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Ukraine (Tier 2)

The Government of Ukraine does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. Despite the documented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the government’s anti-trafficking capacity, the government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore Ukraine remained on Tier 2. These efforts included investigating more suspected traffickers, allocating significantly more money to the national budget for anti-trafficking measures, and improving access to identification documentation and official registration for vulnerable populations. The government also took steps to prevent child trafficking and reduce re-traumatization of child victims during the criminal justice process. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Authorities convicted fewer traffickers and most convicted traffickers avoided imprisonment, likely due to judges’ underestimation of the severity of trafficking crimes, entrenched stereotypes about what constitutes trafficking in persons, and corruption. This lenient sentencing weakened deterrence, did not adequately reflect the nature of the crime, and undercut broader efforts to fight trafficking. Reports of officials complicit in human trafficking persisted. While the government initiated an investigation into two allegedly complicit officials during the reporting period, for the fifth consecutive year it did not secure any convictions. The government officially identified far fewer victims in 2021 than in 2020, while international organizations continued to identify far more victims than the government, highlighting the government’s inadequate identification efforts and a continuing lack of trust in authorities’ ability to protect or assist victims. Observers highlighted the government’s ineffective coordination and implementation of anti-trafficking policies, and NGOs continued to identify systemic shortcomings in implementation of the national referral mechanism (NRM) at the regional level. 

  • Identify and certify the official status of more victims to ensure they are afforded their rights under the trafficking law and modify the procedure for granting victim status to lessen the burden on victims to self-identify and divulge sensitive information.
  • Vigorously investigate and prosecute alleged trafficking crimes and punish convicted traffickers with significant prison terms. • Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict officials allegedly complicit in trafficking crimes under the trafficking statute.
  • Establish and fill a dedicated National Coordinator position to lead national efforts to coordinate and implement anti-trafficking policies.
  • Provide additional, extensive training on the NRM to local officials and service providers throughout the decentralization process to minimize disruption in identification, referral, and assistance to trafficking victims.
  • Increase worker protections by eliminating recruitment fees charged to workers by labor recruiters and ensuring employers pay any recruitment fees.
  • Increase training for law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking cases (particularly on forced labor), using a victim-centered and trauma-informed approach, and on how to gather evidence outside of victims’ testimony.
  • Increase victims’ access to legal assistance throughout the criminal process and improve victims’ ability to access court-ordered restitution in criminal cases and compensation through civil proceedings.
  • Increase government funding for anti-trafficking efforts, particularly funding for local communities.
  • Increase training for officials on victim identification, particularly in proactive screening for labor trafficking and of vulnerable populations, such as women in commercial sex, children exploited in sex trafficking, foreign migrant workers, and internally displaced persons (IDPs).
  • Increase law enforcement investigations and prosecutions of labor recruitment firms engaged in fraudulent practices.

The government maintained law enforcement efforts. Article 149 of the criminal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of three to eight years’ imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Law enforcement investigated 222 trafficking cases in 2021, an increase from 203 in 2020. These included 85 new sex trafficking cases and 137 new labor trafficking cases, of which 54 were for forced involvement in criminal activity. An international organization stated pandemic-related travel restrictions changed traffickers’ recruitment tactics and exploitation patterns, hampering law enforcement’s detection capabilities. The government prosecuted 101 suspected traffickers in 2021, compared with the prosecution of 51 cases with an unknown number of defendants in 2020. The government convicted 24 traffickers in 2021, compared with 29 in 2020 and 35 in 2019. Of the 24 convicted traffickers sentenced in 2021, only five (21 percent) received prison sentences, all for a term of five to 10 years; nineteen traffickers received suspended sentences. This was similar to 2020 when courts sentenced only 17 percent of convicted traffickers to imprisonment. Observers reported many judges underestimated the severity of trafficking offenses and continued to hold entrenched stereotypes about what constitutes trafficking in persons, while some engaged in corrupt practices. These lenient sentences weakened deterrence, did not adequately reflect the nature of the crime, and undercut broader efforts to fight trafficking. An international organization reported pandemic-related restrictions adversely affected the court system, delaying some legal proceedings. In a notable case during the reporting period, law enforcement arrested the leader and indicted in absentia eight members of an organized criminal group operating in Russia-controlled eastern Ukraine accused of exploiting illegally detained residents for labor to support Russia-led forces’ military activities. Authorities cooperated with foreign governments on multiple transnational investigations, including through joint investigation teams (JIT) established with Georgia, Greece, France, and Italy. In April 2021, authorities established a JIT with Georgia, Greece, and Italy to investigate a criminal organization that used fraud to coerce hundreds of Ukrainian citizens to smuggle migrants from Iran, Iraq, Syria, and other Middle Eastern countries to Europe by sea. Authorities worked with foreign law enforcement to extradite one suspected trafficker to Moldova and to support the extradition from Cyprus to Ukraine of one suspected trafficker. The government amended an agreement with the government of Turkey to improve law enforcement cooperation between the two countries, including cooperation on anti-trafficking efforts.

