Real lives

Latest stories


Hard life is hard to change

© UNICEF/UKRIANE/2012/V.Musienko
Young female sex workers are waiting for the clients on the streets of a Ukrainian city.

By Sergiy Prokhorov

Ukraine has been always notorious for its problems related to sex tourism. After the Soviet Union collapsed the country experienced quite hard times and the reforming of the country was not an easy task. It still has a lot of different social problems to address. Tough options are coming to the forefront in these times when it is difficult to find a job. Alcoholism, drugs, prostitution and HIV are among the most wide spread consequences that people find themselves in during such harsh times.

Cities frequently visited by foreigners provide an extra motivation for young women to choose prostitution as an illusive way out of the difficulties. Tourists usually pay more and there is also a tiny opportunity that some of them may fall in love with a poor girl and take her overseas. Help of any kind in such desperate situations is vital for a person to get back to a normal life. One of those Ukrainian cities sadly known for prostitution and sex exploitation even outside of the country is Odessa.

A life on the edge

Valya now is a young mother. She lives in Odessa and has two children. The younger one is 6 months and the older is four years old. She has been working in the sex industry for more than three years. Valya’s mother was an injecting drug user and heavily addicted to drugs. Her father left the family when Valya was 7 months. Valya’s stepfather was also a drug addict and barely cared about her. Relations in the family were far from good. Valya often had conflicts with her mom, who cared about nothing but how to get drugs. Valya finished school and worked for some time as a shop assistant.

At the age of 25, Valya got pregnant and had a baby. Valya’s mom did not like the baby’s father, resulting in constant quarrels. Under her mother’s and stepfather’s influence Valya tried some drugs but luckily did not get addicted. Eventually, the mother was kicked out of the flat by the drug dealers and the flat was sold. Valya had no place to stay. Shortly after that her mother died. What happened to the step-father is unknown, since Valya never saw him again.

Without accommodation registration, Valya could not find a job. Being in desperate need for money for the child, she eventually ended up selling sex. Her friends who lived a similar life gave her contacts of potential clients. Gradually, Valya got some constant clients however life did not get any better. When she managed to earn enough money, she could afford renting a room for some time. After the money was gone she was back to life with friends and other places where it was possible to stay. Her son stayed with friends while she was at work. Valya contacted authorities asking for at least some accommodation but all was in vain.

© UNICEF/UKRAINE/2013/S.Prokhorov
When a child is happy a mother is happy too. Valya with her younger child at the Sofia centre

A ray of hope

Things would have remained the same if one of Valya’s friends did not tell her about the UNICEF -supported ‘Sofia’ community centre for social and psychological rehabilitation of female sex workers.

Having no other opportunity to make a better life better for herself and her child, Valya came to the centre desperately in need. This step was a turning point in her life. She finally has a place to stay with her child. A clean and tidy room, a toilet and a shared kitchen were the things that Valya had not had for a long time. She was also provided with social and medical services that were crucial for her at that time.

Valya was pregnant with a second child and the centre provided her with all the necessary help. Centre staff helped her get registered in the nearest maternity hospital to get care during pregnancy and childbirth and then for her new-born child. Valya is HIV-positive and proper care was extremely important to ensure the child is healthy. Social workers from ‘Sofia’ centre followed up on the care that Valya got in the maternity house and ensured that the girl received timely ART treatment, so that the boy was born HIV free.

After giving a birth, Valya gave up working as a sex worker and started attending educational classes at the ‘Sofia’ centre to be able to find an ordinary job. She selected hairdresser training and now plans to get a job. Due to the ‘Sofia’ centre, a tiny ray of hope appeared in the girl’s life.
Valya’s children are healthy and growing. They may never learn about the help their mother once received from the UNICEF - supported centre that drastically changed Valyas’ life once and for all.

* * *

The “Faith Hope Love” public movement is one of the organisations in Ukraine that implements projects on delivering HIV-prevention and rehabilitation services for female sex workers or those girls who have suffered sexual abuse.

In July 2009, the movement together with governmental and non-governmental partner organisations supported by UNICEF Ukraine piloted a model on HIV prevention, support and rehabilitation of girls involved in commercial sex, trafficked girls and girls who are victims of violence. To implement the model, the movement established ‘Sofia’ centre for social rehabilitation and care where former female sex workers could stay and get necessary services. The project was financially supported by UNICEF. During a 9 month project 36 girls stayed at the centre and received services.



 Email this article

unite for children