MYKOLAYIV – It's a warm spring night, and a dozen brightly-clad young women are standing along a dimply lit street. They are prostitutes fishing for clients.
They pose readily for cameras, but ask to withhold pictures of their faces, fearing that their relatives will find out about their job. They also don't want to get in trouble with the police – but it's not like the police don't know where to look for them.
They chat loudly, smile and tease each other. But there is little cheer in their stories.
Svitlana, a 28-year-old, who did not give her last name for the same reason the rest of the women don't want their photographs publishes, is a little tipsy early in the night. Her first client asked her to drink to his birthday. She looks tired, and her eyes look sad, despite smiling often.
Svitlana, who is dressed in a pink jacket adorned with rhinestones and jeans, started working in the streets about three years ago because her family was desperate for cash. Now this job allows her to support her mother and father, who are pensioners, and also her sister, who has a little child. She makes Hr 200-250 per hour and works a minimum four nights per week, serving three or four clients every night.
Svitlana claims that her training as a cook does not allow her to survive in the city. “It's hard to earn normal money in Mykolayiv, and I have to support four people in my family,” she complains.
Mykolayiv, a city of 500,000 residents, used to be a center of shipbuilding in the Soviet times, but with current decline of the industry the city attained the status of a depressive area.
According to the estimates of UNICEF, the United Nations children's fund, there are 65,000-93,000 of sex workers in Ukraine, and 16 percent of them are underage. The figure varies as as some women work only during the summer.
Svitlana says that in summertime she travels to Koblevo, a town on the Black Sea shore to make more money. She confessed she has experienced abuse from her clients a few times in the course of her job. She also started doing drugs in this job, which is a problem for around 30 percent of sex workers in Ukraine, according to Ukrainian Institute of Social Research.
Svitlana claims she knows the risks associated with her profession, and regularly tests for HIV and goes through doctor checkups, offered to her and others by the social workers.
She doesn't plan to quit her job now, saying that “money is attractive.”
“I've got used to this, to the fact that I always have money, I can always can go to the supermarket and buy whatever I want,” she says.
But she confesses she would never entice her sister, who is currently looking for a job, to join the sex business.
“No, no, no. I am trapped into this, but my sister needs to think about other things,” she said. “It's me who will not be able to have children,” she ads, explaining that she has health problems.
Svitlana's friend, a 22-year old brunette called Iryna, drops into the conversation. She has worked in the street for 3.5 years, and says she's completely satisfied with her job. “I have a child and I need to feed him,” this is how she explains getting into the business.
“How are you my dear? Is everything ok?” asked Viktoria Sahnenko, a social worker of Unitus non-government organization, which looks after sex workers in the city. The girls reply with smiles as Sahnenko is one of few people they really trust.
Svitlana's phone rings. “My client is already calling me, sorry,” she says, before disappearing into the night.
Text by Oksana Grytsenko
Kyiv Post staff writer Oksana Grytsenko can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org