The government decreased law enforcement efforts; law enforcement capacity may have been affected by other, critical wartime policing needs in government-controlled areas or lack of access to occupied territory. Article 149 of the criminal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of three to eight years’ imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. An international organization reported Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine significantly and adversely affected the court system, delaying judicial proceedings. In addition, law enforcement only operated in areas that remained under government control, but not in territories occupied by Russia’s forces. Law enforcement investigated 70 new trafficking cases in 2022, a decrease compared with 222 new investigations in 2021. These included 26 sex trafficking cases, 26 labor trafficking cases and 18 unspecified trafficking cases. In addition, the government continued the investigation of 112 cases. The government prosecuted 70 suspected traffickers in 2022, compared with 101 in 2021. The government convicted 18 traffickers in 2022, compared with 24 in 2021 and 29 in 2020. Of the 18 convicted traffickers sentenced in 2022, only three (17 percent) received prison sentences; 15 traffickers received suspended sentences. This was similar to 2021 when courts sentenced only 21 percent of convicted traffickers to imprisonment. Observers reported many judges underestimated the severity of trafficking crimes and continued to hold entrenched stereotypes about what constitutes trafficking in persons, while others engaged in corrupt practices. These lenient sentences weakened deterrence, did not adequately reflect the nature of the crime, created safety concerns, and undercut broader efforts to fight trafficking. The National Police Unit (NPU) and the Migration Police (MiPol) cooperated extensively with foreign counterparts to exchange information for investigations, including on cybercrime. NPU expanded its international and national partnerships despite also assuming more national security tasks. Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, MiPol, and NPU investigated trafficking cases among civilians, while the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) investigated war crimes, including those with a trafficking nexus. Authorities cooperated extensively with foreign governments on multiple transnational investigations including through joint investigative teams, joint actions days, extraditions, and bilateral cooperative agreements; these investigations were specifically to identify Ukrainian trafficking victims, including among unaccompanied children and those arriving to European countries. In one example, NPU established a joint task force with multiple European countries to identify potential Ukrainian victims and protect Ukrainian refugees from trafficking, which resulted in identifying 62 potential Ukrainian victims in five investigations.
There was widespread turnover in many government institutions, including within the ranks of the NPU and the judiciary. As of January 2023, the government reported nearly 3,000 judicial vacancies; these vacancies exacerbated delays in court cases, though the government took significant initial steps to address the judiciary shortage by reforming its judge selection process. Courts were critically understaffed and judges did not specialize in trafficking cases. Turnover of personnel led to a lack of qualified prosecutors to supervise trafficking cases at the regional level. The government, with international funding and partners, conducted multiple trainings for law enforcement, civil servants, and other officials on investigative techniques, detection, prevention, and the heightened risks of trafficking in the war. All new police recruits received trafficking training. However, observers assessed MiPol staff and NPU investigators were not sufficiently trained on trafficking.
Despite judicial reform, corruption remained a serious concern in the police and judiciary, which enabled trafficking and exacerbated impunity for trafficking crimes. In an ongoing case, authorities continued investigating two city council members for recruiting and transporting vulnerable people to two agricultural companies for the purpose of forced labor. Although the government continued to report investigations of officials allegedly complicit in trafficking, for the sixth consecutive year, the government did not secure any convictions of complicit officials. The government also did not report on the status of high-profile cases from previous years, many of which have stalled with the courts for years, including those against the former commander of the Kyiv city police counter-trafficking unit, three police officers, recruiters accused of trafficking Ukrainians into a drug-trafficking ring in Russia, and a teacher at a government-run boarding school for orphans in Kharkiv who attempted to sell one of her students.
from 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report – U.S. Department of State
2023 Trafficking in Persons Report – United States Department of State