Ukraine Culture: Sex Tourism
Sex Tourism In Ukraine
Ukraine is fighting hard against its unwanted tag of the Bangkok of Europe, following the unprecedented rise in sex tourism and prostitution since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The problem is already so acute that Ukraine's former (and now imprisoned) interior minister, Yuriy Lutsenko, declared on national television in 2009 that "the country is becoming a paradise for sex tourism before our eyes."
Dressed up as romance tours for visitors from the West and Asia, a proliferation of websites have sprung up playing on the classic image on leggy blonde Ukrainian girls, and matters are only expected to worsen as the build-up to Euro 2012 approaches.
A variety of factors have collided to exacerbate the growing problem, not least the effects of the global financial crisis since 2008.
The economic meltdown has been especially felt in poorer nations, leading to high unemployment and a weakening of the local currency again the dollar and the euro.
Poor employment opportunities force women onto the streets, where rich Westerners - whose increasingly frequent visits to Kiev and the rest of Ukraine have been facilitated by the visa-free regime for US and EU citizens as well as low cost flights - can exploit them.
Although prostitution remains illegal in Ukraine, contrary to popular opinion, police charges are rare; indeed, it is only the sex workers who can be fined if caught selling themselves, whereas clients are considered the innocent party.
Willing hotels are also playing a role in turning reputed establishments into 'brothels', according to women's rights group Femen, with working girls sneaking past understanding concierges in the early hours or the more brazen ones ringing hotels rooms directly in the hope of chancing across a lonely traveller.
This combination of factors is not helping the country's spread of HIV; Ukraine now reportedly has the worst HIV infection rate in Europe.
Against a backdrop of poor education in rural areas and oppression under the former Soviet regime, Femen is leading the fight back despite the ambivalence from the country's officialdom.
However, the group of 300 activists have engaged in controversy because of their unorthodox methods of attracting the attention of their government not to mention the world's media.
Topless protestors, or 'topless fighters' as they prefer to be known within the group, stage regular protests against Ukraine's booming sex industry, denouncing with placards the notion that the country is the epicentre of Europe's sex trade, while simultaneously giving an eyeful to onlookers.
Although using nakedness to dismiss such claims is not necessarily conducive to social discourse, their obstructionism has caused quite a stir in the two years of the group's operation.
However, the social issue of sex tourists is still expected to catapult the country's booming sex industry to $1.5 billion in 2011.