Continued institutional reforms led to widespread turnover in many government institutions, including within the ranks of the National Police and the judiciary. Experts reported these institutional reforms created temporary obstacles to anti-trafficking efforts but ultimately could lead to improved efforts if changes were properly implemented. The National Police counter-trafficking unit was incorporated into the Migration Police (MiPol) in December 2020; MiPol headquarters staffing almost doubled from 27 to 45 officials in 2021. Observers assessed many of the newly hired MiPol staff, as well as National Police investigators, were not sufficiently trained on trafficking. As of November 2021, the government reported nearly 2,000 judicial vacancies; these vacancies exacerbated delays in court cases caused by pandemic-related restrictions. Turnover of personnel led to a lack of qualified prosecutors to supervise trafficking cases at the regional level. The government, in conjunction with international funding and partners, conducted multiple trainings for law enforcement and other officials. All new police recruits received trafficking training. Observers reported the National Police counter-trafficking unit used outdated online investigative tools and collaborated poorly with other financial or cybercrime investigations, leading to missed opportunities to identify trafficking crimes in money laundering or pornography cases.

Corruption remained a serious concern in the police and judiciary. Authorities investigated two city council members for recruiting and transporting vulnerable people to two agricultural companies for the purpose of forced labor. Although the government continued to report investigations of officials allegedly complicit in trafficking, for the fifth consecutive year, the government did not report any convictions of complicit officials. The government also did not report on the status of high-profile cases from previous years, many of which have remained stalled with the courts for years, including those against the former commander of the Kyiv City police counter-trafficking unit, three police officers, recruiters accused of trafficking Ukrainians into a drug-trafficking ring in Russia, and a teacher at a government-run boarding school for orphans in Kharkiv who attempted to sell one of her students.

The government demonstrated mixed efforts in victim protection; although the government allocated significantly more funding to the national budget for victim protection efforts and took steps to reduce re-traumatization of child victims, the government identified, officially recognized, and provided services to far fewer victims. In 2021, authorities reported there were 64 officially-identified victims—a status that granted victims access to government services upon approval of an application—a decrease compared with 134 officially-identified victims in 2020, although the number of applications decreased by almost 60 percent from 2020 to 2021. The government reported police identified and referred to services 155 potential victims in 2021 (146 in 2020 and 262 in 2019). The majority of the 64 officially-identified victims were men (45); authorities identified two female child victims. Observers noted the pandemic exacerbated existing long-term problems in victim identification and assistance. NGOs reported the government nearly ceased targeted proactive identification efforts because of the pandemic and pandemic-related restrictions reduced cross-border movements, including the return of trafficking victims exploited abroad. The government reported screening undocumented foreign migrants for indicators of trafficking; however, observers noted authorities did not consistently do so.

The government provided services, including medical, psychological, and legal assistance and temporary shelter, to victims granted official victim status. The government approved 67 percent (64 of 96) of applications for official victim status in 2021, compared with 57 percent (134 of 235) of applications in 2020. The National Social Service (NSS), formed in 2020, assumed the role of granting official victim status to potential victims in May 2021 and began devolving the responsibility of granting official victim status to local communities through the ongoing decentralization reform process. The government took steps to improve the victim designation process by introducing an electronic register of victims and outlining the procedures for notifying potential victims of the outcome of their application; observers attributed the decrease in the number of applications in 2021 to a lack of qualified personnel and infrastructure at the NSS and pandemic-related restrictions. Civil society previously reported the government rejected a high percentage of applications due to strict internal guidelines for classifying cases as trafficking crimes, police pursuing indictments under statutes other than the trafficking law, and the government demanding additional evidence to confirm victim status contrary to Ukrainian law, including confirmation that the victim was recognized as such in court proceedings or demanding evidence to show movement across a border. Victims not requiring specialized services may have chosen not to apply for official victim status, and NGOs reported the emphasis on documents requiring the divulging of sensitive information likely deterred some applicants from applying. An international organization reported pandemic-related restrictions likely limited the number of applications for official victim status as potential victims must submit applications in person. The government granted official victim status to one individual incarcerated abroad in 2021, compared with zero in 2020 and 40 in 2019; in 2020, the government discontinued the use of a simplified application process for potential victims incarcerated abroad, which included waiving the in-person interview requirement.

