Mariana was trafficked into Germany from Ukraine in 1997 at the age of 16. She had accepted the offer of a job: the push for women to leave Ukraine and other old Soviet areas is powerful. They account for up to 90 percent of the unemployed and are usually the first fired. Traffickers abduct an estimated 35,000 women from Ukraine each year. Almost 50 countries serve as destination points throughout Europe and eastward. Germany is one of the most popular destinations in Europe for women trafficked from Ukraine and Russia, though victims also come from Africa (mainly Nigeria) and Asia (mainly Thailand). In the aftermath of her enslavement, Mariana still felt trapped. She couldn’t return to her Ukrainian village because her neighbors believed she had been a “prostitute in Germany,” and pimps were looking for her. She moved to her uncle’s house, then to a friend’s house, seemingly on a perpetual journey from slavery to freedom.
I was born in 1981 in Poltava region, Ukraine. I had never known who my father was. My grandmother told that he had worked at the collective farm and had died there during the fire. My mother died when I was three years old and my grandmother brought me up. I studied at school and worked hard at the collective farm and at home. In 1997 I finished the ninth form. I couldn’t continue studying, because I had to go to the region centre.
Once in summer my friends and I went dancing. There were a lot of young people and some boys from Kyiv among them. The boy from my school came up to me and said that one of the Kyivites wanted to speak to me. His name was Rostik. He proposed me to work in Germany as a nurse. When my friend Nadja learned about this work she also was very interested in it. We decided to go together but Rostik didn’t come to our village for a long time. My grandmother got very little pension and I worked at the collective farm. I was waiting for Rostik.
He came to the village only before Christmas and proposed me to go to Germany at once. He persuaded my friend and me that everything will be good. But Nadja’s parents didn’t allow her to go. I also started to hesitate but he persuaded me. Rostik promised that one woman who also wanted to work in Germany would go with me. I considered him to be a reliable and thoughtful person. So I agreed to go and promised to my grandmother to be back in a month. Rostik asked me whether I had a foreign passport. But I hadn’t even Ukrainian passport. Then he said that would set the affair by himself.
We went by car. There was a woman in the car, but she disappeared somewhere during the trip. I didn’t notice that we crossed Poland border. In Poland we stopped for a night in the house of one of Rostik’s friends. His name was Stefan. He helped us to cross a river at night and we got to Germany. We continued our trip by car. Guys brought me to some house and told me that the owner was waiting for me inside and that I had to set the affair by myself. I left all my things in the car and came in.
The owner was a middle-aged man. He told me some words in bad Russian and pushed me in a room and locked me there. I couldn’t understand what had happened with me. I’d sat there for a long time and didn’t know what to do. Then a nice woman came to me and brought me some food. She asked about my parents and my birthplace. The woman was Polish and I understood her quite well. She asked me whether I knew I had to work as prostitute. I began to cry.
Two weeks passed. I was crying all the time. I wasn’t allowed to go out and I was scared. The same women brought me food. Once the women asked me how old I was. She didn’t believe that I was 16. Next morning she came to me again and said she was very sorry for me. She gave me some money and explained how to escape. She asked me not to tell anybody that she had helped me. The woman said that the owner paid big money for me.
So I’ve gone to Holland. The police helped me to make contact with an NGO which helps those women who were sold. They helped me to come back to Ukraine. Now my grandmother has died. I can’t live in my village because the pimps are looking for me. They are very angry that I escaped. They said to my neighbors that I was a prostitute in Germany.
I don’t have any place to live. Two months I have lived with my uncle, another two months with my friend. I would like to enter a hairdresser school but it cost money. I don’t have any.
Narrative as told to La Strada-Ukraine, April 2003, in Kiev, Ukraine.