Ukrainian prosecutors uncover sex trafficking ring preying on women fleeing the country | sex trafficking

Investigators in Ukraine say they have foiled a criminal gang forcing women into prostitution abroad after luring them with fake advertisements for legitimate employment.

Kyiv authorities have arrested the alleged gang leader after months of surveillance led them to arrest a woman as she was about to cross the border. They were then able to confirm the suspect’s involvement.

The 21-year-old, who has a dependent son, had lost her job because of the war and was about to cross Hungary, go to Vienna and, from there, take a flight to Istanbul, where she believed a legitimate job offer awaited her.

After helping her, prosecutors were then able to arrest a 31-year-old man suspected of being the leader of a trafficking ring. Based in the Kyiv region, the gang allegedly recruited a number of vulnerable Ukrainian women after the Russian invasion with the false prospect of legal employment, sent them to Turkey and forced them into prostitution.

At the suspect’s home, prosecutors found thousands of dollars in cash, credit cards, some registered in China, and a diary, seen by the Guardian, in which the suspect kept a record of the women and their activities in Turkey. .

“Since the beginning of the war, many women in Ukraine have been experiencing financial difficulties,” said Oleh Tkalenko, Kyiv’s chief prosecutor. region that conducted the survey. “Many of them have lost their jobs. It was very difficult, especially for single mothers. In one of the cities of the Kyiv region, a group of men organized a series of Telegram channels, called “Meetings”, “Meet your future husband” or “Escort service” where they recruited these women. Taking advantage of their vulnerable situation, they offered them jobs in Turkey.

Senior prosecutor Oleh Tkalenko, who led the investigation into the trafficking network. Photography: Alessio Mamo/The Guardian

Prosecutors said the women were offered jobs to accompany wealthy men to high-profile events. “When the women arrived there, they were involved in prostitution,” Tkalenko said. “They were ripped off.”

In early June, investigators began tracking the movements and contacts of a man living near the capital who appeared to be the ringleader. After a few weeks, the authorities managed to trace one of his victims, a woman from Donetsk who lived in Kyiv and was heading for the border village of Chop, then to Hungary, then to Austria where she would board the flight to Istanbul.

“Together with the detectives, we decided to intervene,” Tkalenko said. “We stopped the woman at the border. His vulnerable condition was clear: lack of money, a dependent child, general financial difficulties due to the war. The ringleader we were watching had bought him tickets, given him money, and arranged his itinerary. At that time, we arrested the man and searched his so-called “office”, where we found irrefutable evidence. »

The man reportedly kept records of women in Turkey in a notebook. Under their real names or nicknames, he had listed their working days and a price list for each service.

A diary where the alleged ringleader of a sex trafficking gang kept a record of women's activity.
The notebook recording details of the activity of trafficked women. Photography: Alessio Mamo

At this time, prosecutors do not know how many women were forced into prostitution and sent to Turkey and allegedly to other EU countries. At least 10 women’s names appeared in the leader’s notebook.

“Men and women in Ukraine at this time may be vulnerable to labor and sexual exploitation,” said UN communications officer Varvara Zhluktenko. International Organization for Migration in Ukraine. “We have a hotline that has been operating for many years to provide assistance to victims of human trafficking. Since the beginning of the war, we have had cases of Ukrainian women looking for accommodation abroad in EU member states and communicating with potential hosts on the Internet while still in Ukraine.

“We had the case of an apartment owner living in Europe who told a woman she could stay at his place in exchange for sex. There are also men who present themselves as travel agents and push Ukrainian women to accompany them to leave the country, and they insist as if it was the last chance for them to leave Ukraine, which is very suspicious.

Tkalenko said: “Based on the evidence collected, we suspect that there are more exploited women in Turkey at the moment. There are notes in the man’s notebook. We are now preparing to cooperate with our Turkish colleagues.

Prosecutors said the woman arrested at the border is cooperating with authorities and is ready to testify against the gang leader and his associates.

Since the Russian invasion, human rights organizations have said refugee women and children fleeing Ukraine to Poland have been targeted by suspected sex traffickers, operating alone and in gangs.

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