Some of those who leave Ukraine in search of work fall vic­tim to hu­man traf­fick­ers

Kyiv Post Legal Quarterly - - Contents - By Ok­sana Gryt­senko gryt­[email protected]­

Olek­sandr Pranko was wounded dur­ing the Euro­maidan Rev­o­lu­tion that ousted Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych in 2014 and was beaten by Krem­lin-backed mili­tia in Donetsk the very same year.

But his worst or­deal hap­pened in 2016, when he spent al­most six months in Rus­sia as a slave la­borer.

He worked ini­tially at a brick fac­tory in the sub­urbs of Makhachkala in Dages­tan in Rus­sia’s Cau­ca­sus re­gion, and later was forced to work at cat­tle farms, first in Dages­tan and then in Kalmykiya in south­ern Rus­sia.

“Hu­man traf­fick­ing is flour­ish­ing there,” Pranko, now 31, told the Kyiv Post.

It was his luck, per­sis­tence, and the help of his friends that brought him back home. Now he is try­ing to build his life from scratch.

Rus­sia’s war against Ukraine — in its fifth year with more than 10,300 peo­ple killed — has hit the econ­omy hard, prompt­ing thou­sands of Ukraini­ans to look for jobs abroad.

But some end up trapped in other coun­tries as slave la­bor con­di­tions.

Change of trends

In 2017, the num­ber of re­ported hu­man traf­fick­ing cases from Ukraine was 1,259, the high­est level since the In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Mi­gra­tion (IOM) started its count in 2000. As of the end of March, the IOM had recorded 270 cases of hu­man traf­fick­ing this year.

Al­to­gether, over 230,000 Ukraini­ans have been vic­tims of hu­man traf­fick­ing since 1991, ac­cord­ing to the re­search.

In con­trast to com­mon be­lief be­lief, 90 per­cent of the hu­man traf­fick­ing cases in 2017 were for forced la­bor and not sex­ual exploitation, ac­cord­ing to the re­port. And in more than 60 per­cent of the cases the vic­tims were men.

Many men, who still think that hu­man traf­fick­ing is mostly a prob­lem for fe­males, “are much less aware of the risks re­lated to la­bor traf­fick­ing,” said Thomas Lothar Weiss, the chief of mis­sion at the IOM in Ukraine. He added that most of­ten men be­come vic­tims of la­bor traf­fick­ing traffi when they work in con­struc­tion, agri­cul­ture or man­u­fac­tur­ing. man

‘Black busi­ness’

In 2015, Pranko was des­per­ately look­ing for a job as a car­pen­ter. Along with dozens of men, he was re­cruited by a firm in Kharkiv to con­struct mil­i­tary for­ti­fi­cat tions near the front­line town of Shchas­tia in Luhansk Ob Oblast. But he says the firm de­ceived the work­ers, re­fus­ing to pay them the salary they had agreed to be­fore. Pr Pranko re­mem­bers he was de­pressed and de­cided to try his lu luck in Rus­sia. He trav­eled to Moscow, find­ing work in a veg­etable ware ware­house and then in so-called “work­ing houses” — shel­ters for the home­less where peo­ple work in ex­change for food food, an op­por­tu­nity to bathe and a place to sleep. Pe Peo­ple were of­ten beaten up and abused there, but the po­lice turned a blind eye to these work­ing houses, Pranko said. “It’s a black busi­ness.”

Get­ting worse

His life got even worse when some­one stole his car­pen­ter’s tool­kit. So when a man at a train sta­tion of­fered him a job at a brick fac­tory near Makhachkala, Pranko agreed.

“He told me: ‘I’ll pay for your bus ticket, and the driver will pay for your food’,” Pranko re­called.

But at the brick fac­tory, he saw sev­eral dozen men like him, in­clud­ing one Ukrainian. “They didn’t pay us, but they gave us food, al­co­hol, and ci­garettes,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to what he heard, re­cruiters were re­ceiv­ing some 15,000 Rus­sian rubles (about $240) for ev­ery per­son who worked at the fac­tory for at least two weeks.

