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SEX WORKERS PRIDE DAY`2022 IN UKRAINE: NEW CHALLENGES FORM NEW EXPERIENCES
We want to congratulate the global community of sex workers, our leaders and activists in Ukraine on the International Sex Workers Pride Day 2022!
Thanks to the initiative of the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP for short), this year 2022 on September 14th we are celebrating this Day for the fifth time. And no matter how difficult this year is for us and for all Ukrainians, no matter how much trouble and pain it inflicts on each of us, we feel, more than ever, each other’s support and unity, which gives us the strength to overcome difficulties and to continue our path to equal rights and opportunities.
In past years, on this important day, we held street actions, flash mobs, we invited media representatives to press conferences, gathered discussion and film clubs to celebrate the public right of sex workers to self-determination, to talk about the achievements of organizations led by sex workers around the world and, once again, to share our point of view on the topic of why sex work is not a crime, and we are not victims, why there should be a complete decriminalization of sex workers in Ukraine and how the lobby of the Swedish model of equality cripple the lives of hundreds of thousands of sex workers in the world.
BEGINNING OF 2022: NEW GOALS AND PRIORITIES
“We have been working for a long time, by the way, last year we celebrated our anniversary – 10 years of CO “Legalife-Ukraine”, so our organization is quite experienced, and our team consists of people who are loyal and dedicated to common goals. During these years, we have been through various trials that have had an impact on the community as a whole, and on each of us personally. We defended our rights, resisted violations of the police, fought violence, sometimes beat against a closed door, etc., and in case of any failures, defeats, we found solutions and resumed in order to continue the path to our goal …
But this year has become the most difficult. This year brought terrible upheavals to the whole of Ukraine, to all our fellow citizens. At first, my colleagues and I were in a stupor, well, it seemed to me, but when we got together, we began to look for how to function further, where to look for resources to support the community in such chaos. Sex workers were left without the opportunity to earn money, pay rent and utilities, to buy food, medicine, to support children and parents…,” says Nataliia Isaieva, director of CO “Legalife-Ukraine”.
This year has brought unexpected and often tragic changes to our lives, to the lives of sex workers in Ukraine, and finally, via all this – our activities also changed. But, even after the invasion of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, our organization was able to quickly assess the urgent needs of sex workers, to revise priorities and, accordingly, determine the main areas of activity and tasks for wartime. Therefore, today we have something to share with the entire sex workers community, with our friends and partners abroad.
Nataliia recalls the first days of the war: “This morning (February 24, 2022) began with a roar that was not familiar to me, therefore incomprehensible. The war has begun. Everyone was scared, and this is understandable, because there was not enough information, and, basically, no one among us knew what to do, where to go, or maybe even how to leave the city, or country. There were different opinions, but later, after analyzing everything, I finally decided for myself not to go anywhere, so I stayed in Kyiv. Was this place safe? Well, native walls, as they say, are warming you anyway.
During this war, the priority for us was the survival of each of the SW, and we decided, that we need to do everything to help them to save their lives and their physical and psycho-emotional health. Therefore, the main task for us was to ensure the humanitarian needs of sex workers and the provision of psychological, informational and legal support for them in times of war.
It is for the implementation of these new tasks we created the UNITED FRONT OF SEX WORKERS OF UKRAINE, which included leaders and activists who remained in Ukraine and who had the opportunity to continue their activities to provide assistance and support to members of the community affected by the war”.
NEW CHALLENGES REQUIRE NEW SOLUTIONS
In the first weeks of the this military conflict, CO “Legalife-Ukraine” was able to accumulate resources, to find new sources of funding and continue its activities on the territory of Ukraine, while maintaining jobs for employees and community leaders in the regions of Ukraine.
“We were very much supported by our friends from different networks and organizations of sex workers from the beginning of war. It was with their charitable help that we collected and we continue to receive funds to the organization’s accounts, donations from the most incredible people we never even knew, but they did supported sex workers in war conditions. Thank you all very much!” – Nataliia Isaieva.
Our activists did not stop communicating with sex workers in different cities of Ukraine. We heard from them how sex workers find themselves in a predicament – unemployed, often homeless due to inability to pay rent or due destructive military actions, without social payments and assistance from the state due to their illegal status, without the support of civil society due high level of stigma and discrimination in society.
Therefore, we focused our energy on solving the main problems faced by the SW community. From the first months, we have been trying to provide SW with the primary resources for survival (temporary housing and transport, food, water, medicines, hygiene products, warm clothes, etc.). In addition to this, we tried to help each SW to receive qualified medical, psychological, legal assistance on time and maintain a Hotline for SWs.
EMERGENCY RESPONSE AND ASSISTANCE FOR SW
We are proud and happy that we have dedicated and hardworking assistants – our regional leaders and para lawyers who, despite the dangers and risks to their lives, now continue their activities in the regions of Ukraine and provide assistance to those affected by the war. Community activists collect and distribute charitable aid for SWs, displaced persons or victims of shelling; they provide information about services, shelters and advise centers. They accompany victims to receive timely assistance and psycho-emotional support.