Although the government, in collaboration with partner organizations, trained local officials in effectively assisting potential victims, newly-devolved local administrative structures were not yet officially part of the NRM, resulting in some confusion over responsibilities. Civil society reported continued systemic shortcomings in the functioning of the NRM at the regional level and emphasized government agencies identified a low number of victims through the NRM. Some newly established communities, especially smaller communities, lacked sufficient personnel, infrastructure, and financial resources to effectively provide services to trafficking victims. Observers noted some local officials responsible for identifying and screening victims were not trained on trafficking. Moreover, pandemic-related restrictions and the diversion of funding to combat the pandemic further limited trafficking victims’ access to state assistance. The government continued to rely on international organizations and NGOs, with international donor funding, to identify victims and provide the vast majority of victim protection and assistance. An international organization in Ukraine assisted 1,010 victims in 2021, compared with 1,680 victims in 2020. International organizations reported the majority (93 percent) of their identified victims were exploited by labor traffickers. An international organization reported NGOs identified 102 victims in eastern Ukraine, including in Russia-occupied and Russia-controlled territories; the majority of these victims were IDPs, and 98 of the 102 victims were exploited for forced labor.

The government allocated 2.03 million hryvnia ($74,350) to the national budget for anti-trafficking measures in 2021, a significant increase from 548,800 hryvnia ($20,090) in 2020. No funding was allocated for local budgets in 2021, compared with 219,220 hryvnia ($8,020) in 2020. Ukraine’s trafficking law entitled victims with official victim status to housing at a government shelter, psychological assistance, medical services, employment counseling, and vocational training, regardless of whether a criminal case proceeded or the victim cooperated with law enforcement. The government did not integrate a rehabilitation center run by an international organization into the national social and health care system, despite the government’s prior stated commitment to assume operation of the center; some trafficking victims received shelter at this center. Adult victims could also stay at government-run centers for psycho-social assistance for up to 90 days, with the option to extend, and receive psychological and medical support, lodging, food, and legal and social assistance. Authorities could accommodate child victims in centers for socio-psychological support of children for up to nine months and administer social, medical, psychological, education, legal, and other types of assistance. Authorities identified two child trafficking victims in 2021 but did not report what services they received, if any. The government maintained 21 centers for socio-psychological assistance, 33 state shelters for domestic violence and trafficking victims, and 796 social services centers. The government amended the regulations governing the centers for socio-psychological assistance to ensure trafficking victims receive the full range of necessary services available. Observers reported that state assistance remained insufficient to meet victims’ needs, and victims continued to rely on NGOs for assistance. Foreign victims were entitled to the same benefits as Ukrainian citizens and had additional access to interpretation services, temporary legal stay, and voluntary repatriation. Although legally entitled to the same benefits, observers noted some foreign nationals and members of underserved communities faced barriers to accessing services. Authorities could grant permanent residency to foreign victims in danger of retribution should they return to their country of origin. Foreign victims were able to obtain an immigration permit after residing continuously in Ukraine for three years.

