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“When You See It, You Won’t Forgive”: Part III of an Investigative Report on Human Trafficking in Ukraine

Deborah L. Armstrong
Photo: New Eastern Outlook

Protestors in Kiev demand the return of their loved ones’ bodies.

They carry signs, mostly in English, demanding that the soldiers’ remains be returned for burial. Some of the signs also bear the nationalist Ukrainian symbol of the Galician lion, which was an SS symbol in WW2. The protesters shout, “Slava Ukraine! Slava geroyam!” — the obligatory chant of the nationalists, which means “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes!”

Yellow and blue smoke in the colors of the Ukrainian flag is released and wafts over the chanting demonstrators, mixing with red and black smoke that symbolizes the flag of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, the OUN-B, which collaborated with Nazis in WW2 under the direction of Stepan Bandera, a mass murderer responsible for the slaughter of 100,000 Jews, Poles, and Russians.

Women in Kiev demand the return of their loved ones’ remains. Photo: Ruptly/zpnews.ru

Other videos show the women holding up photos of their missing husbands, sons, fathers and brothers. Why are all of these men missing? Were they killed in action or taken captive by Russian troops? Are the women demanding that Russia return their loved ones’ bodies? And if so, why are their signs in English? Why is Russia not even mentioned…?

Or, are the protesters actually making a statement — carefully framed with all the prerequisite patriotism — to their own government?

If you’ve read parts one and two of this investigative report on human trafficking in Ukraine, you have already read testimony from people claiming to have witnessed or taken part in the harvesting of organs from Ukrainian soldiers and civilians who did not always give consent.

You have also read how organ harvesting on the battlefield has been going on since at least the late 1990’s, according to a 2009 report: “Inhuman Treatment of People and Illicit Trafficking in Human Organs in Kosovo” by Deputy Dick Marty of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). And you have read how, according to Dr. Vladimir Ovchinsky, adviser to the Russian Minister of Internal Affairs, some of the same people who spearheaded the transplantation program in Kosovo, are allegedly now in Ukraine, directing transplantation efforts there.

What would it take for such a program to run more smoothly in Ukraine? The witnesses in part one of our series said that organs can be removed from a donor’s body and prepared for transport in as little as seven minutes, and that there was an emphasis on speed as the surgeons were faced with a practical conveyer belt of bodies.

Perhaps Ukrainian law could be changed to make this process more efficient and cut away some of the red tape, such as the requirement for consent if the person is already deceased. Well, that’s exactly what happened on December 16th, 2021, just two months before Russia crossed the Ukrainian border and began its Special Military Operation (SMO) on February 24, 2022.

The Verkhovna Rada, Ukrainian Parliament. Photo: Spzh.news

305 members of the Verkhovna Rada, Ukrainian Parliament, voted to pass bill No. 5831, which was signed into law by President Volodymyr Zelensky and went into effect the very next day. You can see the entire text of the law, “On Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of Ukraine Regulating the Transplantation of Human Anatomical Materials,” in Ukrainian here, and a summary of the law here, at the Rada’s own website.

Under the 2021 law, organs can be removed from a deceased person even if there is no written consent, and consent is no longer mandatory if the person is deceased. Additionally, written consent no longer requires authentication or the signature of a notary. The donor can give consent to an authorized transplant coordinator and consent can be given in electronic form.

If the deceased did not give consent, the transplant coordinator is supposed to get it from the spouse of the deceased or from close relatives such as parents, siblings, or children. If no family can be found, the coordinator may get consent from the person who buries the deceased. In the case of a military death, that means that a unit commander can give consent for the removal of a soldier’s organs.

The law also makes it clear that common-law spouses can not prevent removal of organs from the deceased, and takes away the right of a person to authorize an unrelated representative to give consent for them (such as a common-law spouse or a surrogate family).

According to Mykhailo Radutsky, chairman of the Ukrainian Committee on National Health, Medical Care and Health Insurance, consent for posthumous donation of organs can now also be given electronically via an app known as the Diia program.

