Trafficking Survivors Start Small Businesses and New Lives in Ukraine

USAID Provides Hope for Victims of Trafficking
Mykhaylo works in his furniture shop.
Courtesy of IOM
Economic and professional empowerment key to reintegration
“I have already been through a lot, Now it’s very important to have confidence in tomorrow.”

Jan. 2015—Several years ago, Mykhaylo* sought out work overseas to save up seed funding to start his own furniture business in Ukraine, but he instead became a victim of human trafficking.

Along with a friend, Mykhaylo found what looked like an attractive offer to work at a construction site in Moscow for several months. Upon arrival, their passports were confiscated and they were conscripted into 16- to18-hour work days, barred from escape, and promised pay only when the work was complete.

With little food to eat and long hours of backbreaking work, the health of Mykhaylo and the other workers sharing his plight deteriorated rapidly. When they declared a strike and demanded compensation for the work completed, their handler told them that they had been purchased through a middleman who was holding their passports until the project was complete. Mykhaylo reported that local police not only knew that the workers were employed illegally but prevented them from fleeing. After two long months, the exhausted workers were finally put on a bus and taken to the Moscow train station.

Finding a job was still an issue for Mykhaylo when he returned to his hometown of Vinnytsia. However, thanks to the USAID-supported Vinnytsia oblast human rights organization, Spring of Hope, which helps victims of trafficking, Mykhaylo put his life back on course. The organization provided him with psychological counseling to deal with the trauma he experienced as well as vocational training to provide him with entrepreneurial skills.

Since 2009, USAID’s microenterprise development program, as part of its Countering Trafficking in Persons in Ukraine project, has conducted 13 microenterprise development trainings for 268 victims of trafficking from 16 oblasts. It has also provided 161 grants to victims of trafficking who started 94 microenterprises in agriculture and retail trade. 

From the start, Mykhaylo demonstrated aptitude and leadership skills. He became acquainted with three other victims of trafficking who had also previously worked in furniture production. Mykhaylo saw the potential of a business partnership. Soon the trio began working on a business plan and applied to USAID’s microenterprise development program for a grant.

“I have already been through a lot,” said Ivan, Mykhaylo’s business partner and fellow trafficking victim. “Now it’s very important to have confidence in tomorrow. It’s good to know that I am my own boss, and even if something doesn't turn out right, I can always fix it and there won’t be any pressure on me.”

A year down the road, the business is sound and orders are plentiful.

“I go to work with joy, because I love what I do and I know that I will definitely receive my money,” said Mykhaylo.

USAID’s Countering Trafficking in Persons in Ukraine project, implemented by International Organization for Migration (IOM), runs from 2009 to 2017, works to reduce trafficking in persons in Ukraine by transitioning services for victims of trafficking—such as registration, referral and reintegration assistance—to full Ukrainian ownership. This includes efforts to strengthen the national referral mechanism, increase government funding for counter-trafficking efforts, and increase the involvement of non-governmental service providers in the national referral mechanism.

*Full names withheld to protect privacy.

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