The government, often in partnership with international organizations, provided training for officials on victim identification and assistance. In collaboration with an international organization, the government conducted five simulation exercises for law enforcement and frontline responders from ten regions to strengthen collaboration among anti-trafficking stakeholders in responding to suspected trafficking cases. The Witness Protection Law provided protections for victims, but observers noted courts rarely used protection measures. Closed hearings and remote procedures for questioning and identification were the most frequently used witness and victim protection mechanisms. The government did not restrict victims’ movement. The government did not report if it granted personal protection to victims in 2021 (in 2020, the government granted eight victims personal protection and changed the personal data of three witnesses in criminal proceedings). Video testimony systems that ensured the complete separation of victims or witnesses from the accused existed in 14 courts in various regions; the courts used these systems 19 times during hearings of trafficking-related crimes in 2021. In 2021, prosecutors created specialized units to handle cases involving child trafficking victims and took measures to avoid their re-traumatization, including by preventing direct visual contact between the victim and other participants. The government, with the assistance of an international organization, also established several regional specialized centers for child victims or witnesses; at these centers, specialized staff interviewed children in a trauma-informed manner and children received psycho-social, legal, and medical care, as needed. For the third consecutive year, the government did not report cases of courts ordering restitution for trafficking victims; however, an international organization confirmed some victims collected court-awarded restitution in 2021.

The government increased prevention efforts. The Ministry of Social Policy (MSP) continued to lead anti-trafficking efforts at the national and local levels, but observers widely criticized the ministry for ineffective coordination and engagement on anti-trafficking efforts. Experts noted no one individual held the position of National Coordinator to execute the ministry’s anti-trafficking responsibilities, weakening its leadership on this issue. In July 2021, the government approved a general draft concept for a 2021-2025 national action plan; no further progress was made by the end of the reporting period. The MSP did not publish a report on the implementation of the government’s anti-trafficking policies. The government and members of parliament created a working group to draft and implement a law to combat sexual exploitation of women. In November 2021, the government issued standard operating procedures for a government-sponsored hotline dedicated to trafficking, gender-based violence, and violence against children. The government did not report how many calls the hotline received in 2021 (29,344 calls received in 2020), nor if any calls led to the identification of victims or their referral to services (38 victims identified and referred to services in 2020). A local NGO, with funding from international donors, operated a counter-trafficking and migrant advice hotline. In 2021, the hotline received 22,128 calls, compared with 22,921 calls in 2020; 75 potential victims were identified and referred to responsible local agencies and NGOs for assistance (77 in 2020). The Office of the Prosecutor General, in collaboration with partner organizations, created dedicated channels on social media platforms to communicate with children to increase detection efforts, prevent child trafficking, and improve communication with child trafficking victims or witnesses. The government took several measures to improve access to identification documentation and official registration for vulnerable populations; lack of documentation and access to state services was a risk factor for trafficking. In December 2021, legislation to facilitate residence registration, a pre-requisite for accessing state services, went into effect; experts believed this new law would reduce the risk of trafficking by ensuring the six million Ukrainians with incomplete registration could be recognized by the government. In April 2021, the government launched a statelessness determination process to facilitate the provision of documentation, residency, and citizenship for stateless persons, a vulnerable population; an international organization estimated there were 36,000 stateless persons in Ukraine. In October 2021, the government adopted a revised strategy to assist IDPs; the strategy included a focus on facilitating employment and education, documentation, and integration into host communities. In November 2021, the government passed legislation to allow Ukrainians living in temporarily Russia-occupied territories to register their existing residences and obtain identity documents. Authorities, in coordination with NGOs, international organizations, and local partners, continued to conduct a wide range of awareness campaigns throughout the country, including via television, social media, print media, and public events. In December 2021, MiPol, in collaboration with an international organization and a local university, launched an anti-trafficking chatbot to assist online users in quickly finding information on safe employment, study, and travel, as well as information on how to assist trafficking victims. The State Labor Service (SLS) published on its website recommendations for Ukrainians contemplating working abroad, including information on trafficking risks.

