Leaving for Russia in search of work, some Ukrainians have found themselves on the wrong side of the law. Through blackmail and threats, a number of people have been forced to distribute illegal drugs around Russia.

Many Ukrainians travel abroad for better jobs. Working in a foreign country often pays much more than a similar job in Ukraine. And Russia, due to its proximity to Ukraine, has always been a top destination. However, working in Russia for Ukrainians, since the start of Moscow’s military intervention in Donbas in 2014 has become more dangerous and lands people in prison. Kateryna Onopriyenko’s son saw the dark side of working in Russia. He applied for a courier job. Recruiters promised him a salary of about 1 thousand US dollars a month. But on his arrival to Russia, the Ukrainian citizen realized that the job did not match the recruiters’ promises. Instead, he was forced to create ‘spice’, a designer drug that is now illegal in many countries, including Russia.

Kateryna Onopriyenko, the mother of a Ukrainian convicted in Russia, told details about his predicament:

“They intimidated him by saying that they have all of his private information, saying they have a picture of his passport and allegedly know the whereabouts of his family. When they forced him to distribute the so-called spice, they said if he didn’t do it they would kill him, and he wouldn’t return home alive. They just took his smartphone during his detention and dialed pin codes to a secret app that the recruiters use. This is more confirmation that everything was under their control.”

Yevhen Onopriyenko went to jail after less than a month of work. He was detained on his way home. Now, he is convinced that his employers handed him over to Russian law enforcement officers themselves. He believes he was set up.

According to Ukraine’s Ministry of Justice, more than one thousand Ukrainians are imprisoned in Russia as a result of this illegal scheme. Moreover, Russian special services often plant drugs and detain people without any justification, that’s according to the Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Justice Serhiy Pietukhov:

“Our citizens are constantly charged with criminal offenses for no reason. It’s done in order to meet the requirements of domestic Russian propaganda. They represent Ukrainians as spies and terrorists.”

[Serhiy Pietukhov that the exact number of Ukrainians who suffered is unknown, but the total number of convicted Ukrainians is nearly 1,000 at present – Ed.]

Relatives of the Ukrainian citizens who’ve been arrested under these and other similar circumstances believe their loved ones are the victims of human trafficking. As Svitlana Volodiy, Head of the Counter Human Trafficking Association told,

“Today, anyone can find himself in these situations.The trains run every day from Ukraine to Russia. We asked to make warnings at railway stations and in trains about the dangers of working in Russia.”

The Ministry of Justice stresses that Ukrainians should not apply for these types of jobs in Russia. It’s not always possible to return those who become imprisoned in Russia back to Ukraine. The procedure lasts at least one year. In 30% of the cases, Russia refuses to extradite prisoners, which Ukraine believes have been detained on false charges.


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