Ukrainian court keeps putting off trial over Russian human trafficking scam
Kyiv judges seem very uninterested in moving forward on an important trial of suspected ‘recruiters’ for fake jobs in Russia, one of the scams that may have been used to force Ukrainians to fight in Donbas or Syria. As with most human trafficking trials it can be hard to get people to come forward, but why the court is dragging its heels is less easy to understand. .
Vita Musatenko is representing over 70 victims of a scam in which Ukrainians were offered high earnings for work as ‘couriers’ or similar in Russia, and in fact ended up in the clutches of drug traffickers. Vira Volodiy, who heads a civic organization called ‘Fighting Human Trafficking’,
He and many like him are told that they must pay back the money for tickets, for the smartphones they’re given and ‘rent’ for their accommodation. Sometimes their documents are also taken away.
Ukrainians end up imprisoned under one or two articles of Russia’s criminal code –228 (illegal dealing in narcotics) with this carrying up to 15 years’ imprisonment, and sometimes also 210 – creating a criminal organization, up to 20 years. There may be some who knowingly entered into such criminal activity, but many are simply victims of human trafficking. They are also likely to face discrimination as Ukrainians, and can end up being thrown into punishment cells for no reason, etc.
There are even more sinister scenarios. Vitaly Moskalenko, Ukraine’s Consul General in Rostov on the Don,
In early 2017, human rights groups reported around two thousand Ukrainians being convicted of drug-related crimes since 2014. While not all would be trafficking victims, very many undoubtedly are. At present, 200 Ukrainians have victim status, with the absolute majority of these being people now held prisoner in Russia. Of those who have managed to escape, many may be frightened to approach the police, especially if they were forced into such work for a while before escaping.
For a long time, the advertisements promising good earnings in Russia could be seen pasted all over Ukraine. After rights groups sounded the alarm, the police did step in, ensuring that the ads were removed and arresting suspects of two scams.
Three people are currently in detention awaiting trial on charges of human trafficking for their believed role as recruiters, while a fourth is under house arrest. There have, however, been four attempts since July 2017 just to hold the preliminary hearing in the Solomyansk District Court before the trial proper, and the lawyer representing victims and human rights activist Maria Tomak are concerned at the constant delays. Musatenko notes that both sides were calling for the trial to begin, yet “for incomprehensible reasons this has not happened”.
There has also been a suggestion that employees of the Department of State Defence of Ukraine could be implicated in this scam. As Tomak points out, if this were proven to be true, it has implications for Ukraine’s national security, and her formal request for an official reaction and information can only be reiterated.