Radutsky wrote on Telegram in 2021 that the law “improves the algorithms for matching donor-recipient pairs, expands the range of persons who can make decisions on organ removal, and establishes a transition from a pilot transplant project to funding from 2023 under the medical guarantees program.” He further noted that in 2019, 78 organ transplants were performed in Ukraine and that 250 operations were planned by the end of 2021.

Mykhailo Radutsky, chairman of the Committee on National Health, Medical Care and Health Insurance. Photo: Verkhovna Rada

So the law, as you can see, makes it easier for organs to be harvested without consent of the deceased. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to envision how that would work out on the battlefield, where fighting is intense and chaotic, and next of kin may not always be located. Especially when, according to some sources, bodies can sell for $150 — $200 in the field, and the total value of harvested organs from just one body can add up to $10 million.

Add to this the numerous reports in Russian media, and in the Russian blogosphere, of mass burials of people in eastern Ukraine with all of their organs removed. Though such stories are mocked in the west and dismissed as “Russian disinformation,” there are an alarming number of them to be found.

One blogger named Sergei Perekhod, whose nationality is unclear (but most likely Russian or Ukrainian), put together a list of the grisly discoveries which took place in just 2014 alone. Here are some of the atrocities he noted:

  1. On September 24, militias from the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) were shocked to find graves in the settlements of Lower Krynka and Kommunar, and that two of the graves contained the bodies of men and women who had been shot, and the third contained the bodies of 40 people without internal organs. Indeed, the American-owned “Moscow Times” even reported about this.
  2. On May 5, rumors were flying in Ukraine about “soldiers’ organs being harvested en masse.” Officials announced that 5 people had been killed and 12 wounded, and yet there were so many ambulances coming and going that it seemed the casualties must have been two or three times greater. Indeed, the Odessa Massacre, in which at least 48 people were driven into the Trade Union Building and burned alive, shot or beaten to death, occurred just three days earlier, on May 2, and one of the eye-witnesses in part one of this series claims to have harvested many organs following the massacre.
  3. On May 20, militiamen during a night reconnaissance operation near Karachun Hill, found the bodies of 180 Ukrainian National Guard soldiers “with ripped-up bellies.” A little further away in the vicinity of Troitsk cemetery, 300 more bodies were discovered, unburied, their organs removed. Locals reportedly saw Red Cross vehicles and foreign doctors with specialized equipment. Ukrainian media reported about heavy fighting at Karachun Hill on that day, but little else can be found outside of Russian media.
  4. On June 28, sources in the Anti-Terrorist Operation zone (ATO) reportedly found graves of people without internal organs in the Lugansk region near Rubizhne. The sources noted that a “special group” was working in eastern Ukraine, and was engaged in the sale of human organs.

I couldn’t find any corroborating articles about mass graves discovered on that last date. However, in 2021, Donbass resident Russell Bentley was present when 200 bodies were exhumed in that same region of Lugansk, and he writes that they were murdered and buried there when fighting was heavy, in the summer of 2014.

In 2021, a militiaman from DPR is at the site of the mass graves of discovered outside Donetsk. [Source: rt.com]

Should Russell Bentley be believed? Should the word of that blogger be believed? Should any blogger be believed? In these days when mainstream media routinely liesgaslights and misleads us, or diverts our attention from real news… perhaps no one can be believed.

Cartoon by Chip Bok. Photo: Yahoo news

In any case, horrifying stories about the bodies of soldiers and civilians in mass graves in Ukraine, with their internal organs cut out, abound on the internet. And if even one of these stories is based on anything true, it’s worth a deeper look.

In December of 2022, a video appeared on Telegram, then on Rumble, in which an unidentified Russian-speaking man describes atrocities he witnessed in Izyum, a city in the Kharkov Oblast of Ukraine. He looks late 20’s, early 30’s, and he’s wearing a sky-blue beret which could represent Russian Airborne forces or Spetsnaz, depending on whom you’re asking, and it’s decorated with the Red Star of the Soviet Union which makes me suspect he is not regular Russian military, but a member of one of the militias in the breakaway People’s Republics of Donbass.

