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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #133

The person I invited to the opera has cancelled on me, explaining that she was so drunk she could not remember agreeing - despite my giving her a copy of the ticket. I think she probably couldn’t remember, and she didn’t actually want to go to the opera. People in Ukraine have a terrible problem with the bottle. It’s a pandemic of drunkenness - and not of the fun, pleasant kind, but of the kind where people drink half a bottle of vodka at home before they go out and then they can’t remember anything they were doing the next day. The idea of having a few quiet drinks and a bit of fun doesn’t seem to occur to them. They have to go all out to get absolutely slaughtered and then they become uncontrollable. It may be that when this lady woke up the next day she realised that the opera house doesn’t have a bar - they removed alcohol for sale at the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine - so she wouldn’t be able to get as drunk as she normally would. It’s all a bit sad. Anyway I have someone else who would like to go to the opera with me. So all is not lost. My social life in Lviv is beginning somehow to take shape.

The dating App I have been using has turned into a torrent of offers of sex in exchange for money, which is rather depressing. I know Ukraine well enough that this is not a surprise for me; as well as a pandemic of alcoholism, there is also far too much prostitution and I have written about this in earlier diary entries. The problem of sex trafficking of young Ukrainian women across Europe has existed since the independence of Ukraine in 1991 and was the subject of a particular spike in 2017 when Ukrainian citizens no longer required visas for travel to the Schengen Zone in Europe. I heard a depressing story today that thousands of young women fleeing Ukraine as refugees simply disappeared in the context of their escape from the Russian invasion. Where they all went is anybody’s guess but international law enforcement agencies are focusing their investigations on the possibility that these women were forced into sex trafficking arrangements and are now lodged in various brothels and other forms of unsavoury sex arrangement in cities across Europe.

It is particularly heartless, ruthless and exploitative to take advantage of refugees fleeing danger in a war zone and leaving their families behind to look for work abroad, and to force them into sex work. The size of this serious problem insofar as it affects Ukraine is one of the unspoken taboos of Ukrainian society and it is an important imperative for the international law enforcement community to get a grip on this problem, located and free women who are held abroad in the context of sex work, and to arrest and prosecute the criminal gangs, many of which involve Ukrainians taking advantage of their own women, so that this sort of outrageous war profiteering is deterred and those perpetuating it are punished. I am disgusted and appalled that this sort of thing is still taking place in the twenty-first century and that people are being taken advantage of in this way, and this remains a high priority for the international community to address organised crime of this kind wherever it takes place across Europe.

Unfortunately I am cognisant of another unspoken secret within Ukrainian society, namely that prostitution is casualised as acceptable by society as a whole and even in some cases by the girls’ mothers, it being joked about as though something trivial when in fact attitudes of this kind are a slippery slope down to women being victims of international organised crime. Nobody in Ukrainian society should trivialise prostitution. It may be the world’s oldest profession, as the saying goes, but that does not mean that it is desirable that it be an all-pervasive social phenomenon. Because prostitution is so strongly associated with both organised crime and the horrendous exploitation of women, any social more that seeks to trivialise or explain away prostitution as something just associated with war or something that Ukrainian girls typically do to make a bit of money must be regarded as undesirable.

There is a massive exercise in social education needed for Ukrainians at all levels of society, male and female, not to stigmatise sex per se but to help everyone understand the severe social perils and social harm that can be associated with the trivialisation of paying money in exchange for having sex. I am not advancing a prudish or religious argument or encouraging people to have less sex (although it would be useful for there to be more sex education in Ukrainian society from an early age, in order to reduce the proliferation of sexually transmitted diseases in Ukraine that are well above the European average); I am arguing that people ought to be educated as to the criminal and societal risks associated with normalising prostitution. Prostitution is a social evil that carries with it a variety of severe harms and risks to society principally due to the exploitation of all the people involved and the assimilation of prostitution and sex trafficking activities into organised criminal networks.

Work today was beetroots, a new experience for me and I very much enjoyed peeling them although my clothes are now covered in a fine veneer of dark red beetroot juice. I suppose I look appropriate for Halloween, which by all accounts people intend to celebrate vigorously in Lviv and from an early time. As I walked home this evening, the streets were full of people already starting to get drunk before 5pm, wearing silly and eccentric outfits and something tells me that tonight is going to be a lot of fun. I can hear people screaming and shouting in the corridor of the bedbugs hotel, getting ready for the festivities. It’s going to be another crazy evening in the nut job city that I am falling in love with ever more, the beauty we call Lviv with her screaming spires, ornate and mad, in the evening sun. It is intensely fun.


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