Stories of victims
Yaroslav, 19, college student
I live with my parents. My mother is sick, and the only source of income in our family is my father’s pension. After I finished my studies, my friend Anton and I started looking for a way to earn some money. I was unable to find work in my city, but we received an offer to work at the construction of a kindergarten in Moscow. We were promised accommodation in a mini-hotel and USD 1,200 a month. I borrowed some money from my friends to buy tickets to Moscow, and on the way there my friend and I were rejoicing at the thought of a chance to earn money and help our parents. At the train station, we were met, put in a car and driven to a suburb. There, they took away our passports and started beating us. We were barely alive, when they told us that we had to work absolutely for free until we paid off the money that had been spent on us. We lived in a barn; they were not allowed to talk to other workers; the working day was at least 14 hours. At one point, a guard pushed my friend Anton and he fell and cut his hand against the blade of a spade. There were no doctors there to treat the wound. Several days later, Anton developed a fever; his hand began to fester; he felt worse with each passing day. At night, the chief guard came to us in the barn, threw our passports and money for tickets on the bed and said that we had to be gone within an hour. We packed our things in a rush, got to the train station, bought train tickets and returned home.
Halyna, 32, teacher by profession
I graduated from a pedagogical university but worked as a seamstress. When I had a son, the relationship with my husband became worse, and our family had no money. I saw an ad on a bulletin board that sewing specialists were being recruited to work in a nearby oblast’s center. They promised to pay USD 500 a month and offer free room and board. I left my son, husband and mother-in-law and departed. When I arrived, I was met at the train station and then put in a cellar, in a windowless room with damp walls, cold floor and a wooden pallet for bed. I worked 16-18 hours a day without any days off. I had to sew and pack bed linen and working clothes. Because of poor lighting conditions and dust in the air, my eyesight deteriorated and I started to cough. One month later, I asked to be released home, but the master began to threaten, saying it was up to him to decide when to let me go. My roommate was beaten and then she disappeared. I understood that my life was also in danger. Four months later, I was already completely exhausted and unable to work anymore. They took me to the train station, returned my phone and said that if I reported to the police, my son would suffer. They did not pay me a red cent…
I have three sisters. Our mother sold us to her acquaintances ¬– they drank together. They forced us to beg and beat us if we spoke with someone for a long time. They took money away from us right away, and all we had to eat was what people gave us. A policeman came and took us from the street, and now we live in an orphanage. Our mother does not come to see us.
Oleh, 37, builder
I worked as a member of a construction crew for many years, but we started receiving almost no orders because of a crisis, and I was no longer able to support my family. My friend and I had an interview in a firm that sent people to work abroad. They offered me a job in Germany with the monthly wage of 1,500 or more euros, free meals and an insurance policy. I paid USD 500 for document processing, and they arranged for me to receive both a German visa and a Polish visa. We crossed the border with Poland on foot and then were taken by bus to Berlin. There, they took away our papers and forced us to sign an agreement in German. They put us up in an unfinished sports complex. We had a sheet of polyfoam for bed and a bucket for toilet. The food was most often not fresh. We worked very hard 12-15 hours a day. At one point, the mistress came and explained that huge money had been paid for us and that we had to work it off. They would not give us our papers back as long as we were still in debt. I could not even imagine that something like that could happen in a European country! Five months later, they gave us our papers and tickets for the Berlin-Warsaw bus, as well as 60 euros for a ticket from Warsaw to Kyiv. They kept even the tools we had brought along with Ukraine. When we returned home, we immediately went to the firm that employed us, but its office was empty with no one inside. The job announcement was no longer there.
Nadiia, 58, disabled person of group I
Life has never been easy for me. I divorced my husband because he beat me and have not had my own home since then. Working outdoors in wintertime, I froze my legs off, and my feet were amputated. Then, I began to lose eyesight and turned almost completely blind. While I was in hospital, I met a woman who promised help. She said she would take me to a doctor in Kyiv who would restore my eyesight. I felt so helpless, and her words gave me hope. However, everything turned out to be different in Kyiv. She took away my passport and pensioner ID, and instead of taking me to a doctor, she took me to an underground passage where I had to beg. I sat in a wheelchair there from 6am until late at night, sometimes completely cold and wet, because I was unable to even go to the toilet. My amputated limbs always had to be open for passers-by to see. I asked for help, but that woman said that if I disobeyed, they would take me to a garbage dump, bind me and leave there, and no one would ever find me. In autumn, the police took me from the street. They transported me to a hospital and issued a certificate that I was a victim of human trafficking. Later, I had a free-of-charge eye surgery. My eyesight is gradually coming back, and in a while I will see what I can do with my life.
I have never seen my father. We lived in a cold house, and my younger sister and I slept on an old blanket instead of a bed. Mother went away to earn money, leaving us with our stepfather. He soon brought another woman home, and they drove us into the street to beg. We gave them the money we collected, and they spent it on alcohol. Our stepfather also warned us that if we told our mother about this, he would beat us. But they beat us all the time anyway.
