“Katya” submitted this narrative as part of her application for a T-visa, which the US government has created to aid victims of trafficking. Some parts of the narrative have been redacted by her attorney and her name has been changed. In 2016, the Walk Free Foundation, Gallup, and Polaris undertook survey research to better understand the general awareness of the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC)’s hotline number among the American public, through the Gallup U.S. nightly public opinion survey. Ultimately, the results suggest that a relatively small proportion of the American public are informed about it, with only 6.7% indicating they know the NHTRC specifically and 12% aware that there is a hotline focused on human trafficking. This indicates that the 5,544 cases reported in 2015 is likely a small proportion of the actual prevalence of human trafficking in the United States. Another narrative by Katya is available in the archive.
My name is Katya. I was born on [redacted]. I am currently 20 years old and was born in Ukraine.
In the summer of 2003, I lived with both my mother and grandmother. My grandmother was old and she became paralyzed, stopped eating, and was unable to use the bathroom on her own. In a short time, she became senile. She needed daily care. My mother worked as an accountant and was making around $130-150 per month, which absolutely was not enough for three people.
I was studying as a freshman at the Ukraine State University, majoring in physical education and sports. Every day after my classes, I had trained in athletics and pole vaulting. My mother started having problems with her heart, blood pressure and had chronic bronchitis, which made it difficult for her to work. After I finished my first year at the University, I decided that I need to look for a job, as we had nothing to eat, we did not have money, we were in need.
Together with my best friend, [name redacted], we looked through the newspaper for jobs. We went to apply to be waitresses to a bar that was just opened in Kiev called “Paradise.” When I arrived at Paradise, I met Vieniamin Yakovlievich, the owner. He told me that I couldn’t be a waitress because I was too short, but that I could be a dancer instead. At that moment, I could not imagine myself in as an exotic dancer. Nevertheless, Vieniamin convinced me by promising me good money, $50-100 a day, which was very good in the Ukraine, and also to work on the days that I wanted. Instead of Paradise, Vienamin sent me to work at another one of his clubs, “Vegas.” I guess he owns a lot of clubs.
I worked at Vegas three days a week. My mother did not even suspect that I danced. I did not want her to know about that. I told her that I worked as a waitress with [name redacted].
In one sad day, on November 18, 2003, my grandmother died, a person whom I loved very much. There were just two of us left, my mom and I. On the same day I had a conversation with Vieniamin, he told me that I have a chance in my life to help my mother, to earn money and see the United States. He said that it would be like summer break for me, for only 3-5 months. He told me that I would work in the U.S. as a waitress, and that he would provide a place to live. He promised me good money, which I really needed at that time for me and my mother.
In December 2003, Vieniamin introduced me to Michael Aranov and Alex Maksimenko to talk more about going to work in the United States. I knew that Alex was Vieniamin’s son. I did not know anything about Michael. I had seen them before at Vegas. Michael told me that I should find an English language tutor to learn English. He paid for my English lessons, which lasted until April 2004.
In April 2004, Vieniamin gave me the address of a company called “Kolizey.” That company helped students to go abroad for summer break: to rest, to earn some money, and to see the country. When I met with Kolizey representatives they gave me an option to choose the place of work. They also told me it would cost around $1300, which included Kolizey services and tickets to the destination country. Vienamin gave me money for this program and told me it would not be a problem, and that I did not have to pay him back. Vienamin told me to pick “Beauty Search Incorporated” to work for in the U.S. at my next Kolizey appointment, and Kolizey agreed. I was told I had to go through the American embassy first.
Before going to the embassy, Michael called me at home to prepare me for my embassy interview. He gave me questions and answers that could have been asked at the embassy in English.
I continued to work at Vegas during this process, and Vieniaimin, Alex and Michael kept talking to me about America, and its future promise and the money I would earn. Only now I understand what good psychologists they were and how they were pressuring me.
