Posted by: Erin Concors, USAID Communications Advisor
The Kyiv Academic Puppet Theatre felt enchanted on a recent snowy night, with brightly lit clock towers, snow-covered gardens and whimsical statues of children. Instead of taking in a child’s play with puppets moved about by the hands of actors, however, I experienced stories of “puppets” and “actors” of a very different kind – human beings being trafficked for profit and their captors. The International Organization for Migration (IOM)’s Fifth Annual Combating Human Trafficking Awards Ceremony, supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development, was a sobering experience. The trafficking awards were held on Dec. 2, the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, and were designed to draw attention to the problem of human trafficking, and to reward the courage and dedication of individuals and organizations who take action to combat it.
According to IOM, Ukraine is a country of origin, transit, and increasingly – a destination for trafficking in men, women and children. More than 110,000 Ukrainians have become victims of trafficking since 1991, and anywhere between 800,000 and several million people have been trafficked worldwide, said IOM Chief of Mission in Ukraine Manfred Profazi.
In the darkened theater, with Ukrainian and international government officials, NGO leaders and other attendees, I watched artists, dancers and musicians express their interpretations of the toll human trafficking takes on relationships and the human body. Most moving for me were the amazing sand pictures drawn by artist Kseniya Simonova, winner of the Ukraine’s Got Talent competition. They depicted women, men and children caught in trafficking; the darkness and pain of being trapped in such a situation; and the powerful force that government and NGOs can become in partnering to fight the problem.
U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John F. Tefft and Andriy Olefirov, Director-General for Consular Services at Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, co-presented the first award For Bravery and Personal Contribution to Anatoliy Pysarevskyi, Second Secretary of the Consular Section of the Embassy of Ukraine, for his team’s work in freeing trafficking victims in Indonesia. The consular team responded rapidly to the plight of a 19-year-old Kyiv university student who thought she was applying for a “modeling” position but was in reality forced to work as a prostitute. The team’s courageous actions freed women from Ukraine, Russia, Uzbekistan and Moldova.
New forms of human trafficking are on the rise in Ukraine, including labor exploitation and the illegal trade of human organs, Profazi said. Now not only young women and children are being trafficked, but also elderly women and men.
The U.S. Government has supported counter-trafficking for more than 10 years in Ukraine. Its programs focus on raising awareness; technical and material assistance to law enforcement and NGOs; and the reintegration of victims, including job training and job creation. In that time, 125 former victims have started 105 businesses in such areas as agriculture, construction, education and more. Through a network of 30 NGOs, a total of 2,670 trafficked persons were identified, received aid and counseling, and were reintegrated into society.