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“Spoils of War”- Ukrainian refugees’ are prime targets for sex traffickers

Written By | Mar 13, 2022
Ukraine, Sex trafficking, Ukraine, Women, Children

Photo courtesy of UNICER – An Ukrainian refugee child. Photo by Ioan Moldovan/UNICEF.

During military conflicts, natural disasters, and in areas of abject poverty, vultures circle looking for prey. By prohibiting all males between 16 through 60 from leaving Ukraine and encouraging all children and women to evacuate by themselves to neighboring countries; the most vulnerable population of Ukraine is a prime target for traffickers and war profiteers.

This is a consequence of conflict few speak or write about. (Concern grows over traffickers targeting Ukrainian refugees)

Lauren Agnew, a human trafficking policy expert for the charity CARE, reported:

“The war in Ukraine will create a worsening situation in terms of human trafficking.”

“It will have a vulnerable domino effect across Europe and refugees are at an increasingly high risk of exploitation.”

She added that there would be a spike in the number of refugees being forced into prostitution.




“It is certain that as time goes on, we will see a spike in numbers caused by refugees being exploited by traffickers and ending up potentially as sex workers, involved in criminal gangs or forced labor and domestic slavery. These gangs’ prey on the precariousness of refugees and the war is a business opportunity for them to make a profit and get people into Europe and ultimately the UK.”

Even before the recent attack on Ukraine, sex trafficking from this country was a significant problem.

According to the Borgen Project report:

“When Ukraine became a separate nation in 1991, the slave and human trafficking trade skyrocketed. The ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine has worsened the issue as it has caused displacement for millions of individuals. These individuals are far more susceptible to ending up in the trafficking trade because of the vulnerable state they are in due to the turmoil between the two countries, according to the Library of Congress Law. Traffickers often target the Roma community of Ukraine, a nomadic Indo-Aryan group of people, because they lack access to state social assistance programs. Low-skilled laborers, as well as children in state-run orphanages, are targets for traffickers as well. This is because they are poor and powerless.”

Cui Bono

Human trafficking includes forced labor, domestic servitude, organ trafficking, debt bondage, and/or sex trafficking and forced prostitution of both genders and all ages.  Human beings are the most profitable “product” for predators.  They can be sold repeatedly, generating more profit than materials such as weapons or drugs, which can only be sold once.

In countries that are known to be corrupt with little or no adherence to the rule of law, such as Ukraine, the chances of accountability and punishment for criminal networks or individuals who traffic the vulnerable, are minimal. Therefore, it is worth the risk for “easy profit under the table”.

International trade in sex trafficking, also known as the “Shadow Market” is estimated to have a value between 8 to 12 billion dollars annually. 

It is difficult to know the precise numbers of people trafficked or the dollar equivalent of the money made on human trafficking since it is both a national and international criminal enterprise.

Criminal networks involved in human trafficking are diverse. There are well-organized, hierarchical structures that focus on transnational “Trafficking in Human Beings” (THB) for sexual exploitation. Large international groups are often involved in other forms of organized crime, such as drug trafficking or money laundering. THB for labor exploitation is typically carried out by smaller groups consisting of a few key figures, such as a recruiter, a driver, and a fraudulent employer, or, in case of international trafficking, relying on cooperation between criminal groups in the country of origin and destination and local law enforcement personnel.

Forced labor recruiters may offer fake employment contracts to 40-50 persons at a time, transporting victims to destinations such as construction sites, or agricultural production complexes. Some forms of exploitation, such as child porn or online sexual exploitation, can be carried out by individuals as well as organized criminal groups

Focus on Ukraine



The US Department of State rates Ukraine as a “Tier 2” in their most recent 2021 “Trafficking in Persons Report”.  This means Ukraine consistently lacks minimum standards for making efforts to eliminate trafficking.

“Corruption remained in the {Ukrainian} police and judiciary, and cases of official complicity in human trafficking were reported. The government continued to report investigations of officials allegedly complicit in trafficking; however, for the fourth consecutive year the {Ukraine} government did not report any convictions of complicit officials.”

