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Gang recruited Russian women as sex slaves

Russian investigators have arrested members of an international human trafficking gang that lured hundreds of young women into prostitution in Western Europe and Asia with promises of lucrative work abroad.

Police in the Far East of Russia announced that three people had been charged with human trafficking as part of a gang made up of Russian and Greek citizens, following an investigation by Greek police.

Investigator Yulia Volkova from the far eastern city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur, a defence industry hub on the Amur River, told AFP the stories of some of the women entrapped into sex slavery, giving only their first names
In December 2009, Darya, a 22-year-old student, and her friend Nina, both single mothers, decided to call an employment agency in the city that offered work abroad after seeing an ad on local television.

“We are looking for young women aged 18 to 30 to work abroad,” the ad promised.

A recruiter, a seemingly pleasant woman in her 30s, invited them to her apartment and reassured them that they would not be forced to work in the sex industry, or “intim” as the sphere is slangily termed in Russian.

Working as waitresses in a cafe in Israel or Cyprus, they could earn EUR 1,500 (USD 1,950) per month, ten times the average salary in their economically depressed region, she promised.

Both women decided to accept the offer and to leave their children behind with their parents.

In January 2010, Darya and Nina landed in Athens, travelling on tourist visas arranged by the agency, which said that this would simplify the process.

They discovered almost immediately that their new “job” was prostitution and that they would have to pay the traffickers 10,000 euros each to be released.

After a few months, Nina managed to jump off a first-floor balcony and went straight to the Russian Consulate, which sent her home.

Meanwhile Darya was locked in a cellar and beaten by her Greek and Albanian-speaking minders, who wanted to know where Nina had gone.

Finally she managed to call a friend in Russia, who contacted police. During a Greek police operation, Darya was freed and arrived back in Russia in December.

Tatyana, 20, arrived in Cyprus a few months later after applying to work as a waitress. She found herself forced into prostitution, servicing up to 50 clients a day, until a Turkish-speaking colleague managed to alert police.

Another woman, Lena, was sent to work in a  brothel in South Korea. She managed to escape, leaving a soft toy under the blankets of her bed to temporarily confuse her keepers.

The Russian probe came after Greek police announced in early December that they had arrested 177 members of an international human trafficking ring that drew most of its sex workers from Russia and other Eastern European countries.

Russian investigators seized hundreds of photographs of young women while searching the homes of the agency’s two recruiters in December, said Volkova of the Komsomolsk-on-Amur investigative committee.

Around 50 victims have agreed to testify. Some of the other women are still abroad, but the majority of the women tracked down have refused to give witness statements, Volkova said.

Two of the recruiters were detained in Khabarovsk, a city close to the Chinese border to the south of Komsomolsk-on-Amur, said a spokesman for the local Investigative Committee of the State Prosecutor’s Office, Ilya Gudkov.

In Amursk, 300 kilometres (190 miles) to the north of Khabarovsk, prosecutors have opened an inquiry into another recruitment agency that sent its victims to Greece, Japan and China.

Marina Lapenkova / AFP / Expatica