You can watch him here, in this video with English subtitles:

Russian Troops Uncover Ukrainian Child Organ Harvesting Operation
A first-hand account of the horrors that happen in Ukraine. Adrenochrome and organ harvesting from children is…

Russian-speaking man who claims children’s organs were harvested in Izyum.

“Their group, as it turns out,” he says, referring to what the Russian side discovered, “was gathering kids around Izyum. Little ones from two to six, seven years old, and was bringing them to that… particular place.” Here, the soldier pauses a bit the way you might if you’re remembering something truly horrifying. He sighs deeply, then proceeds. “There they got undressed on the first floor. And on the second…”

He pauses again, a haunted look in his eyes. “On the second… they got carved up,” he says quietly. There is a break in the video, probably to allow the man time to recover. The video resumes as he answers another question that may have been asked off-camera. “Like discarded waste, either just kept in pits or taken out somewhere and buried. And those guys, you know, were talking about them [the children] as if they were slaughtering some livestock, like a piglet or a rabbit. They were like ‘yeah, we brought them,’ as if it was some farm, you understand?”

The soldier appears quite shaken. He goes on, “I had heard about it, but I didn’t believe it,” he says. “Until you see all of this with your own eyes, you won’t comprehend it. But when you see it, you won’t forgive.”

Though most of the reports about bodies found with organs removed appear to originate on the Russian side, there are still plenty of articles which have been published all around the world, about organ harvesting in Ukraine, dating as far back as the 2000’s. The stories are easy to find up until the beginning of the Russian SMO, when suddenly western mainstream media began referring to such stories as “Russian disinformation.”

Dr. Michael Zis. Photo: Ynetnews.com

For example, In 2003, the National Library of Medicine of the United States cited a report from the European Council’s parliamentary assembly which stated that organ-trafficking networks “target poor European countries such as Estonia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, Russia, Romania, Moldova, and Ukraine, where people are pressured into selling their kidneys for as little as $2,500.”

In 2010, the Jerusalem Post reported that 12 Israelis were arrested in Ukraine for organ trafficking there and in other former Soviet countries. They were accused of selling mostly livers to Israelis and citizens of other countries, for $10,000 per body part. The transplants were performed mostly in Kiev, Azerbaijan and Ecuador.

In 2011, Ukrainian Week published an article stating black market organ trade was thriving in Ukraine. The article detailed how a group of “black transplantologists” in Kiev removed the eyeballs from 26 bodies in 2010 during autopsies and that the organs were transferred to a hospital in Kiev for transplant. The article also referred to the 2007 arrest of Israeli citizen Michael Zis in Donetsk. His license in Israel had been revoked so he had moved to Ukraine to make some black market money. There, Moldovans and Ukrainians agreed to sell organs for $10,000, while Zis was allegedly paid $135,000 for every surgery he performed, money which went into his bank account in the US.

Also in 2011, Bloomberg reported about how investigators from five continents had uncovered a massive, intertwining network of criminal gangs, run by Israelis and eastern Europeans, which forced people of lesser means to sell organs such as their kidneys.

The WHO warned in 2012 that human organs were being sold on the black market at the rate of one per hour, and that wealthy people in need of healthy, young organs were paying more than $150,000 for kidneys which were acquired from criminal gangs in China, India and Pakistan, who harvest the organs from desperate people for as little as $3,500.

Also in 2012, an Australian newspaper reported on the grisly discovery of “bones and other human tissues crammed into coolers in a grimy white minibus” in Ukraine. Documents seized by authorities suggested that the remains were on their way to a factory in Germany belonging to the subsidiary of a US medical products company known as RTI Biologics, based in Florida.

“Two ribs, two Achilles heels, two elbows, two eardrums, two teeth, and so on…” A relative holds a picture of Oleksandr Frolov, whose body parts were found during a raid in Ukraine. Photo: The Sydney Morning Herald.

