nodded and pretended to know what I was talking about. Then I'd explain that it's part of the Soviet Union (or was, depending upon when we're talking about) and they'd suddenly look quite on top of things and nod again saying, "Oh, Russia. Right."
But that's not at all what I wanted to write about.
Rather, I thought that perhaps I could start to compile some of the info. that I've found concerning the trafficking of Ukrainian women and the plight of orphans in Ukraine (tied together by the theme of severe poverty in Ukraine as well as in many other Eastern European countries).

About two years ago, missionaries to Ukraine came and spoke at our church, and though my dad has been to Ukraine several times, and though I identify fairly strongly with the fact that I'm of Ukrainian decent, it wasn't until I heard from these people first hand what it was like over there that I felt compelled to find a way to do something to help.

About a year ago, after reading an article by Kimberlee Acquaro in the New York Times magazine about the international sex slave trade I became not only incensed, but convinced that I should find out more, make sure others knew, and try to figure out what I could do to make a difference.
Within the past 6 months these two internal imperatives have been prompting me more and more frequently to study, to learn, and to do. So far, all I can say I've done is to tell others, and to support an orphanage organization that a friend (who has spent time getting to know several teens in a Ukrainian orphanage) recommended -- Orphans Hope. And here is some of what I've learned.

* * * * *
"More than 120 million people in Eastern Europe earn less than US$4 per day. Where old Soviet economic systems have been disrupted or discarded, there has been economic contraction and hyperinflation, which has wiped out people's savings and security. In Ukraine, over 60 percent of the unemployed are women, and of those who have lost their job since 1991, more than 80 percent are women. The average salary in Ukraine is about US$30 a month, but in many small towns, it is only half that." -- Trafficking in Women from Ukraine, by Donna M. Hughes and Tatyana Denisova (Dec. 2003) -- link to pdf file here

"Sixty five percent of cases of trafficking of women from Ukraine was carried out by organized crime networks. They traffic women because it is a high profit business with low investment. The networks are highly organized, have large-scale operations, and are connected to corrup officials. ...The size of the groups varies throughout Ukraine. The largest criminal groups in Ukraine with 20 to 30 members are in Odessa. In other regions, the groups are smaller, with five to six members. The criminal groups have territories they operate in, and are known to collaborate with officials who provide them with protection and authentic documents for travel. Organized crime groups have databases of potential victims for trafficking from sources such as applications from women for beauty contests or marriage agencies. The databases include photographs of the women, height, weight, and personality traits. Traffickers in Ukraine receive from US$800 to $2,000 per woman they deliver to pimps abroad. The value of the woman depends on her appearance and the destination country. The higher the development of the destination country, the higher the price that will be paid for her." -- "The Transnational Political Criminal Nexus of Trafficking in Women from Ukraine," Trends in Organized Crime, Vol. 6, No. 3-4: Spr.-Sum. 2001, Donna M. Hughes and Tatyana Denisova (link to pdf here)
"Can people really buy and sell women and get away with it? Sometimes I sit here and ask myself if that really happened to me, if it can really happen at all." - A Ukrainian woman who was trafficked, beaten, raped and used in the sex industry in Israel. After a police raid, she was put in prison, awaiting deportation.

"Tragic statistics show that within two years of leaving the orphanage at age fifteen or sixteen, 60% of orphan girls turn to prostitution, 70% of boys fall into crime, and over 10% take their own lives." -- taken from Orphans' Hope literature


  1. I went to Ukraine last summer and lived/worked in an orphanage in a small village. It was incredible, but it hurt to see the poverty and the grief stricken people. Through my church I do what I can. I want to go back. Part of my heart is there.

  2. Tell me more! How did you get hooked up with the orphanage? How was it run? (I've heard they're state run. What does that look like?) What did you do? Do you speak Ukrainian (or did they mostly speak Russian there? do you speak Russian?)....

  3. my friend Jonathan Willoughby is a missionary there. There is a group in British Columbia called Historymakers, and they sent a group of teens over. I went as an adult leader.

    Jonathan works with Les and Lois Paulson, who work with a seminary school, who go and work in the village of Dobromyl.

    They are state run. This one.. the building was in a bit of disarray, and we had no running water for 8 days. We drank well water and our bathrooms were outside with no doors and were squatties. They were also on a public walkway. There were indoor toilets (also squatties) but since no water, they were not useable.

    I'm so tired I'll have to go more into how the orphanages are run later.

    I worked in the village. We cleaned, raked leaves, picked up garbage, did children's programs, did things in the town square. We fixed benches and painted things. We worked around the orphanage. We hung out with the village with the people.

    I learned Ukranian there. I think it was not all me.. I was amazed that my second day I was starting to recognize words. I found I could communicate really really well, probably from being a childcare worker and having to rely on non verbal communication so much. I also bought a children's atlas and had my translator tell me all the words for all the animals, foods, etc, which I wrote in my journal. I also carried around a little photo album, so when I got past "dobre den", (good day), "mo yay em ya, Melanie" (my name is melanie) "ya ne rosa meya" (I don't understand) and "yaz canadae" (I'm Canadian). (all phonetically spelled, goodness.. I would never be able to figure out how to actually spell these words ;) ) then I would start in on my vocabulary. "koorka" chicken, "brat" brother, "fasola" beans.. on and on.. I could talk about basic nonsense for hours ;)

    In our village everyone spoke ukranian, and we were encouraged to learn ukranian rather than Russian, but in Kiev I found most people only spoke Russian.

    I wish I could actually speak ukranian or russian. I think it would be amazing to go back for longer. I figured I learned a substantial amount for the time I was there, so I'd do even better with more time ;)

  4. I knew where Ukraine is if that makes ya feel better :)

    Fixing these perverse social cycles is like moving mountains. It is so sad. I wish they could (and hopefully will someday) live a healthy life full of their own options and choices.