Ivan, 26, laid-off worker
I had loans I had to pay off, and at one time a representative of a debt collecting agency told me that a crew of builders was being recruited. They promised USD 1,500 per month, so I seized the opportunity. Together with 11 other men each of whom also owed money to banks, I went to work in Moscow. They took away our passports immediately upon arrival, allegedly for registration. We were warned that we had to work 16-18 hours a day and would be paid after the work was completed. We were not allowed to go out into the street. Three months later, they moved us to another construction site which was located in the woods. When we began to demand our pay, the administrator told us that he had “bought” us, that all of us were “illegals” and that if we did not obey, we would face severe punishment. My fellow workers and I tried to escape at night without passports, but we were caught and beaten up. It was impossible to ask for help – there was no mobile coverage there. After seven months of this kind of work, we were completely exhausted. Under guard, we were brought to a train station in Moscow and given our passports and USD 100 for the road. I returned home with an ill stomach and injured back and joints.
Inna, 25, hairdresser
I had an oncological problem. I took treatment for two years, including radio therapy. My mother kicked me out of home, and I stayed with my friends. My ex-boyfriend promised to help arrange for medical treatment in Israel. He paid for all the expenses, obtained an invitation from an Israeli clinic and bought me a ticket. In Israel, Igor, a friend of my ex-boyfriend, met me and took me to an apartment. The next day, Igor came to the apartment and told me that I was sold there for sex. I was shocked and started explaining that it was a mistake and that I came to receive medical treatment, but Igor hit me and said I was merely a prostitute. Since then, I was taken to clients, to saunas, hotels and apartments, always under guard. The clients did not use condoms. Three weeks later, I escaped from a client through a window. I hid in the entrance hall of a residential building. I sat there weeping when a young Israeli man came up to and asked me why I was crying. Stressed out, I told him everything as if I was confessing. He said he would help. The next day, he took me to the airport and bought me a ticket home. When I returned, I immediately went to the police, reported the incident and gave testimony. Now I am very afraid that they can find me…
In the summer, my friend and I went to swim in a river. A man – he was completely naked – came up to us. He made us touch him and filmed the proceedings. He tried to put us in a car, but we ran away. Later, the police found us, because he put these photos online.
Roman, 44, plumber
I worked as a plumber in a housing and maintenance office. I spotted an ad in a newspaper that people were being recruited to work in Portugal. I thought that it was my chance to improve the financial situation of my family. I paid USD 200 for employment services. In Lisbon, we were accommodated in storage facilities. We assembled furniture in a varnish-and-paint shop, almost always without respirators. We were not paid any money. When one of the workers refused to work, guards came running and a fight ensued. I lost two teeth in that fight; they sprayed tear gas at us and hit us with sticks on the back. That night, the owner of the plant came and told us that he would not let us go anywhere until we worked off our debts for room and board and the money that had been paid for us. We tried to run away but were caught and again cruelly beaten up. After that, we were escorted by guards on the way to work. They let us go nine months later ¬¬¬– we were put on a bus and did not receive a penny for our work…
Maryna, 29, waitress
After I divorced my husband, he did not support us in any way, and it was hard for me to raise my child and help my elderly parents at the same time. An acquaintance at work suggested that I could go to the Czech Republic and work as a waitress in a bar there. She said she had worked there herself and helped me pay for the trip. When I came to the Czech Republic, I was taken to a night club and told that I had to start working the next day. They also told me that there were no vacancies for waitresses and that I had to provide sex services. I refused. Then, they locked me in a room and kept me there without food for three days. I had to start working. I worked 18 hours a day, serving seven clients a day on average, always under surveillance, and was not allowed to call home. This became the daily routine. I began to drink because of the stress. When I fell sick and was no longer able to serve clients, the mistress bought me a ticket home. However, she warned me that they had a tape with the recording of one of my “working days”, so if I complained to anyone, they would show the tape to my relatives and my child.
I’ve never been to school. My father gave me and my little sister to an “aunt”. She took us to places where we had to beg and beat us, often on the head. At one point, she pressed my hand to a hot stove so that people would have pity on me and give me more money. And then she ran away, and we were taken to an orphanage.
Andrii, 32, farm worker
I am married and have two children. My younger son developed an inflammation of the lungs which resulted in a heart condition. To earn money for his treatment, I went to Moscow. At the train station there, I met Maxim who offered me a job at a construction site with the monthly wage of USD 1,000.. We lived in a damp cellar, and I worked in underground garages 12-16 hours a day. We were sometimes fed rotten vegetables and foodstuffs that were past their expiration date. We were fined for taking breaks during work. They did not allow us to go out into the street. Two months later, we began to protest and were beaten with rubber clubs and told that would not be released until we worked off the money the “master” had paid for us. If we continued to demand our pay, they promised to take us into the woods and bury us there so that no-one would find us. Five months later, after the work was complete, they took us out into a field and left there, threatening to do violence to our family members if we reported it to the police. I hitchhiked my way to Moscow, called home and they sent me money for the return ticket.
Olia, 44, salesperson in a shop
I accepted an offer from a man I knew and left for Poland to work in the agricultural sector there. I hoped to earn enough money to buy medications for my daughter who has a congenital kidney condition. They promised to pay 1,500 euros a month. I was “sold” to the owner of a vegetable shop. I had to work 14 hours a day. They took away my phone and passport. They beat and fined me for being disobedient. The shop was guarded by guards who carried submachine guns, and we were not allowed to go out into the street. Six months later, when my visa expired, they took me to the border with Ukraine. I crossed the border on foot and then hitchhiked my way home. They threatened to do violence to my family if I tried to say anything to anyone. They did not pay me any money whatsoever!