Ukrainian women victims of Scandinavian prostitution networks after fleeing war


Northern Europe


Three women are followed to the brothel in the centre of Oslo. They have just arrived in the city with a driver. Photo Norwegian police

The Norwegian and Swedish police have discovered prostitution networks in which most women were from Ukraine. According to the police, this is due to the war, and the women are victims of human trafficking.

The Swedish human trafficking police department believes it has revealed a Norwegian-Ukrainian pimp network that is said to have transported almost 200 women into the country. Investigators believe the network has made millions by organised pimping. About half of the women are said to have lived and worked in a secret brothel in central Oslo.

In Sweden and Norway, prostitution is illegal. In Sweden, clients of prostitutes are also punishable. Prostitutes are decriminalised. Pimping and keeping a brothel is also illegal. The objective of this regulation, also called the 'Nordic Model', is to decrease the demand for prostitution by punishing the purchase of sexual services in order to decrease the volume of the illegal sex industry overall.

According to Norwegian broadcaster NRK, the women are smuggled into the country via dense forests near Finnskogen, close to the Norwegian-Swedish border. Many women are said to have crossed the border on foot through the forest.

The Norwegian police were alerted to this practice by Swedish authorities. In connection with a large investigation of pimping in Stockholm, the Swedish police discovered that many women were transported directly through the country and to the border areas with Norway.


“This is the first time we have seen more Ukrainian women than Romanian,” Swedish police inspector and prostitution expert Simon Häggström, who was involved in the investigation, told NRK. According to him, the increase in the number of women from this country is clearly due to the war. He says the women in this investigation had not applied for asylum in the Scandinavian countries but were victims of human trafficking.

Häggström scouted the network in the Swedish investigation called “Operation Odessa”. There are many similarities to what he has read about the Norwegian investigation.

Among other things, the women in both cases were allowed to keep half of their earnings themselves while the rest went back to the network.

Afraid of the police

According to Simon Häggström, who also appeared on Swedish broadcaster SVT, The business is controlled from Russia, Ukraine or Moldova and it is difficult to catch those behind it.

During the investigation, the police met women who worked as lawyers, social workers, illustrators and photographers just a few months ago. Now they sell their bodies.

Confidence in authorities is very low in Ukraine, which complicates work in Sweden, explains Häggström. “The women are very afraid of the police. We must work to create trust. But after two or three weeks, they are sent to another country, for example to Norway.”

Preventive measures

Meanwhile, the Swiss canton of Zürich is taking preventive measures against the possible exploitation of Ukrainian refugees. Although Ukrainian refugees can normally work if the canton approves it, the Zürich canton does not approve sex work applications. This is not the case across all of Switzerland. In Basel, for example, it still is possible for Ukrainian refugees to apply for a sex work permit.

The EU’s anti-trafficking coordinator has not seen any evidence that significantly more Ukrainian women were victims of human trafficking than before the Russian war of aggression. However, in an interview with the German broadcaster Welt, she warns that this “huge group of particularly vulnerable women and children” offer an ideal recruitment pool for the criminals. “Especially now, when in some countries the willingness to support threatens to decrease because the war is dragging on.”



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