  5. Hey did I tell you I'm 1/16 Ukrainian?
    I think I did...

    Well in France I can say that there are also a lot of pbs of women traffic from Romania unfortunately :S

  6. I'm 25% Ukrainian and yet I don't identify much with that part of my ethnic background, for whatever reason I don't know. My paternal grandmother was the Ukrainian. She still spoke the language casually when talking to her cousins on the phone (who also live over here) mostly to give herself some privacy I think.

  7. I have no known Ukranian blood in me, but instead I have long-distant Indian blood in me by way of Ireland.... :)

  8. I'm glad that you included the quote "More than 120 million people in Eastern Europe earn less than US$4 per day." because I've noticed that wherever there is a lot of poverty, crime flourishes. And when the standard of living of an area is raised, the crime level fades away. San Jose, California used to be a high crime city until the Silicon Valley developments a few miles north created jobs for all kinds of support workers. When people were able to supply their needs through working, they no longer had the incentive to commit crimes.

    You see, criminals are basically people who are in business meeting a market need. If these hardworking criminals had the opportunity to earn money in legitimate businesses many of them would do that. At that point, a police crackdown on corrupt officials has a chance to succeed. In the US there is a lot of experience with this in the crackdown on the Mafia in the early 1960's or the cleaning up of New York including corrupt police officials as portrayed in the film Serpico.

    The best thing anyone can do to help a country like Ukraine is to do business with people in the country, or go there and help people set up businesses or improve their existing businesses by teaching Western techniques. Do that, and the people-smuggling networks will crack and collapse.

    I have been to Ukraine several times over the past 3 years and there is an incredible amount on entrepreneurial initiative there, not just among the criminal classes. Everybody in Ukraine (or most parts of the former Soviet Union) is a capitalist, unlike in the USA and Europe where most people are socialists. Ukrainians don't typically have one job, but have several jobs or are involved in several small-scale business ventures. To get the economy to a point where officials no longer need the economic support of criminals, you need to have thriving mid-sized businesses that can provide people normal full-time employment at a living wage. And these businesses need to navigate their way through an expanding economy where prices (and wages) are constantly rising to world levels.

    Whether you believe that Ukraine's future is part of a Russian-led Eurasian economic zone or as a part of the EU, the economic imperative is the same. Ukraine must eventually pay world prices for things like gas, incorporate that into the price of all Ukrainian goods and all Ukrainian wages. Politicians in Ukraine and the USA often pretend that this is not so, but they are either deluding themselves or trying to win brownie points in a partisan political battle. When Yushchenko says that Ukraine is moving towards joining NATO and the EU, he is saying the same thing as when Yanukovich says Ukraine should become closer to Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (Eurasion economic union). People who provoke political turmoil on these Ukrainian issues are simply using Ukraine as a pawn for international, or US domestic political purposes. They are not helping Ukraine and are, in fact, implicitly supporting the people slavery that you mentioned.

  9. I have been to Ukraine several times over the past 3 years and there is an incredible amount on entrepreneurial initiative there, not just among the criminal classes.

    To those that are interested, you can support some of these entrepreneurs through a loan program run by Here's two examples of entrepreneurs in Ukraine: Yelena Podkopai and Vitalyi Shiplyak.

  10. A few years back I worked with poor children in Keiv and it was most interesting. Keiv was the capital of Russia for longer than Moscow and is now poorer than Russia. Some parts of Ukraine is Polish speaking and my brothers 'in-laws' came from Ukraine but say they are Polish. The borders have changed a lot.
    We have a luxury of moral behavoiur but poor people do not have that. I dated a girl from the Ukraine and she definately viewed herself as a product which is sad. She went through with a fake marriage to attempt to get a US visa but it did not work out. I could have easily been a victim of her ambition to get out of poverty.
    Good to see you promoting Kiva - it has not really arrived in the UK yet.

  11. Dear all,

    I am Ukrainian. I lived in a small town for 16 years, and than I moved to Kiev where I live for over 5 years now. I am fully aware of what's going on in Ukraine as far as HT is concerned. I just want to bring up one important point that has been left without any attention in this little discussion... According to different sources from 70 to 90 percent of all the women trafficed are tottaly aware of what will happen to them after they turn in their pasports to a "strange lady" at the seaport station. They do it hoping to earn some money to help their families. I beleive that poverty and poor education in deep countryside are the true causes of this horrible situation. I wish these women knew that that money could be made a million other ways, withou selling yourself into slavery.
    The BIg Question is - What do we all do about it?

    Kind regards,


  12. thanks, slava. i have heard of a story where a woman took a job that she knew would be slavery in the sex trade because she needed medicine for her son who had diabetes. its very sad that women are feeling like this is the only route they can go.

  13. Meg, do you mind if i link to this on my page? If not, I'll just borrow the kiva and orphans hope links etc... but I'd like to get involved and make this info more widely available. "Everybody in Ukraine is a capitalist"... felt that in Kyiv, definitely. And it isn't really surprising. Thanks for posting this. In 2004.

    Mozhna meni tut pomolytysya?

  14. Hi there
    I have just built a blog about
    Zimbabwe & Hyperinflation
    Your comments would make this project

  15. i'm not sure how the trafficking in ukraine relates. care to fill in the connecting points between the two?

  16. Is there a Ukranian equivalent to the Nigerian 419 scam?

  17. i've seen an asian version, but i don't think i've seen anything european yet.

  18. I've gotten numerous emails claiming to be from African nationals who're in England.


Leave me a note!