Police continued to monitor and investigate formal and informal recruitment networks, including companies advertising jobs abroad, and worked with other stakeholders to raise awareness about known recruitment schemes. The Ministry of Economic Development and Trade oversaw the licensing of labor recruitment agencies and conducted regular and random inspections on their activities. Legislation banning recruitment companies from charging fees to citizens seeking employment abroad was registered in parliament; the legislation had not been adopted by the end of the reporting period. Labor inspectors conducted 7,231 inspections in 2021, compared with 14,803 unscheduled inspections in 2020; the government did not report if inspectors identified any potential trafficking victims in 2021. The government, in collaboration with an international organization, developed a distance learning anti-trafficking training for labor inspectors. NGOs previously reported there was an insufficient number of labor inspectors to effectively meet their mandate. The SLS maintained cooperation with Lithuania’s labor inspectors, including by publishing information on employment opportunities and legal regulations for foreign nationals in Lithuania on Lithuania’s State Labor Inspectorate website. The government made some efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts; Article 149 reportedly criminalized the act of knowingly soliciting or patronizing a sex trafficking victim, but an NGO noted the language in the statute is broad. The government continued to provide victim identification and referral training to diplomats.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Ukraine, and traffickers exploit victims from Ukraine abroad. Ukrainian victims are exploited in sex trafficking and forced labor in Ukraine as well as in Russia, Poland, Germany, other parts of Europe, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Kazakhstan, and the Middle East. Ukrainian victims are increasingly exploited in EU member states. Traffickers exploit most victims for forced labor. Traffickers exploit some Ukrainian children and vulnerable adults in forced begging. NGOs estimate 10-15 percent of the Roma community lack identification documents, leaving them unable to access state social assistance programs and thereby increasing their vulnerability to trafficking. Traffickers exploit a small number of foreign nationals in forced labor in Ukraine. A growing number of forced labor victims in Ukraine and abroad are exploited in a variety of sectors, including construction, manufacturing, agriculture, criminal activity, and street begging. Traffickers force some victims to participate in the illegal production of counterfeit tobacco products and well-established criminal groups force some Ukrainian victims to engage in other illegal activities abroad. Some traffickers exploit victims in forced labor at rehabilitation centers under the guise of providing treatment for alcohol or drug addiction. Pandemic-related movement restrictions and border closures resulted in traffickers exploiting a larger number of Ukrainians in labor trafficking within Ukraine and in commercial sex, increasingly online. Traffickers target low-skilled workers transiting Ukraine. Increasingly, well-educated workers are vulnerable to labor exploitation. The approximately 104,000 children institutionalized in state-run orphanages are at especially high risk of trafficking. Officials of several state-run residential institutions and orphanages have allegedly been complicit or willfully negligent in the sex and labor trafficking of girls and boys under their care.

Prior to Russia’s 2022 invasion, in areas of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russia-led forces, employment options were limited and Russia’s proxy “authorities” placed restrictions on international humanitarian aid intended to help meet civilian needs. IDPs, those living in Russia-controlled territory or within 20 km of the line of contact in the Donbas, and residents of Crimea faced significant barriers to obtaining or renewing identification documents, increasing their vulnerability to exploitation. Uncorroborated reports indicated Russia-led forces exploited Ukrainians for labor, particularly in the mines of Russia-controlled Donbas. International organizations reported the demographics of Ukrainian trafficking victims have shifted since the beginning of the conflict in 2014 to include more urban, younger, and male victims exploited increasingly in forced labor and criminality, such as for drug trafficking and as couriers. Traffickers reportedly kidnapped women and girls from conflict-affected areas for sex and labor trafficking in Ukraine and Russia. Traffickers targeted IDPs and subjected some Ukrainians to forced labor on territory not under government control, often via kidnapping, torture, and extortion. These abuses and vulnerabilities likely continued after Russia launched its all-out war against Ukraine in February 2022.

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine forced more than four million people to flee Ukraine in the first five weeks of war and displaced almost 6.5 million more within its borders, a total of almost one quarter of Ukraine’s population. Experts estimate as many as 90 percent of those who have fled the country are women and children, and that more than half of Ukraine’s children—4.3 million out of seven million—have been displaced. These refugee and displaced populations are especially vulnerable to human trafficking. Even for those not displaced, the war heightens individuals’ vulnerability to trafficking. By the end of March 2022, Ukrainian officials assessed Russian forces relocated thousands of Ukrainians to Russia, including some to remote areas; press reports indicate many of these Ukrainians were transferred forcibly. These citizens are highly vulnerable to trafficking.

Uncorroborated reports of Russia-led forces using children as soldiers, informants, and human shields persist. Russia-led forces in Russia-controlled areas of the Donbas have reportedly used children to take direct and indirect part in the armed conflict to perform armed duty at checkpoints, as fighters, and to serve as guards, mailpersons, and secretaries. The recruitment of children by Russia-led forces took place in territory controlled by Russia and in areas where the government was unable to enforce national prohibitions against the use of children in armed conflict.

U.S. Department of State

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