Two million sex tourists a year travel to Ukraine, where the groups have just been drawn for the European football championships. In the country co-hosting Euro 2012 with Poland, HIV and sex trafficking are rife. “Pimps are counting on extra profit during Euro 2012,” says FEMEN activist Anna Gutsol.
The lift in my hotel in the Ukrainian capital Kiev only works if I activate it with my key-pass. But there are some who can get round the security. Every day I see young women in high heels helped on their way by hotel staff. “Where do you need to be, darling?” “The order is from room 10.03,” says the girl nervously. The porter uses his pass, presses 10, and off she goes up the lift shaft to her client.
“Hotels and nightclubs for foreign guests are the places where it happens,” says Anna Gutsol of the Ukrainian women’s protest group FEMEN. “That explains why you get woken by a knock on the door every night.”
An estimated two million tourists a year visit Ukraine with just one purpose in mind: sex.
“Hotel managers play a key role. They ask the guests when they arrive if they’d like a woman and if they need something arranging. In the lobbies they have flyers for escort agencies. It’s a huge industry.”
FEMEN has hit the headlines worldwide with its flamboyant topless protests. The FEMEN women take to the streets half naked to campaign against prostitution and sex trafficking. Much to the annoyance of the Ukrainian intelligentsia. “The topless protest gives our country an even sleazier image,” says Kiev journalist Oksana Faryna.
FEMEN dismisses the objections: “The end justifies the means, we want to draw attention to the big problems the sex industry causes.”
An estimated 60,000 women work in the Ukrainian sex industry. What’s more, Ukraine is the second largest ‘exporter’ of women to Western Europe after Moldavia, according to the country’s own Interior Ministry. In the last ten years, 400,000 Ukrainian women have been the victims of human trafficking, the ministry estimates.
The sex industry is largely responsible for the fact that Ukraine has 350,000 HIV patients. “In reality it’s a lot more,” says Gutsol. “Because of poverty many avoid going to the doctor, so they’re walking round with HIV without knowing it.”
The increase in the number of HIV patients in Ukraine and other Eastern European countries is alarming, according to recent UN and EU data. But it’s pointless to try and combat AIDS without reining in the sex industry, says FEMEN activist Gutsol. “The problem is that the top civil servants who should be tackling the pimps are corrupt.” FEMEN made a TV report on an anti-sex-industry brigade. “We filmed how pimps drop in on the brigade now and again for a chat. They simply do business with each other.”
The Euro 2012 championship will only boost the already flourishing trade in women, Gutsol fears. The tournament will be played in Ukraine and Poland in June. “You can already book your own Euro 2012 hostess on the internet. Pimps are already counting on extra profit.”
During the opening of the new Euro 2012 stadium in Ukraine, topless FEMEN protesters disrupted the ceremony, and were dragged off by police. “I’ve stopped counting the times I’ve been arrested. But we’re not badly treated in the cells. The authorities know that FEMEN is now also known internationally.”
Gutsol had hoped that UEFA boss Michel Platini would have an ear for their appeal for a Euro 2012 without prostitution. “UEFA has other social programmes, like the one against violence on and off the pitch. So we asked Platini to support us. But he turned a deaf ear.”
The economic interests are too big to allow the football fiesta to be disturbed by FEMEN, Gutsol thinks. “The beer turnover will be high. And after the drinking and the final whistle, it will be straight off to the prostitutes.”