3 Dec 2022 21:12:58

On November 12th-13th, 2022, the 5th All-Ukrainian Forum of the Community of Sex Workers of Ukraine was held.

Six years have passed since we allowed to ourselves the dream of holding an all-Ukrainian meeting of sex workers in Ukraine for the first time. We dreamed of improving the lives of all members of our community and realized that in order to achieve this, we needed to be able to share experiences and plan joint actions.

Much has happened over the years in the life of each of us, in our country and in our society. Our sex worker community has also undergone huge changes during this time:

– Our organization CO “LEGALIFE-UKRAINE” has developed and spread to 12 regions of Ukraine with a central office in Kyiv. We established strong contacts with international sex worker networks and community support organizations in Ukraine. We were representing interests of the community at such international events as 63rd session of the UN on Women, the International Conference on HIV and the like.

– Activists have grown from clients of HIV service organizations to branch managers, leaders of regional SW initiative groups and paralegals. Through their efforts, in each of the 12 regions of Ukraine, SW initiative groups have been created and a partner network has been built to ensure the SW’s access to friendly and high-quality services.

– The community is developing an All-Ukrainian network of paralegals to provide services to SWs and to help to protect their rights. During the year of 2022, 200 SWs received a legal assistance and escort/transportation services for social, medical and legal assistance.

– Sex workers represented interests of the community at the National and Regional levels, took part in the activities of the National and local coordinating councils on HIV and TB, establishing interaction with government agencies to improve the quality of services for SWs.

“Our community is always ready to support sex workers in difficult times – during a pandemic, in times of war. Thus, in 2022, more than 800 sex workers of Ukraine received material assistance and support from the regional offices of CO “Legalife-Ukraine”.

The 5th Anniversary Forum was devoted to discussion of these changes.

This year meeting was attended by activists and leaders of the sex worker community from 12 regions of Ukraine, there were also completely new faces, whom we were very glad to meet. We are grateful to Elena Vertinskaya, who traditionally helped us to create an incredible atmosphere of mutual support and understanding, to tune in to teamwork and to decide on the main tasks.

“The changes that have taken place over these five years in lives of each of our leaders, their achievements and contribution to the development of the community is simply incredible. The perseverance and indestructibility of these women amazes me. Each of them overcame a long path, which was not strewn with roses, but they all retained their humanity, cheerfulness and thirst for change. They are charming and inspiring…”

Natalia Dorofeeva, Analyst, CO “LEGALIFE-UKRAINE”

On the first day, we plunged into the history of development of the organization and the formation of each of the leaders – the presentations of the participants were full of pleasant memories and talks about work in the regions, their achievements and plans for the future.

In the afternoon of the 12th November 2022, participants focused on:

– Analysis of the implementation of the strategic plan for the development of SW community for 2021-2023.

– An analysis of the current challenges facing the SW community in times of war, given the need to meet the new needs of sex workers and the increase their vulnerability to violence and rights violations.

– Analysis of the implementation of advocacy strategy for decriminalization of sex work and the communication strategy of the leaders of the CO “Legalife-Ukraine” with the media in the context of the war in Ukraine.

– Planning activities to support sex workers and develop the community for 2023.

The white tower of community – result of our team work

The second day of the Forum, at the request of community members, we decided to dedicate to gaining useful knowledge and skills that will be useful both during war and in peacetime. Our friends from ACTION AID helped us with this. This organization from Spain became a partner of CO “LEGALIFE-UKRAINE” in 2022 and finances the provision of humanitarian assistance for sex workers in Ukraine in these hard times.

ACTION AID Security Advisor Kiki Hansen shared with us her knowledge about the basics of safe behavior during rocket attacks and nuclear threats. Thanks to Jara Henar (ACTION AID Advocacy Advisor), who was named “best model” for demonstrations by the participants, Kiki led the participants in practical exercises on providing first aid using professional and improvised means.

Kiki and Jara demonstrating tourniquet overlay

We are learning to stop bleeding with improvised means

Carol Garcia, Communications Advisor for ACTION AID, shared with us the secrets of photo art, providing us with many useful tips and introducing simple yet effective and affordable tools. We hope that leaders will use this knowledge to make our Facebook posts more attractive to the audience, and our messages will be  more understandable and to the point.

“The 5th Legalife-Ukraine Forum took place despite the fact that there were inconveniences – we sat without light and without water, but we are indestructible when we are ruled by the desire to help ourselves and others,” –

Svetlana Makogon, head of the branch of CO “LEGALIFE-UKRAINE” in Krivyi Rih town

A logical continuation of the Forum, which was dedicated to protecting rights of sex workers, was a training for paralegals, to which we invited our leaders and activists.

Days of November 14th and 15th were held in discussions of the standards and principles of paralegal assistance, the participants determined the status of paralegals and ethical standards when working with a client.

Also for a few hours we were joined online by representatives of the Paralegal Hub, who demonstrated the benefits of using of the system of fixating of crimes and responding to infringement and redirecting to DataCheck lawyers.

“I see that our initiative to hold an annual meeting has found a response among sex workers of Ukraine. They are looking forward to these meetings, they are preparing for them – they are creating ideas and coming up with quizzes, gifts for participants, etc. This forum is very important for all of us. This is exactly the measure meant for inspiring us for further actions, for moving towards a common goal”-

Nataliia Isaieva, director of CO “LEGALIFE-UKRAINE”

We are grateful to our partners NGO “100% OF LIFE” and IF “Vidrodzhennia” for supporting the sex workers community.