Ever since the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine has suffered from a booming sex trade. Estimated by police to be worth $1.5 billion last year, prostitution in Ukraine has been exacerbated by the international economic crisis, a weak Ukrainian national currency and fueled by cheap airfare and a free-visa policy for US and EU citizens, and so fosters a sex tourism industry that has persisted for many years. Although illegal, laws prohibiting prostitution have had little effect against criminal organizations and clients; instead, laws punish women working as prostitutes in Ukraine, a country that has experienced a national unemployment rate of 50%.
The severity of the Ukraine prostitution problem is clearly demonstrated by Ukraine’s role as having been one of the world’s largest exporters of women to the international sex trade, at one time worth in the vicinity of $5 to $22 billion. In 1998, it was estimated that more than 100,000 women, mostly minors, had be forced to work as sex workers in the West; at that time, 80% of Ukraine women who had went abroad for better opportunities and employment had no idea they would be forced into prostitution. However, in recent years forced human trafficking in Ukraine has given way to a new generation of women who voluntarily and knowingly enter prostitution, citing the fact that no other choices are offered to them in an environment of debilitating poverty.
This issue is so severe that Ukraine interior minister Yuriy Lutsenko declared on national television that “The country is becoming a paradise for sex tourism before our eyes.” The non-governmental women’s rights group FEMEN has held demonstrations loudly protesting that “Ukraine is not a brothel,” and, “Sex is not for sale.”