The government demonstrated mixed efforts in victim protection; although the government allocated significantly more funding to the national budget for victim protection efforts and took steps to reduce re-traumatization of child victims, the government identified, officially recognized, and provided services to far fewer victims. In 2021, authorities reported there were 64 officially-identified victims—a status that granted victims access to government services upon approval of an application—a decrease compared with 134 officially-identified victims in 2020, although the number of applications decreased by almost 60 percent from 2020 to 2021. The government reported police identified and referred to services 155 potential victims in 2021 (146 in 2020 and 262 in 2019). The majority of the 64 officially-identified victims were men (45); authorities identified two female child victims. Observers noted the pandemic exacerbated existing long-term problems in victim identification and assistance. NGOs reported the government nearly ceased targeted proactive identification efforts because of the pandemic and pandemic-related restrictions reduced cross-border movements, including the return of trafficking victims exploited abroad. The government reported screening undocumented foreign migrants for indicators of trafficking; however, observers noted authorities did not consistently do so.
The government provided services, including medical, psychological, and legal assistance and temporary shelter, to victims granted official victim status. The government approved 67 percent (64 of 96) of applications for official victim status in 2021, compared with 57 percent (134 of 235) of applications in 2020. The National Social Service (NSS), formed in 2020, assumed the role of granting official victim status to potential victims in May 2021 and began devolving the responsibility of granting official victim status to local communities through the ongoing decentralization reform process. The government took steps to improve the victim designation process by introducing an electronic register of victims and outlining the procedures for notifying potential victims of the outcome of their application; observers attributed the decrease in the number of applications in 2021 to a lack of qualified personnel and infrastructure at the NSS and pandemic-related restrictions. Civil society previously reported the government rejected a high percentage of applications due to strict internal guidelines for classifying cases as trafficking crimes, police pursuing indictments under statutes other than the trafficking law, and the government demanding additional evidence to confirm victim status contrary to Ukrainian law, including confirmation that the victim was recognized as such in court proceedings or demanding evidence to show movement across a border. Victims not requiring specialized services may have chosen not to apply for official victim status, and NGOs reported the emphasis on documents requiring the divulging of sensitive information likely deterred some applicants from applying. An international organization reported pandemic-related restrictions likely limited the number of applications for official victim status as potential victims must submit applications in person. The government granted official victim status to one individual incarcerated abroad in 2021, compared with zero in 2020 and 40 in 2019; in 2020, the government discontinued the use of a simplified application process for potential victims incarcerated abroad, which included waiving the in-person interview requirement.
Although the government, in collaboration with partner organizations, trained local officials in effectively assisting potential victims, newly- devolved local administrative structures were not yet officially part of the NRM, resulting in some confusion over responsibilities. Civil society reported continued systemic shortcomings in the functioning of the NRM at the regional level and emphasized government agencies identified a low number of victims through the NRM. Some newly established communities, especially smaller communities, lacked sufficient personnel, infrastructure, and financial resources to effectively provide services to trafficking victims. Observers noted some local officials responsible for identifying and screening victims were not trained on trafficking. Moreover, pandemic-related restrictions and the diversion of funding to combat the pandemic further limited trafficking victims’ access to state assistance. The government continued to rely on international organizations and NGOs, with international donor funding, to identify victims and provide the vast majority of victim protection and assistance. An international organization in Ukraine assisted 1,010 victims in 2021, compared with 1,680 victims in 2020. International organizations reported the majority (93 percent) of their identified victims were exploited by labor traffickers. An international organization reported NGOs identified 102 victims in eastern Ukraine, including in Russia-occupied and Russia- controlled territories; the majority of these victims were IDPs, and 98 of the 102 victims were exploited for labor.
The government allocated 2.03 million hryvnia ($74,350) to the national budget for anti-trafficking measures in 2021, a significant increase from 548,800 hryvnia ($20,090) in 2020. No funding was allocated for local budgets in 2021, compared with 219,220 hryvnia ($8,020) in 2020. Ukraine’s trafficking law entitled victims with official victim status to housing at a government shelter, psychological assistance, medical services, employment counseling, and vocational training, regardless of whether a criminal case proceeded or the victim cooperated with law enforcement. The government did not integrate a rehabilitation center run by an international organization into the national social and health care system, despite the government’s prior stated commitment to assume operation of the center; some trafficking victims received shelter at this center. Adult victims could also stay at government-run centers for psycho-social assistance for up to 90 days, with the option to extend, and receive psychological and medical support, lodging, food, and legal and social assistance. Authorities could accommodate child victims in centers for socio-psychological support of children for up to nine months and administer social, medical, psychological, education, legal, and other types of assistance. Authorities identified two child trafficking victims in 2021 but did not report what services they received, if any. The government maintained 21 centers for socio- psychological assistance, 33 state shelters for domestic violence and trafficking victims, and 796 social services centers. The government amended the regulations governing the centers for socio-psychological assistance to ensure trafficking victims receive the full range of necessary services available. Observers reported that state assistance remained insufficient to meet victims’ needs, and victims continued to rely on NGOs for assistance. Foreign victims were entitled to the same benefits as Ukrainian citizens and had additional access to interpretation services, temporary legal stay, and voluntary repatriation. Although legally entitled to the same benefits, observers noted some foreign nationals and members of underserved communities faced barriers to accessing services. Authorities could grant permanent residency to foreign victims in danger of retribution should they return to their country of origin. Foreign victims were able to obtain an immigration permit after residing continuously in Ukraine for three years.
The government, often in partnership with international organizations, provided training for officials on victim identification and assistance. In collaboration with an international organization, the government conducted five simulation exercises for law enforcement and frontline responders from ten regions to strengthen collaboration among anti- trafficking stakeholders in responding to suspected trafficking cases. The Witness Protection Law provided protections for victims, but observers noted courts rarely used protection measures. Closed hearings and remote procedures for questioning and identification were the most frequently used witness and victim protection mechanisms. The government did not restrict victims’ movement. The government did not report if it granted personal protection to victims in 2021 (in 2020, the government granted eight victims personal protection and changed the personal data of three witnesses in criminal proceedings). Video testimony systems that ensured the complete separation of victims or witnesses from the accused existed in 14 courts in various regions; the courts used these systems 19 times during hearings of trafficking- related crimes in 2021. In 2021, prosecutors created specialized units to handle cases involving child trafficking victims and took measures to avoid their re-traumatization, including by preventing direct visual contact between the victim and other participants. The government, with the assistance of an international organization, also established several regional specialized centers for child victims or witnesses; at these centers, specialized staff interviewed children in a trauma-informed manner and children received psycho-social, legal, and medical care, as needed. For the third consecutive year, the government did not report cases of courts ordering restitution for trafficking victims; however, an international organization confirmed some victims collected court- awarded restitution in 2021.