Traps for Ukrainian migrant workers

How to avoid slavery abroad




Since the start of 2007, around 500 Ukrainian migrant workers have died while doing a variety of jobs abroad, most of them middle- aged men killed on the job. Similar hazards befall women. There are over 300,000 Ukrainian women working in Italy alone. Few of them have jobs that match the terms and conditions that were promised to them when they were being hired. In the last six years the numbers of women in Ukraine who have been hospitalized with severe mental disorders as a result of their employment in Italy have risen tenfold. Portugal, Spain, and Russia long ago topped the list of mortalities among Ukrainian migrant workers, who have died in these countries. Among the risk groups are not only residents of the westerns regions of Ukraine, from where people traditionally go abroad in search of better-paid jobs, but also the Donbas, which produced over 2,000 migrant workers since the start of this year. Experts say that the numbers are actually higher, but Ukraine still does not have national programs for controling the dynamics of the departure of specialists to other countries.


The most widespread problem that Ukrainians may encounter abroad is the notorious problem of human trafficking, although today’s practice indicates that this does not mean only sexual slavery.

According to Liudmyla Horova, president of the Donetsk Regional Professional Businesswomen’s League, the most prevalent kind of human trafficking abroad is economic pressure exerted on unsuccessful migrant workers, like violations of the terms and conditions of previously discussed employment contracts, inadequate working and living conditions, which force Ukrainian workers to do more work than originally anticipated, and the deliberate creation of situations in which these people have to work to the detriment of their health.

As for the main occupations that belong to the “risk group,” this category primarily includes all kinds of construction work, work in cabarets and nightclubs (e.g., dancers, waitresses, strippers, call girls), babysitting and care for the elderly. Back in Ukraine, those who have been fortunate enough to leave these types of employment need a long time to heal, but even after their rehabilitation social services still consider them “victims” for a long time afterward.

Illia, a 23-year-old resident of Krasnoarmiisk, a city in Donetsk oblast, is a case in point. He recently came back from Russia, where he lived in conditions of slavery. Everything began with his futile attempts to find jobs in his native city (Krasnoarmiisk exists because of the coal mines where most residents work). Illia didn’t have a mining education, so he couldn’t find a job at any of the mines. He went to Moscow in search of a job and landed a position as a construction worker. He was promised working conditions and a salary that had looked quite attractive at the time. But the reality proved very different: no one was in any hurry to make Illia’s status official. The young man had to live right on the construction site, and his salary was exactly half of what he had been promised before leaving Ukraine. Illia had two accidents on the job, which damaged his back, but no one bothered to pay for his medical treatment, although he was promised that the situation would change and he would receive compensation. None of the promises were kept. After working in such conditions for almost two years, the young man had to ask his parents to send him money so he could come back home. Back in Krasnoarmiisk, he registered with a local unemployment agency, but he is still jobless because he has to get his health back first.

This is just one of many examples. Experts say that many residents of Donetsk oblast, especially young people, are willing to get entrapped like this because finding adequately paid jobs in Ukraine is extremely difficult for the younger generation.


Female Ukrainian migrants face the highest risks of being trafficked. Most Ukrainian women who travel abroad to work in bars or other entertainment establishments are aware that their jobs can lead to prostitution. Some truly believe that they will do their jobs with no strings attached. These women find themselves in a strange county without a passport and money, so they have to pay “in kind” for their return ticket, in an absolutely different manner than stated in their employment contract.

According to experts, Ukrainian girls who are willing to be hired as nannies, governesses, or caregivers for the elderly face special risks. Very often they are asked to provide intimate services to their clients. A girl who refuses may find herself without her passport and besides having to provide sexual services she has to do all the housework. Not every woman can escape this kind of bondage; many simply don’t know that there are people willing to help them.

Experience also shows that such women face risks even after they manage to quit such risky jobs. Not so long ago, the Donetsk Regional Professional Businesswomen’s League, one of whose components is a special center for victim rehabilitation, was shocked to learn about two girls who had miraculously escaped from Moscow after being used by a pimp who regularly gave them injections of drugs and forced them to work as highway whores. The girls were physically abused and threatened that if they tried to escape, they would be found and killed. They finally made their escape one day when the pimp was high on drugs. However, on the way home they had to endure countless more abuses: cabbies refused to give them a ride to the railway station unless they received sexual services, something the girls loathed and were trying to avoid. They encountered the same trouble when they tried to board a Moscow-Donetsk train: the male attendants demanded the same kind of fare while the female personnel refused even to speak to them.

In view of all these risks, experts in many countries have begun formulating special measures to save women caught in such drastic circumstances. In this respect Cyprus is the best-prepared country, which has its own large population of female Ukrainian migrant workers. A special shelter was founded by a local church, where any victim of sex trafficking can find refuge. Activists from this church visit numerous local cabarets in various cities around Cyprus, where they dispense leaflets printed with the address of the shelter and messages urging women to quit their humiliating and risky jobs and muster the courage to make their escape. Unfortunately, this is the only shelter of its kind in just one city, and not every woman can make her way there.

