New York - July 31, 1998
Consul Bohdan Yaremenko
A conference titled "Trafficking in Ukrainian Women" took place at Hunter College (City University of New York) on Wednesday, July 29, 1998. The conference was organized by BRAMA—Gateway Ukraine, an Internet company along with the World Federation of Ukrainian Women’s Organizations (WFUWO), and sponsored by the Women’s Studies Program at Hunter College.
The purpose of the conference was to introduce the delegation of twenty Ukrainians comprised of leading government officials, including representatives from police, justice and social services, along with American law enforcement officials who participated in a Project Harmony training program sponsored by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to the Ukrainian Diasporan community. Among the goals of the conference were to acquaint the local community with the issues surrounding the trafficking of Ukrainian women, learn what actions are being taken to combat trafficking, and to initiate a dialogue between the Diaspora and Ukraine that may lead to practical assistance and joint programs to deal with the causes and effects of trafficking. Part of the evening was reserved for the screening of the documentary film "Bought & Sold," a revealing investigation of the inner workings of the networks that trade in young women from the Former Soviet Union countries.
It is our fervent hope that the one thing the audience came away with is an understanding that the trafficking issue is very real and that it is not a simple one. As emphasized by Olya Stawnychy (WFUWO), the issue is not about prostitution but about enslavement. It’s effects are more far-reaching than most of us can imagine. It is an issue characterized by many different layers and must be battled on a myriad of fronts. At it’s most basic level it is the cause of broken marriages, separation of mothers and children, women who experience deep depressions, a debasement of a human life. It is an issue of law enforcement both on local and on global scales. It is an issue of perceptions that must change, a change that can be effected through programs of re-education in schools and public awareness campaigns, as well as tough legal and police positions vis-à-vis trafficking organizations.
The beginnings of the trafficking issue are rooted in the economic ills of today’s Ukraine, and are exacerbated by the low self-esteem that women have of themselves, not to mention the low esteem of human life in general engendered by the political system whence Ukraine has only recently come, as well as age-old perceptions of a woman’s role in society.
The forms of trafficking are widely varied. Not all the women are young and not all are forced into prostitution, as pointed out by Irene Jarosewich (The Ukrainian Weekly). Some wind up in jobs such as housekeeping positions that we might believe are perfectly legitimate. Indeed, the job itself is legitimate (as opposed to prostitution which in most countries is illegal), but the conditions under which the women work often are not. In some cases the woman’s passport is taken away, she is not permitted contact with the outside world, wages are typically below minimum wage, obviously no taxes are paid, no medical benefits are provided and often the working hours far exceed international norms. This form of enslavement is no less insidious than the one where the woman is forced into sexual bondage inasmuch as all personal freedoms and choices are denied.
The effects of sexual enslavement are often not just the cause of emotional distress and breakdowns in personal relationships. The consequences often involve serious health effects that incur a huge cost to society as well. Dr. Oryshkewych emphasized that the rapid spread of AIDS adds yet another tragic element to the already complex issue of trafficking. Sadly, one must consider that the incidence of all diseases normally associated with sex are bound to rise.
Positive efforts to increase awareness of the existence and depth of the problem have for some time now been among the goals of Ukrainian Diasporan organizations. Irena Kurowycky, vice-president of the Ukrainian National Women's League of America (UNWLA), pointed out that efforts are continuously made to establish a Ukrainian presence at various international conferences and meetings regarding women’s and children’s issues, most notably events associated with the United Nations. Olya Stawnychy reminded us that WFUWO has participated in conferences the world over where resolutions in support of the fight against trafficking and other women’s issues have been adopted. It is heartening to know that these organizations remain committed to working on women’s issues. Perhaps it is time now to garner those same forces that have maintained these organizations over the years and made them strong, and thrust their energies into practical programs coordinated jointly with organizations in Ukraine to combat trafficking.
It was particularly encouraging to hear reports from the Ukrainian delegates that there are sincere efforts underway in many areas and on many levels in Ukraine to begin the fight against trafficking. The 20 delegates in the Project Harmony program included the following representatives from Ukraine:
Arap, Svitlana – Republican Committee on Family & Youth, Head of the Division for the Issues of Family and Women
Babenko, Oleksiy – Ministry of Foreign Relations, Head of Consular Section
Datsyuk, Galyna – Newspaper "NEZAVISIMOST" (Independence), Head of the Division of Letters
Dudnyk, Iryna – Regional Center of Social Services for Youth, NGO
Isachenkova, Mariya – City Executive Committee, Head of the Division for the Issues of Family and Women
Isakovych, Serhii – Institute of Foreign Affairs, Docent for the Department of International Law; Consultant to the Parliament of Ukraine
Kabashna, Olena – NGO "DANA," President. Mykolaiv.
Kolos, Larysa – Ministry of Family and Youth in Ukraine, Head of the Department of Cultural & Educational Activities for Women.