Ukrainians are trafficked to Middle East-including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the UAE.  They are trafficked to Russia, Belarus, Turkey, the Czech Republic, the UK, the USA, Canada, Central, and South America. As well as Asia-including China, Thailand, Australia, and Malaysia. If caught in these countries, they-become victims facing punishment, fines, and imprisonment.

Here is just one example:

“Tatyana, aged 20, is from a small town in Lugansk oblast in Eastern Ukraine. She could not find a job there because the economy is very poor. Factories are closed. A friend of her mother told her that rich families in the United Arab Emirates were hiring housemaids and she could earn US$4000 a month. However, when she arrived in the United Arab Emirates, her passport was taken away and she was sold to a brothel for US$7,000. She was forced into prostitution to repay the purchase and travel costs to the owner. When she managed to escape and went to the police for help, she was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison for working in a brothel.”

Kateryna Levchenko from La Strada International-Ukraine made the following comment about the criminal networks’ interests in creating and maintaining an environment favorable to trafficking in women:

“. …the main income from this criminal business is obtained by foreign criminal organizations that are the ones interested in preserving the current situation. They do not want any improvements in the status of Ukrainian women, or in the Ukrainian economy. The scale of this illegal business is huge monthly and annual turnovers, merging with certain power structures (including the police) in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, make it a real national security issue.”

The Netherlands and Germany have legalized prostitution for their citizens. These are countries with high demand for Eastern European women. Certain states in the USA such as Nevada and California have lax laws regarding prostitution. Once they have been trafficked to these countries it is nearly impossible to free them.

Thousands of Ukrainian women have been trafficked into strip clubs and massage parlors in the USA.

“A Special Agent from the United States Department of Justice, Immigration and Naturalization Service told the Ukrainian audience, “This is your problem that you are going to have to solve. Like drugs, you have to get at the root of the problem, which is overseas. The problem of trafficking of women is in the sending country of Ukraine, even though there had been little action against the traffickers and pimps in the receiving country-the United States-or the demand made by the illegal sex industry.”

Recently there have been “volunteers” going to “fight for Ukraine”.  These men come from a number of different countries with varying degrees of training and experience.  Some come because they are unscrupulous and intend to exploit women and children suffering from war and poverty.

Some NGOs are in reality, hastily organized groups that are affiliated with criminal networks and gangs.  They watch and prey upon refugees migrating out of Ukraine.  They pose as “good Samaritans” offering shelter, food, and transport.

The entire world knows the men from Ukraine will not be accompanying their family members since they are prohibited from leaving Ukraine.  Now, millions of Ukrainian women and children will be seen as the “spoils of war”.  How many will be disappeared once they flee the conflict areas of their homeland?

There are some wounds of war that never heal.

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About the Author:

Joanne Patti Munisteri lives a ‘different’ life. One that has taken her around the world working as a contractor in education, health, research, analysis, and training. Munisteri is a certified Combat Analyst and Social Scientist. She was part of the Human Terrain System (HTS) with the U.S. Army, training at Ft. Leavenworth. Munisteri earned her Bachelor of Science from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. Her graduate degree from Massey University in New Zealand. Her Diploma in Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine from the New Zealand School of Acupuncture and TCM in Wellington, New Zealand.

Joanne continues to be rostered on the U.S. Department of State Specialist programs and with USAID. Her technical writing is found in Small Wars Journal, Real Clear Defense, the  Journal of Traumatic Stress Disorders and Treatment, Research Gate, and the New Zealand Herald. In addition, Defiance Press published her non-fiction book, “Traveling Off the X” in October 2021. Joanne continues to work in the education and training sector.

Joanne lived and worked in both Russia  (2011-2012) and Ukraine (2015) as part of US government programs in medical and technical universities.

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Joanne Munisteri

Joanne Patti Munisteri lives a ‘different’ life that has taken her many places in the world. She works as a contractor in the fields of education, health, monitoring and evaluation, curriculum design, analysis and training. Joanne is a certified Combat Analyst and Social Scientist. She was part of the Human Terrain System (HTS) with the US Army, training at Ft. Leavenworth. She is a graduate of Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, Massey University and the New Zealand School of Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine. Her non-fiction book, “Traveling Off the X” is published by Defiance Press. Her personal website is: https://www.jopattimunisteri.org