Shortly before my scheduled departure to the U.S., I received a call from Kolizey, and they told me that “Beauty Search Incorporated” to which I initially applied was not valid, and that they would not let me go. [Name redacted], another girl who worked for Veinaimin and was also traveling to the U.S., and I both went to Kolizey to try to find a different company to work for. Kolizey offered to fly us to Virginia Beach to work as waitresses. We had an interview and the next day, at 2 pm, purchased the plane tickets. The flight would be out of Kiev-London-Washington. They said there would be a bus waiting for us at the airport to take us to Virginia Beach where we would work. I called Michael and told him that I could not go to Detroit. He sounded upset at first, but then told me not to worry and go to Virginia Beach anyway.
In May 2004, [name redacted] and I flew to the U.S. When we got to the airport in Washington, to my surprise, I saw Michael at the airport. He told us that we were going with him, that everything worked out, that we did not need to worry, and that he would “take care of everything.”
Michael bought us bus tickets to Detriot. [Name redacted] and I rode the bus for a long time; it was very scary, not knowing English language, and the area frightened us. When we arrived in Detroit, Vienaimin, Alex, and Michael met us. They kept talking about how lucky we were and how they were going to take care of everything.
They brought us to a hotel, and in one moment everything changed. Once in the hotel, they told us that for bringing us to the U.S., we owed them money. Specifically, Vieniamin told us that we had to give them back $12,000 each within two months. [Name redacted] and I were in shock from learning what we got into, but that was not everything; the next thing they told us that the following week we have to go to work and there everything would be explained to us. They bought a phone card for us and told us to call our parents. However, during our conversations with our parents, then and later, Alex or Michael were always present, listening to what we said.
Within a week, Alex and Michael bought strip clothes and shoes for us. They found an apartment for [name redacted] and me, but also had their own keys to it. They told us that we were to work in a bar called “Cheetahs” from 2 pm to 2 am, two shifts from Monday to Saturday. They warned us not to tell anyone anything about ourselves, not to tell where we were from and where we lived, and which stores we went to. They said that if they were to find out we talked to anyone, we would have problems with our health and well-being.
It was hard work. We worked at Cheetah’s Monday through Saturday, 12-hours a day. After the work we had to give all of our money to Michael and Alex. I was very tired and never wanted to do anything. I became depressed very soon.
Monday through Saturday, I would wake up at 12 pm, make breakfast, wash, put make-up on, fixed my hair, and at 1 pm a car would be waiting for us at the door. Alex or Michael always took us to work and brought us back home. We worked till 2 o’clock at night; at 2:30 am a car at the club, we gave all the money and went home. Often after coming home, Alex or Michael would force us to have sex with them. Michael would have sex with me, and Alex would have sex with [name redacted]. We argued with them about this, but it was useless. We also fought about the money. Alex and Michael kept telling us that they wanted each of us to make $1000 a day, and if we didn’t they would yell and scream at us. And then around 4:00-5:00 am we would go to bed with a hope for a better tomorrow. Everyday, I earned between $400 to $1000, but I did not feel I made money, since I never saw it.
On Sundays Alex and Michael told us it was our “day off.” We were still not rid of them on Sundays. At 1 or 2 pm, Alex and Michael, sometimes both, would drive to our apartment and take us out for our manicures and pedicures. Then, they would take us to the mall, they would give us some cash for clothes, perfume and makeup. We would have to give any money back we did not spend. We were not allowed to talk to anyone else or tell them about ourselves. Then, Alex and Michael would take us to a restaurant with them, where they would make fun of us. For example, they would tell me I wasn’t holding the utensils right, or make fun of something I said and just laugh at me.
In September, [name redacted], another girl from Ukraine, arrived in Detroit to work for Alex and Michael and to be a dancer with us. [Name redacted] and I told her about what happened to us. I think she was shocked. Later, sometime in November, another girl, [name redacted], arrived from the Ukraine to work for Alex and Michael. We told her everything as well. [Name redacted] and [name redacted] lived together in an apartment in another building, in a similar “arrangement” to my situation with [name redacted].