Kovalchuk, Olga – Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, State Employment Center; Chief Specialist
Lebid, Mykhaylo – Ministry of Internal Affairs, Deputy Department Head
Levchenko, Kateryna – President of La Strada Ukraine
Maydan, Lyudmyla – Regional Department of Family & Youth, Head of the Division for the Issues of Family and Women
Moskalenko, Olena – Donetsk Regional Center for Mother and Child, Family Planning Cabinet, Doctor
Nevolya, Vasyl – Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, First Deputy Head of the National Bureau of INTERPOL in Ukraine
Rashkovskyy, Gennadiy – Ukrainian State Social Services for Youth Center, Department Head
Shkarlat, Mariya – Lawyer
Tarhulova, Iryna – General Prosecutor’s Office, Prosecutor
Tryukhin, Oleksandr – Department of Internal Affairs in Donetsk Region, Division Head
Turlo, Iryna – Ministry of Education of Ukraine, Chief Specialist
Vynohradova, Oksana – Ministry of Justice, Head of the Legislative Department on Justice
Unfortunately, due to time constraints, not all of the delegates listed above had the opportunity to speak at this forum although each one would have contributed valuable insight about the topic. Some spoke about concrete programs that are either planned or already implemented. Some addressed the lack of funding and the low level of interest on the part of Ukrainians (in Ukraine). Some proposed the need for more involvement from other governments and organizations in order to effectively battle the organized criminal elements that control the trafficking operations. Time was set aside after the question and answer session following the presentations for audience and delegates to meet one-on-one for an exchange of ideas, networking, and discussion for possible future encounters.
The presentation of one speaker, Kateryna Levchenko of La Strada, bears special mention. La Strada is a non-governmental organization that not only seeks to influence authorities and public opinion, but also works with the victims of traffickers. Ms. Levchenko called on members of the Ukrainian Diaspora communities to contribute their free time to assist in these programs. Ms. Levchenko asked that individuals with an interest in social services to volunteer their vacation time as workers in the La Strada Ukraine centers. Responsibilities would range from assisting the staff with translations to working one-on-one with the victims of abuse. This is a wonderful opportunity for getting involved in real terms and can be highly rewarding for those who get satisfaction from helping people.
Consul Bohdan Yaremenko representing the Ukrainian Consulate in New York City capped the evening's discussions with remarks about the recent legislation passed in Ukraine on human rights as it pertains to trafficking. He spoke about efforts that have been undertaken on the part of Ukrainian consulates around the world to assist any citizen of Ukraine who finds herself or himself in the untenable situations associated with trafficking and enslavement. Mr. Yaremenko took the issue of trafficking from the abstract level of mere discussion down to a concrete example by describing an incident that was in the process of unfolding at that moment in Italy involving a Ukrainian woman who had turned to the local consulate for assistance. He asserted the commitment of Ukraine's foreign diplomatic missions in developing and supporting programs to help the victims of trafficking.
One important aspect of the trafficking game that was not touched upon during the evening is the use of the Internet as a means to attract demand as well as supply for the trade. A simple search on the word "Ukraine" will often produce pages and pages of results listing Ukrainian women who offer themselves as wives or for other services. It is known that many "marriage," "modeling," and "travel" agencies are merely fronts for trafficking operations, and it is clear that these agencies are aiming to attract the attention of all readers on the Internet. Such websites can be marginalized only by the presence of other websites that either directly counter these listings by providing anti-trafficking content or at the very least neutral Ukrainian websites that represent Ukraine and Ukrainians in a culturally positive light.
BRAMA—Gateway Ukraine is one website that has tackled this problem head-on. Not only has it become the prime Internet resource for information about Ukraine and Ukrainians, but it has established itself as a site dedicated to eliminating trafficking in Ukraine. In addition to a variety of documentation, the site includes links to agencies that provide information both of a general type as well as direct assistance on a personal scale for victims. Plans are in motion for the creation of a site exclusively for La Strada Ukraine which will offer local coordinates from all over the world and other practical information for the benefit of victims and friends of victims. For more information about the website, please write via e-mail to Hanya Krill at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 212-674-1225.
Charles Hosford and the hard-working staff at Project Harmony are to be applauded for having organized a very effective training seminar thereby giving us, the Diasporan Ukrainian community, the opportunity to meet with those in Ukraine who are directly involved in resolving the trafficking problems. For more information about the Project Harmony training program, please refer to the press release dated July 14, 1998 located at http://www.brama.com/news/press/pmc071398.html.
It is our hope that dialogues about trafficking, be they in the form of conferences, written correspondence, Internet communication, will continue between the Diaspora and Ukraine, as well as within and among the Diasporan communities around the world. It is only with an about-face of the perceptions, a strong show of force on the legal and police front, and pity for the victims coupled with an understanding of their plight and a desire to help them that the fight against trafficking in Ukrainian women will begin and conclude successfully.
This event was sponsored by the Women’s Studies Department of Hunter College and organized by BRAMA – Gateway Ukraine and the World Federation of Ukrainian Women’s Organizations along with the support of Self-Reliance (NY) Federal Credit Union, the Ukrainian National Women's League of America (UNWLA), Ukrainian American Professionals and Businesspersons Association of New York and New Jersey, Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA), Ukrainian American Coordinating Council, and the World Movement of Mothers.