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Marina's Story: A Survivor's Fight against Human-Trafficking

Kate Transchel, a 2010-11 Short-Term Travel Grant (STG) fellow, writes about a heartbreaking, yet inspiring interview during her fellowship research on the oral history of human trafficking from Russia, Ukraine, and Moldova. The following is part of a series of blog pieces from our US scholars, who are conducting research in the field.

Interviewing victims of trafficking and their rescuers is difficult work. There are few happy endings. However, occasionally one meets someone who emerges from unspeakable suffering with courage, clarity, and wisdom. Marina is such a woman.

Marina is the founder of the Ukrainian NGO, Path to Freedom. I asked her how she got involved in anti-trafficking work and received an unexpected answer. “In 2001 my sister and I were trafficked to Belgium for sexual exploitation.” In a matter-of-fact voice she related how, after six month’s imprisonment and sexual slavery, she was allowed one call to her mother. When her mother didn’t answer, Marina called a neighbor and learned that she was desperately ill and quite possibly dying.

Sick with worry, Marina became despondent. Feeling she had nothing left to lose, Marina begged her owner to let her and her sister go home. Finally, he relented and gave the sisters a choice: one could leave but the other must stay. The decision was agonizing, but since Marina was younger and more vulnerable they decided that she should go. The traffickers threatened that if she contacted the police or failed to return, they would kill her sister. They dumped Marina on a train to Kyiv with no luggage or travel documents, and only $50 for the bus to Kharkiv. It was an arduous ordeal but she finally made it home.

Once free, Marina decided she had to try to save her sister, despite the risks. She contacted local authorities who then worked with law enforcement in Belgium to raid the brothel. After nearly three months the women were rescued and the traffickers arrested.

Both Marina and her sister received physical and psychological rehabilitation through the International Organization for Migration. The sisters agreed to testify against their traffickers despite their fears of retribution. Before the case came to trial, however, Marina’s sister died in a suspicious car accident.

Many would expect Marina to give up after so much hardship, but her sister’s death only strengthened her resolve. Nine years later, the case still has not come to trial, yet Marina persists in aiding its prosecution. Her NGO is a leader in public information and outreach. At any time of the day or night, one of Marina’s three phones might ring, sending her off to meet another terrified escapee. Her unflinching commitment to use a personal nightmare for the benefit of others is truly heroic.

More information about human trafficking NGOs in Russia and Ukraine can be found in this report, conducted by E.V. Tiurukanova and the Institute for Urban Economics for the UN/IOM Working Group on Trafficking in Human Beings. To learn more about Kate Transchel’s research in Ukraine and Russia during her STG fellowship, read her research brief here.