Some time after [name redacted] arrived, all four of us became very ill. I think we all had bronchitis. I had a high fever, coughing, headache, body aches, and I lost my voice and could not speak. But Alex and Michael had no feelings and made us work anyway. They would scream and yell at us until we gave in, always. I remember once, I bought an outfit at the club for $40 with money I earned that same night, and told Michael that a customer bought it for me. After work, Michael took [name redacted] and I to the house that he and Alex lived in, and locked us in the basement. They set us down on the couch, yelled at us, threatened us, and raised their arms as if they were going to hit us. They yelled about money we owed them, and said that if we did not make enough money for them, they would sell us to a prostitution house and get their money. They kept questioning me about the outfit I bought, and when I finally said I bought it, Michael hit me hard across my face with his hand. I had stars in my eyes, then it was dark, and only then I realized that he hit me. I could not feel my face. [Name redacted] and I cried, asked to let us go home, yelled that we were tired. However, for them, we were not people, only dollar signs.
Michael and Alex arranged for [name redacted] and I to live in an apartment with a TV, buy us nice clothes from the mall, and get our nails done. But we did not have a right to choose where we lived, right of freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of actions. Alex and Michael had keys to our apartments. They controlled all of our movement and travel. They watched us and listened when we called our parents. They didn’t let us make friends or tell anyone anything about ourselves. We couldn’t keep any of the money we earned. We couldn’t ask anyone for help.
fter six months of slavery, [name redacted] and I thought we could go home. We estimated we had earned enough to pay Alex and Michael back for what we “owed” them. We asked Alex and Michael if we could go back to the Ukraine. Their response was that we “would break their business down,” and that they would not allow that.
Once I asked Michael to take me to the airport to go home. He didn’t really reply - he said something about it not being his business. But the next day when they came to pick us up to take us to work, Michael told me to stay home and wait for him. Later, he let himself into our apartment with his key, and he made me sit down in the living room. He asked me why I was not happy. I told him I wanted to go home, and I want the money I earned. Michael told me I owed him a lot of money, and that I did not [have] any money, and that there was no way back home. I started to cry, and argued with him about this. He became enraged, and ran towards me, raised his foot at me, but kicked the boom box next to me instead, and broke it. I understood I could not solve the problem this way, and never raised this issue with him again.
I had a young client at the club, who came to see me once a week. I used his phone to call Ukraine; I told my mom what was going on. My mom told me to take my things and run.
The entire time I was working for Alex and Michael, I never got enough sleep. [Name redacted] and I worked on our escape plan for a long time. She said she would talk to one of her clients, Jeff, to help us. On February 12th, 2005 after the night shift, at 6 o’clock in the morning, Jeff’s car was standing outside our apartment. He took us to the Immigration Service, and that’s how we got rid of Alex and Michael. I told Immigration my story. I was still scared, however, since Alex and Michael have a lot of connections in the Ukraine.
Since leaving the situation with Alex and Michael, I have been telling my story to Lou de Baca of the US Department of Justice, and Kelli Hodges of the FBI during interviews. It has sometimes been difficult, but I know it is important.
I feel like going back to the Ukraine would be like going back to my own grave. Vieniamin is still there with all of his clubs and associates. I am scared he would hurt me if I returned. The police there would never protect us, as they are corrupt. Vieniamin got away with so much there.
Since running away from Alex and Michael, I have fallen in love with this country. The laws work here, police are good, and there are people here who will help people like me. The government attorneys and FBI agents I work with really care about me and my case. I am trusting people for the first time. I feel safe and protected.
At the present time I study English at Truman College in Chicago. I plan to take computer classes soon.
I lived in Kiev, Ukraine for 19 years. During that time I never trusted the country’s laws, police or people. Here, in one year, I have trust and I was proven that in this country the laws work. This country can protect me and provide me a future. My country will not guarantee that I will stay alive after what happened. I hope I can stay in America.
Narrative as submitted for a T-visa application