In other countries, sex slaves are advised to contact the Ukrainian consulate, embassy, or any international organization at their very first opportunity. If victims do not know where they are located, they are advised to escape and run to the center of the city and knock on the door of any foreign company, where they will be able to call the Ukrainian embassy or even given protective custody. Similar recommendations are offered even to women traveling abroad on vacation. Even female Ukrainian travelers are exposed to huge risks abroad.

According to experts, a number of Ukrainian travel agencies are illicitly trading in their customers. Horova says that there are companies that send some of their customers abroad on a perfectly legitimate basis, meanwhile signing special contracts about some of their clients with local sex traffickers, who are usually citizens of Turkey, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates. Travelers from Ukraine face risks even when they visit European countries.

One of the most popular tricks is to send a message (allegedly from the travel agency) to women on the last day of their vacation, to the effect that their flight has been postponed (as a rule, until the evening or night). They are assured that a car will be sent to take them to the airport. In most cases, however, the passenger never reaches the airport. Another trick is duping a victim right in the air terminal, where a potential sex trafficking victim has been delivered. The unfortunate girl finds herself facing a police officer, who informs her that her visa is no longer valid, nor her ticket. She starts crying and protesting, then a local “guide” quickly comes to her “rescue.” He promises that everything will be taken care of and talks her into riding back with him to the hotel, whereupon she finds herself in a totally different one. In some countries sex traffickers may be working hand in glove with the local police, while the laws in other countries do not mete out any punishment for human trafficking.

In other cases, citizens of Ukraine are used as donors of human organs, as illustrated by the case of a newly-married couple from Donetsk, who went on a honeymoon to Egypt and escaped by sheer miracle. During a sightseeing trip the husband suddenly fell ill. An ambulance brought him to a local hospital, where the young man was operated. Back in Ukraine, it was discovered that one of his kidneys had been removed and that his sickness during that sightseeing trip was the result of being stabbed imperceptibly in his side with a syringe in the middle of a crowd of people. Experts say that the young man was really lucky, because in most cases, after victims have one of their organs removed in a foreign clinic, they are killed.


The statistics on Ukrainian victims abroad are shocking. Every month the Donetsk Regional Professional Businesswomen’s League alone deals with at least 10 human trafficking cases. In addition, some 200 Donetsk residents call the League every month for consultations about employment opportunities outside Ukraine. Experts say that such opportunities should be rejected outright; you have to know the risks and take necessary precautions before traveling abroad.

Those who want jobs abroad must first verify the employment contract. This can be easily arranged by, for example, consulting the League, where staff experts help men and women alike. They will check your contract from the legal point of view, and then verify the company through their sources. However, anyone can verify this contract if s/he knows the basic tricks of the employers’ trade.

Tetiana Liapko, deputy head of an inspectorate at the Donetsk Regional Employment Center that monitors how employment legislation is upheld, says that a fraudulent employment contract can be revealed through the visa paperwork. Statistics show that if a woman’s visa specifies her future occupation abroad as an actor or dancer, this is practically 100 percent proof that she will have to work as a prostitute. One must also be wary of an offer for employment abroad on the basis of a guest visa. Such “guests” actually end up as illegal immigrants and are forced to carry out any tasks ordered by their whimsical employers.

All these nuances can be learned in the course of consultations that are offered at every employment center to Ukrainians who are traveling abroad. Here you will learn how to obtain a job legitimately and safely through an intermediary; what you have to know about the country where you will be working; how to draw up the right kind of employment contract and get your visa paperwork done; and how to protect yourself while working abroad (specifically, by registering with the Ukrainian embassy). When registering, you have to provide your passport data, your employer’s address and telephone number(s), and those of the employer and/or intermediary in Ukraine, so you can contact them in case of necessity.

As for employment, the recommendations are simple enough: never borrow any money from your employer, never give your passport to anyone, and always have a photocopy of your passport information handy; watch out for situations in which your personal freedom can be restricted; do not allow your employer to treat you unfairly or rudely; when faced with any kind of harassment, contact the embassy. There are nonprofit organizations in various countries, in addition to the authorities, where Ukrainian migrants can turn for help, so you must note their addresses before traveling abroad.

Horova says that the best kind of protection Ukrainians working abroad can have is awareness. Many Ukrainians go abroad without even knowing the language of the country where they intend to work. Similar problems also stem from lack of information on the nuances of such employment, which should be provided by the Ukrainian authorities. So far, no steps aimed at upgrading the work of Ukrainian government institutions are in the offing. Some efforts are being undertaken by civic organizations, for example, the Donetsk-based campaign “We Are against Human Trafficking!” So far, however, these efforts are not systematic. This is why experts place special hopes on Ukrainians themselves because, for the time being, salvation for potential victims of human trafficking is their own affair.

One Comment to “Traps for Ukrainian migrant workers”

  1. TO all ukraine girls, you young girls, should learn english(the internationsl langauage) first. And give more importance to the right, honest, sinciere guys always. dont go to foreign countries as a worker. But you can select a good man as your lover and get married to him as per the two country leagal procedure. then go to foreign countries.for that learn english first, and try your life partners thro internet . But sleect the rit guy, who is honest and trust worthy to u . dont fall in love witha cheetinhg guy.ok? by . mr x. from india.

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