Prospects have not been favorable recently in Ukraine. Unemployment is high in the war-torn country and many young people face a bleak future.
So the promise of a steady job in the United States seemed like a dream come true. The American dream. What happened to those young men and women instead was more like a nightmare.
They were promised work cleaning stores and offices at night in the United States by the five Botsvynyuk brothers, also Ukrainians. The victims were led to believe they would get a salary of $500 a month, room and board, and travel expenses. Salaries would undoubtedly rise after a few years on the job.
Undereducated and desperate
Most of those who signed up for the jobs were uneducated and desperate. How could it possibly be any worse than the poverty of Ukraine.
Many of the victims were smuggled through Mexico and worked 10- or 12-hour days, seven days a week. They often lived five people to a room, sleeping on dirty mattresses on the floor. Wages? Forget about it. They were told they had to work for the brothers until their debts, usually ranging from $10,000 to $50,000, were repaid in full.
To keep their victims in line, the Botsvynyuks freely used physical force and sexual assault, and they threatened violence to victims’ families still in Ukraine. Women were raped and men were beaten. The lives of the new arrivals were soon racked with fear and violence. On top of that, few of them spoke English and they felt they had nowhere to turn.
Eventually, suspicions were raised at the border, and victims began to come forward. In 2010, all five brothers were indicted for human trafficking. Stepan and Omelyan Botsvynyuk were convicted in 2011. Stepan was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Omelyan received a life sentence.
One brother a fugitive
Two other brothers, Mykhaylo and Yaroslav, ran to Canada. They were extradited in 2013, and will stand trial this year in Philadelphia. The last brother, Dmytro Botsvynyuk, is a fugitive in Ukraine.
The damage caused by the brothers to 70 or more of their compatriots is enormous. The sexual assaults on the women were brutal, and some of the men were psychologically broken, according to one law enforcement officer. For some, their lives were destroyed.
The good news: As victims of human trafficking, they qualify for the right to apply for visas and stay in the United States, which was their dream all along.