Women and young girls fleeing fighting in Ukraine are afraid of falling victim to human trafficking, a Christian charity leader has warned.
James Vaughton, CEO of Transform Europe Network (TEN), has just returned from a visit to Romania where he met Ukrainian refugees.
He reported a widespread fear of human trafficking among women and girls, and high levels of anxiety among teenagers about their future.
Vaughton said TEN partners and their volunteers are spending “considerable” time with refugees to address not only their health needs but also “offer reassurance and safety”.
“Women and young girls feel very vulnerable – many staying indoors in their temporary accommodation, not wanting to go out,” he said.
“But the number of hours they spend indoors is leading to isolation and loneliness.
“They feel very vulnerable and don’t trust men, so our partner church’s ‘woman to woman’ support is vital.”
TEN is working with local churches to provide medical and personal health supplies, food and accommodation to Ukrainian refugees after raising over £120,000 in an emergency appeal.
It is the largest emergency appeal ever launched by the charity in its 55-year history and has also helped to finance a mini-bus that is transporting refugees to processing centres and onward destinations.
“When I was in Romania, a text came through from a Ukrainian pastor to one of our partner church leaders. It was a list of very specific items they needed to help Ukrainians which had fled their hometowns,” said Voughton.
“I was able to accompany our contact to the pharmacy and buy medicines, and exactly what was needed for that group and the next day, the goods were transported back into Ukraine.”
While in Romania, Voughton met a group of young people forced to flee. They shared their uncertainties about where to settle, and what kind of Ukraine they will return to when the war is over.
“It is a stage of life normally full of opportunities and possibilities and yet, it had been denied them,” said Voughton.
“On the other hand, they, and charity leaders talking to them, are very conscious that if all the educated young people leave Ukraine for good, there will literally be a ‘brain-drain’, denying the reformed Ukraine of much-needed professional women and men necessary to rebuild for the future.
“They are having to make huge decisions about their futures, and under huge pressure. Our partner church volunteers just hang out with them, listen, and try to give them time, space and a listening ear.”
Many refugees are being housed in hotels and guest houses but with the holiday season approaching, they will soon have to leave because the owners rely on their summer income for the whole year. It is not yet clear where these refugees will go, Voughton said.
“It’s so hard for us to really put ourselves into the shoes of a Ukrainian refugee,” he said.
“So many things we take for granted here, like taking the car to the garage, or going to the dentist – or other things that happen in life where we have the resources on hand – are just not easily available.
“They are in a new country, with little or no money, and don’t speak the language. That creates a lot of day-to-day anxiety – on top of all the major future and family decisions they have to make. Thankfully our partner churches can help, but the need is vast.”