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Ukrainian refugees face threat of human trafficking at borders

Ukrainian women and children who have fled their war-torn homes to neighboring countries face an entirely different and growing threat — human and sex traffickers looking to prey on the destitute refugees.

Multiple refugees have reported being extorted for safe passage into Western Europe, others have been propositioned for babies to adopt – while women face sexual predators and kidnappers, the Times of London reported.

“The way I see it, this is a war on women and children,” anti-trafficking adviser Tatiana Kotlyarenko told the Times.

“And we may be sending them from one hell to another,” added Kotlyarenko, who is set to testify before the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations this week.

More than 4 million people have fled Ukraine since the war began five weeks ago, according to the UN’s latest estimates. The vast majority of those who’ve fled are women and children — partly due to the Ukrainian government’s ban on all military-age men from leaving the country.

A young girl holds a baby on a train between the border town of Przemysl to Krakow, Poland.
Derajinski Daniel/Abaca/Sipa USA

The invasion has sparked the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. The situation is a “toxic cocktail of risk,” according to Val Richey, a representative for combating human trafficking at the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

According to The Times, in the days after war broke out there was a surge in online searches for “Ukrainian women and sex,” large enough that security agencies were alerted.

Aagje Leven, secretary-general at Missing Children Europe, said in Europe’s last refugee crisis in 2015, at least 10,000 children went missing. Today, the number of refugees is likely far greater, with fewer security checks because the European Union has offered visa-free movement in Europe for Ukrainians.

Ukrainian woman with her son in her arms enters the Polish border.
A Ukrainian woman carries her son as she crosses the Polish border.
Ervin Shulku/

“This level of chaos and mass of people is a huge opportunity for traffickers to get in touch far faster than governments will take measures,” she said.

One volunteer at the border told the Times he received a phone call ordering “a female Ukrainian and a 12-year-old boy,” while others said they were asking for babies to adopt.

In another incident, two attractive young women and a small child — tired and exhausted from their journey to the Polish border — met a man who claimed to be a Danish doctor and offered them a free ride. The man claimed to be so moved by the stories he’d heard of the war that he had driven 1,000 miles from Copenhagen to rescue people, according to The Times.

Refugees fleeing from Ukraine after the Russian invasion, are seen in Przemysl railway station boarding the train to get further to Poland or other European countries.
Refugees fleeing from Ukraine run to board the train at the Przemysl railway station to get further into Poland or other European countries.
Nicolas Economou/

The women quickly realized they had made a mistake and that the ride was not free, the Times said. When he pulled in to charge his car at a spa hotel in the Polish town of Rzeszow they were terrified and begged the spa manager for help when their captor went to get coffee.

“I could see there was something wrong,” Tomasz Filipek told the paper. “The man looked more like a gangster than a doctor and the girls were scared.”

When Filipek threatened to call the police, the man allegedly fled. Filipek and the owner took the women and girl in and assisted them to go to Germany where they are now.

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