Euro Cup dressed in darkness

By May 29, 2012

Ukraine (MNN) — New stadiums, screaming fans, and quality soccer matches are all integral elements of the makeup of the upcoming Euro Cup. But behind the mask lies a darker sort of game.

Forced prostitution is common in Ukraine, where some of the Euro Cup games will be played. Ukraine is one of the largest source nations for trafficked prostitutes in the world. It has seen at least 400,000 women and children trafficked out of the country in the last 10 years. Many women, children, men and even families are coerced out by the promise of better jobs and richer lives, only to find a life of slavery in a foreign land.

Come June 8, though, Ukraine will not be a source but a destination for human trafficking.

Ukraine has been sprucing up its streets and buildings for the coming international event, but EFCA ReachGlobal missionary Amy Richey says the facade can only hide so much.

"While they're very busy working on the outside embellishments, there are a lot of hurting people both here in Ukraine and, unfortunately, people that will be brought into Ukraine against their will that will live a nightmare because of the game."

It's hard to know just how many people will be brought into Ukraine or how many have been prepped within the nation for this large event. But past international — and even national — sporting events have proved that the numbers of prostitutes in Kiev will skyrocket.

At the 2010 World Cup, many innocent victims were abducted, misled and otherwise forced into labor and sex slavery. (Read about it here.) Richey says the number of ads for prostitution in the five-months preceding the January 2012 U.S. Super Bowl shot up by 1,000%, indicating that the number of prostitutes and trafficking victims exploded there also.

Richey expects nothing different for the Euro Cup. And the Ukrainian government agrees.

Although Ukraine has been sheepish in its reports of trafficking in the past, a week ago the Ukrainian government made its first statement about the issue surrounding the Euro Cup. Richey says, "They recognize that there is a potential problem, that there are challenges, and that we need people to get involved."

Richey is more than willing to oblige. She has been training Ukrainian churches for the last two years how to look for, speak up about, and prevent human trafficking. Because street children and orphans are at such a high risk of being trafficked (that's the fate for 50-60% of them), Richey often helps churches get involved with outreach to orphans.

In further preparation for the games, Richey has attended trainings for hotel staffs to learn how to spot forced prostitution, she and will also be partnering with the Salvation Army during the games themselves. The Salvation Army booth at the games will function practically to give out water, maps and directions, but on a deeper level, their presence serves to let soccer fans know the signs of trafficking and that engaging in it will not be tolerated.

The most imperative movement to prevent trafficking at the games will be prayer: prayer for fans to guard their hearts, for victims to be safe, and for Christ's light to shine in a dark place. Ultimately, Richey hopes that each step of involvement will mean spiritual chains broken for enslaved girls.

"There are places that we live, and there are places that we go [in which] Satan has a stronghold, and that he prepares his people, and that he gets ready for," Richey notes. "But we need to get ready for it, and we need to shine Christ's love and Christ's light in these dark places."

To get a prayer guide for the June 8-July 1 games, e-mail freedomforeurope@efca.org.

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