Pranko said his pass­port was taken away. He had nei­ther money nor knowl­edge of where to go. When he even­tu­ally did at­tempt to es­cape, he was de­tained by lo­cal po­lice of­fi­cers who, in­stead of free­ing him, resold him into forced la­bor at a cat­tle farm in the moun­tains of north Dages­tan.

Pranko made sev­eral other at­tempts to es­cape, but was cap­tured ev­ery time ei­ther by his own­ers or by the po­lice, who re­turned him to slave work. Later he trav­eled as a hitch­hiker through the Rus­sian repub­lic of Kalmykiya, where he was also forced to work ei­ther by lo­cal farm­ers or by the po­lice.

Pranko re­turned to Ukraine in June 2016, with fail­ing health and psy­cho­log­i­cal prob­lems. Since then, he has worked at var­i­ous con­struc­tion sites abroad and in Kyiv.

Low aware­ness

De­spite the war, Rus­sia re­mains the main des­ti­na­tion for hu­man traf­fick­ing from Ukraine in 2017. The IOM says that 65 per­cent of all cases in­volve Rus­sia, fol­lowed by Poland, and Turkey, where many peo­ple are still ex­ploited for sex­ual pur­poses, Weiss said.

Pranko’s story re­flects the anony­mous sto­ries of other vic­tims of hu­man traf­fick­ing col­lected by the IOM.

Most of the vic­tims were re­leased by the traf­fick­ers af­ter sev­eral months of work. But they re­turned home with se­ri­ous health is­sues and prob­lems in readapt­ing to free­dom.

They in­clude the ac­counts of a 19-year-old stu­dent forced to work for free con­struct­ing a kinder­garten in Moscow; a 37-year-old man who was forced to work at a con­struc­tion site in Ber­lin; a 25-year-old hair­dresser who was forced by her al­leged boyfriend into sex traf­fick­ing in Israel; and a five-year-old girl who was forced to beg for money by her step­fa­ther.

Most of the vic­tims were re­leased by the traf­fick­ers af­ter sev­eral months of work. But they re­turned home with se­ri­ous health is­sues and prob­lems in readapt­ing to free­dom.

Weiss said the el­dest per­son who had ap­proached the IOM for help was an 80-year-old woman who was forced to pan­han­dle for her traf­fick­ers. The youngest vic­tim was just three.

A sur­vey con­ducted by GFK Ukraine in 2017 by the re­quest of the IOM, shows that 17 per­cent of re­spon­dents were ready to take a job with­out of­fi­cially be­ing em­ployed, 6 per­cent were ready to work in locked rooms where they are not al­lowed to leave their work­ing sites with­out per­mis­sion, 3 per­cent were ready to work at il­le­gal en­ter­prises, 2 per­cent were ready to il­le­gally cross the bor­der and 1 per­cent would agree to hand over their pass­ports to em­ploy­ers.

Weiss said this shows that de­spite all the in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns, many Ukraini­ans are will­ing to take murky jobs with­out un­der­stand­ing that they risk end­ing up in the hands of traf­fick­ers.

Around 25 mil­lion peo­ple world­wide were in­volved in forced la­bor in 2016, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional La­bor Or­ga­ni­za­tion. This is the third most lu­cra­tive il­le­gal busi­ness, worth dozens of bil­lions of dol­lars, fol­low­ing only drugs and arms traf­fick­ing.

“Traf­fick­ing can hap­pen to any­one — young and old, male or fe­male, and Ukraini­ans as much as for­eign­ers,” Weiss said.

Peo­ple take part in the yearly Walk for Free­dom march in protest of hu­man traf­fick­ing on Oct. 16, 2017, in Kyiv. (Oleg Pe­tra­siuk)

Ukraine touts its highly skilled, ed­u­cated and low-cost work­force when seek­ing to lure in for­eign in­vest­ment. But with many skilled work­ers leav­ing for jobs abroad, the la­bor force is be­com­ing less at­trac­tive, even if it is cheap.

Many busi­nesses in Ukraine are strug­gling with high em­ployee turnover as work­ers get trained and find bet­ter wages, con­di­tions abroad.

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