The Russian invasion of Ukraine has displaced millions in what has become the worst refugee crisis in Europe since World War Two, sparking concerns millions of women and children fleeing across Ukraine’s borders could become a target for human traffickers.
Women fleeing their homes in times of war are often targeted by those seeking to turn a profit from their plight — including on social media, where ads inviting Ukrainian women to work in prostitution abroad have become all too frequent.
According to Fernand Cohen of the volunteer group Rescuers without Borders, the phenomenon has become exceedingly common at the Ukraine-Poland border, where he and his team were stationed.
“[They were] like a small mob. They looked for women with very small children, usually beautiful women. We have seen several such cases… The police cannot contend with the influx of people, no one can,” Cohen said.
"Every day, dozens of buses full of women and children arrive. In the end, they will certainly find victims who can be seduced with money or other things. They are easy to reach.”
Maria Dmitrievka, a Ukrainian social activist and founder and director of the Feminism UA, added: “The situation is not easy, and will probably deteriorate further.”
“Before the war, we had very few shelters for women suffering from domestic and sexual abuse. Now every such shelter has been converted into a refugee shelter.”
“There is a war, and at this time women living with abusive men cannot seek help. Women's organizations that are routinely involved on the ground are currently overburdened with requests for basic refugee assistance,” said Dmitrievka, adding that the situation is only worsening at the increasingly busy international crossings.
“Precisely there, near the borders, there are men and women looking for distressed women for the prostitution industry. We have received several messages from women about abduction attempts.”
According to Dmitrievka, only 51 women and 46 men have thus far been recognized as victims of human trafficking.
"We see from the data in the world that the vast majority of people who have become victims of sex trafficking are women and girls… Apparently, women choose not to report their condition. In reality, the numbers are much higher."