Good-looking women can be a country's greatest attraction. But they can also bring unwelcome attention. This seems to be the case in Ukraine, which is becoming a prime European destination for sex tourists.
Eight skimpily clad female college students held placards reading “Ukraine is Not a Bordello” in many languages on Kyiv’s Independence Square on July 30. They were protesting the advent of increasingly more sex tourists coming to the country.
The 50person, awarenessraising show – complete with male ballet dancers acting as pimps in flashy suits – caught the public’s eye and brought the issue to the forefront.
“This is insulting to us [women] and it harms the country’s image since we’re increasingly becoming a country of destination for tourists whose sole purpose is to have sex with our women,” said Anna Hutsol, the leader of FEMEN, a looseknit women’s movement of mostly female students who organized the provocative demonstration.
“We take this issue very seriously. We are pushing for legislation to forbid sex tourists from entering the country. We are sick of men looking at us like pieces of meat,” Hutsol added.
Nongovernmental organizations like FEMEN are not the only ones who have noticed the new sex tourism boom. Government officials, public relations professionals and those in the entertainment industry are also starting to say something needs to be done to counteract the trend and Ukraine’s image as a haven for sex tourists.
“Ukraine has a competitive advantage, simply put, our women are the best in the world,” said Vasyl Myroshnychenko, a partner at CFC, a strategic communications, government relations and investment consulting firm. “What Ukraine needs to do [to improve its image tainted by corruption, sex tourism and other problems] is to conduct a positive image campaign with systemic, consistent and coordinated support from the top.”
Hutsol says Ukrainian women are already equated with prostitutes abroad – an image that adds headaches to women seeking visas and facing embarassing interviews with foreign embassies.
Some observers attribute the increase of sex tourists to the government’s visa regime relaxation in 2005.
“There’s a definite correlation between the new visafree regime and visitors to my club, as is true in other places in Kyiv such as, Arena and Avalon,” said Ray McRobbie, director of entertainment and marketing at River Palace, whose night club is reputed for shortterm matchmaking.
It is virtually impossible to track the statistics of socalled “sexpats” traveling to Ukraine, however.
“The growing amount of sex tourists entering Ukraine has not escaped us, but it is very difficult to measure their numbers,” said Andriy Shenin, an expert at the state tourism administration.
In 2007, 23 million foreigners visited Ukraine, according to the administration, up 22 percent over 2006. The vast majority of foreigners came mainly from former Soviet republics. However, the greatest rise in the numbers was from the European Union and other nonCIS nations. That category showed a 96 per cent rise, or 725,000 more visitors.
Police told Korrespondent, the Kyiv Post’s Russianlanguage sister publication, that some 12,000 prostitutes operate in Ukraine's $700 million sex industry. The figure is comparable to the annual profits of RosUkrEnergo, a Swissregistered intermediary company that supplies Ukraine with gas, but pales in comparison with Thailand’s multibillion dollar sex industry. The Interior Ministry’s press service said this number is “very high” for Ukraine where prostitution is prohibited under law.
Hutsol said police figures heavily underestimate the situation. Low student stipends and the capital’s high prices are pushing more young women into prostitution, she added.
“Most women I spoke with are ashamed and do this out of poverty but some also do it out of material desire,” Hutsol added.
A 45year German businessman who runs a sex tourist web portal says there are too few wellpaying jobs for universityeducated women. “They see luxury cars and houses and they want it now so they either compete for sugar daddies or willingly sell themselves,” he said.
One example he gave was about a smart, openminded recent graduate who works for an insurance company, but who also services VIP clients at a rate of $2,000 per month. He calls it the “I want everything and I want it now” mentality of young women from 19 to 22 years of age. Prices for their services start from $20 for oral sex and can run up to $5,000 per hour for VIP clients, but usually fall in the $100$300 range.
The German portal owner said Ukraine’s proximity to Europe and its relatively inexpensive prices makes it a good destination for sexseeking enthusiasts. His site contains 32 subdirectories for Kyiv alone billed as “everything you need for a pleasure weekend."
"The girls here are tall and slim, and getting them into bed is easy. Moreover they are fun to party with,” he said.
The party can be booked online. A twoday sex tour advertised and priced on www.kievtour.com runs $1,250$1,600, depending on the type of girl and her Englishspeaking skills. The site offers confidentiality and discreet billing, private cottages outside of Kyiv or apartments in the capital, roundtrip transport to Boryspil airport and discounts for longer stays.
Lack of moral values is also cited as a factor driving Ukraine's sex business. Barely legal girls released from staterun orphanages and boarding homes are especially atrisk, said Iryna Konchenkova, head of the international nonprofit School of Equal Opportunities. Her organization combats child labor, child pornography and trafficking.
“Morals are not instilled at the stateoperated orphanages. When I speak to the older girls at these institutions, all they talk about are cigarettes, cars and so on without realizing how much they cost or how much they have to work to purchase them,” Konchenkova said.
This materialist approach leads them to prostitution as the fast track to acquiring the things they want, Konchenkova said pointing to street children and rural residents as two other atrisk groups because of their low educational levels and lack of parental guidance.
Hutsol is concerned that the Euro2012 Soccer Championship will bring an influx of male sexpat tourists.
“We are developing an action plan leading to the 2012 cup. We are a fastgrowing organization with a strong network and so we’ll build on this to hang social billboards on city life which will feature photo sessions with famous people, and partner with other organizations doing similar things to build a strong coalition,” Hutsol added.