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City in Focus: Odessa, Ukraine


Picture a noose and you have a picture of Odessa.

Perhaps that is not a fitting image for many aspects of this Ukrainian city, but for the hundreds of thousands of vulnerable women throughout Europe, the Balkans and developing soviet countries, you cannot find a more perfect description. This port city is a bridge between Europe and everything east, in more ways than one. Odessa’s mass ports are strategically located between the source and destination countries of Romania and Moldova fixing a deadly recipe for this city to be a hot-bed for human trafficking.

The most recent Trafficking in Persons report lists such a dense grouping of countries that send or receive sex slaves to and from Ukraine that you cannot help but get the impression that Odessa might rightly be deemed the Slave Capitol of the World. Indeed, with Moldova––the greatest source country for trafficked women in Europe––along with many other high-risk countries as Ukraine’s neighbors, that title almost seems plausible.

In the same vein, it’s easy to answer the question of how women end up in slavery here: every way imaginable. From being lured in with false job offers, to being sold into slavery by an orphanage, from recruiters sent to rural villages, to outright abduction in major metropolitan areas, thousands are deceived. What is true about trafficking nearly everywhere in the world is magnified and exacerbated in Ukraine. The booming summer tourism industry in Odessa comes with a spike in demand for sex from foreign visitors and a heightened chaos of travel that makes exporting women with illegal passports much easier.

The result of such extreme marketing of women for sex is that Ukraine’s HIV epidemic is the fastest growing worldwide and the highest in Eastern Europe. Despite such obvious risk, the trade continues to grow and the traffickers are unchallenged. This is proven as in 2009, almost all convicted traffickers received no jail sentences but minor probation charges.

From within this sex-trade hub emerges all manners of stories that hold in tension the bizarre contradictions only made possible in a globalized economy that suffers an “acceptable” margin of expendable human beings. For example, most people will never learn that if they are deprived of natural light long enough, their skin turns blue. But this is exactly what a young woman found when she was trafficked out of Odessa and kept in a subterranean dungeon for God knows how long before being rescued.

The inter-connectedness of cultures, economies and countries represents to millions of people the realization of dreams and possibilities. That is precisely the promise held out to many young women who find themselves drawn into a life of sex slavery. The hopes and dreams for a beautiful and productive life that each of us have are the bait that traffickers use to ensnare women. It is not until the noose closes that many realize they have made a grave mistake.

In Odessa, this crossroads of cultures, ferries bring women from their exotic locations––Istanbul, perhaps?––when they are pregnant or sick. In other words, no longer useful for sex. Their fate, from there, is anyone’s guess. Perhaps they will end up like the two young girls depicted in bas-relief on a few buildings in Odessa: after being drawn into the white-slave trade, they hanged themselves. The bas-relief reminds everyone that the aftermath of slavery, devoid of God, is not freedom.

Prayer Points:

  • Cry out for breakthrough in the Spirit and the realization of the worth of God’s women and children.
  • Ask that God will raise up righteous police forces and turn this hub of trafficking into a hub for the Gospel.
  • Ask that God would convert johns, traffickers, and victims and raise up a witness of reconciliation among them.

Sources:

People Trafficking in Ukraine: Sea of Tears.” (The Economist, 2006)
Sex Trafficking Trade Forces Women from Odessa to Massage Parlours in Britain.” (the Guardian, 2011)”
Odessa Resorts Serve Scenery, Sex, and Slavery.” (Change.org, 2010)