For over 200 days, our regional leaders have been helping to meet the needs of key communities.
Our para lawyers continue their advocacy work. They record violations of sex workers’ rights in DATACHECK and provide a couple of legal advice programs to help sex workers to get legal advice.
If it is necessary to restore the rights of victims and overcome obstacles in obtaining services, our activists escort and transport sex workers to social and medical institutions, to crisis centers. They help to restore lost documents, to obtain status and assistance from the state for migrants, to sign declarations with family doctors.
Despite fatigue and fears, our girls and guys are trying to support those around them with a warm word and encourage.
“Donors have given us and continue to provide quick projects support to provide sex workers and their children with food, diapers, medicines, hygiene products, reimbursement for moving to a safe place and top up phones to call and stay in touch. Now we need to rent apartments for women from the community, where, having lost their home, they will have opportunity to stay during the war, because many of them have small children, or old parents – because for them there is no money and nowhere to earn, so what to do? So what is needed, we will look for and give a support,” says Nataliia Isaieva.
“The state has allocated various kinds of support for those who have lost their jobs (but sex work is not in this category, so sex workers do not receive it), for those who are in the war zone (but this is only for those who had an official work during last year and the employer paid taxes for the worker), but then, again, sex workers are not in this category, because sex work is not recognized as work in Ukraine, so everything is sad for SW with support from the state.”
During the war, almost 800 sex workers of Ukraine already received material assistance and support from the regional offices of CO “Legalife-Ukraine”. The story of each of them is a story filled with despair, pain, fear and danger. On the one hand, these stories are all different, because all people are different, but, on the other hand, they are very similar, because they are united by a common grief – WAR in UKRAINE and a common hope for Victory and the long-awaited PEACE.
During June-August 2022 SW from 12 regions of Ukraine and their children received humanitarian aid in the form of:
450 “Food” sets
450 sets of “Hygiene products”
450 sets “Clothes, shoes, blankets”
240 sets “Baby food and hygiene products (pampers)”
450 sets “Medicines and medical supplies”
Over 200 SWs have received paralegal and transportation services for social, medical and legal assistance.
150 SW received qualified assistance from psychologists and lawyers through our Hotline for SW and in the organization’s online chats.
Since the start of the war, more than 450 SWs have participated in 350 information sessions on: access to HIV prevention and treatment programs; for the protection of rights; on combating violence and the like, in which representatives of NGOs, medical institutions, human rights activists, psychologists, etc. took part.
WE WELCOME DEAR GUESTS IN OUR OFFICE IN KYIV
And in addition, on this very day, we were visited by distinguished guests from Spain – our new friends and partners from ALIANZA / ACTIONAID SPAIN Triona Pender, Regional Emergency Manager, Kiki Hansen, Security Advisor and Jara Henar, Administration Manager.
And they did not come to our office empty-handed! We saw our partners for the first time, but definitely not the last, because now we are starting a common and fruitful work. It is thanks to their support that over the next 9 months, sex workers in 13 major cities of Ukraine will be able to receive new knowledge on safety, advocacy, and much-needed financial assistance for them and their families.
We especially thank our friend Daphne Rachok for the high-quality translation and the atmosphere of mutual understanding when discussing joint plans and initiatives.
CONCLUSIONS OF SEX WORKERS PRIDE DAY`2022 IN UKRAINE
“War is war, but we are in a place we meant to be. Many girls, who are working with us, they are also volunteering – they help migrants, the military, doctors, and the like. We are helping with all that we can, using our personal resources – some transports hygiene products necessary for the wounded to hospitals, some of us are delivering water to checkpoints, some weaves camouflage nets, and much more. But our goal regarding the decriminalization of sex work has not changed. It’s just that the priorities, or rather the emphasis, are now on supporting the survival of sex workers, and we will continue active advocacy with the authorities according to the Decree as soon as we win the war. And this will happen, that’s for sure…”, – Nataliia Isaieva.
CO “Legalife-Ukraine” continues to work in the conditions of war, to attract additional resources to provide emergency assistance to SW throughout the Ukraine, responding to new challenges and getting used to new conditions.
We did it, we do it, and we will continue to do it in the future, because we know that this is a significant support for people, this is what our key communities need in order to survive in difficult times. And wait for a common victory.
Let’s stick together and everything will be Ukraine!
HOTLINE: +38(050) 450 777 4, +38(067) 450 777 4
Thanks to Ukrainian Women’s Fund, NGO “100% of Life – Network of PLHIV”, IF “Vidrodzhennya”, SWAN – Sex Workers’ Rights Advocacy Network, NSWP, PIC Amsterdam, ALIANZA/ACTIONAID SPAIN for supporting the activities of the UNITED FRONT OF SEX WORKERS OF UKRAINE #United_Front_of_Sex_Workers_of_Ukraine
Crew of CO “Legalife-Ukraine”