In 2016, the Washington, DC think-tank Atlantic Council ran an article titled “Ukraine Should Do More to Combat Human Trafficking,” in which it stated that more than 160,000 men, women, and children from Ukraine have been “exploited for labor, sex, forced begging, and organ removal.”

Though the article blamed “Russian aggression” for much of Ukraine’s problems, it was also critical of Ukrainian authorities, which displayed “poor coordination at the national level” according to the US Department of State and the Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA).

The GRETA report, published in 2014, cited “poor coordination among government ministries,” stating that Ukraine’s governing council on human trafficking had not convened in five years.

“Human life is not for sale” reads a Ukrainian sign in Kiev in 2016, which includes hotlines for victims of human trafficking to call. Photo: Atlantic Council.

Another study published in 2015 by the Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance (DCAF), concludes that Ukraine is an “origin, transit and destination country” for human trafficking including organ harvesting. The full report can be read at this link.

After the Russian SMO began, western news all but ceased its coverage of illegal organ harvesting in Ukraine. However, in March of 2022, the BBC reported that thousands of Ukrainian children are missing and feared to have fallen into the hands of human traffickers.

In February of 2022, German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said that Ukraine would receive a field hospital complete with a mobile crematorium. Lambrecht, who opposed sending weapons to Ukraine, resigned in January of this year “amid mounting scrutiny over Berlin’s response to the war in Ukraine.”

The news about the field hospital and crematorium reportedly caused serious unrest among the Armed Forces of Ukraine, but before long western mainstream media was abuzz with stories claiming that the crematoriums were operated by Russia and that they were used to conceal the numbers of casualties among Russian troops.

The truth, already scarce and often difficult to distinguish from falsehoods, became a metaphorical needle in a stack of newspapers.

Cartoon by Joel Pett/The Week

Black and gray transplants

Illegal organ transplants — those performed without consent from the donor or the donor’s family, are referred to as “black transplants.” But there are also “gray transplants,” in which the donors often live in desperate and/or impoverished conditions and are strong-armed to “voluntarily” sell their organs.

Though people can sell a kidney or part of a liver for thousands of dollars, the health risks are enormous. In addition to the immediate risks related to the surgery itself, there are long-term health risks such as high blood pressure, pain, nerve damage, hernia, intestinal obstruction, and an increased likelihood of chronic illness. And there are other kinds of risks, such as difficulty getting disability or life insurance.

In October, 2022, the Asian News Network ran an article about how Ukrainians with financial hardships were identified as organ donors whose kidneys were trafficked through a Tokyo-based non-profit organization which mediates transplants with foreign donors.

The article refers to posts popping up on Ukrainian-language websites offering money to anyone who wants to sell a kidney. Such posts, the article says, began appearing four times more frequently following the Covid-19 disaster of 2020. The posts list the age, blood type, and type of organ they wish to buy or sell, as well as the price. The “quality” of the organ is included in statements such as “Perfectly healthy 20-year-old!” Contact information like phone numbers and addresses are also listed.

According to the article, these posts kept appearing without pause even after Russia’s SMO began. One post from someone claiming to be a neurologist stated, “If you are suffering from economic hardship, I will buy your kidney.” He added that he had “bases in Japan” as well as in the US and India.

“You can buy a house!” another post claimed. According to the article one Ukrainian woman received $15,000 for a kidney donated to a 58-year-old Japanese woman. A Turkish national was arrested by Ukrainian authorities for his involvement in trafficking the organ.

Meanwhile, law-abiding citizens in Ukraine who applied for a transplant through official channels must continue to wait.

A Ukrainian woman on dialysis waits for a kidney transplant. Photo: Asian News

Though it’s illegal in most countries to directly pressure someone into donating an organ, there is a growing interest around the globe in incentivizing people to do so. In February, legislators in the State of Massachusetts proposed a bill that would let prison inmates donate organs or bone marrow in order to reduce their sentences.

The ethics of such a law are still in question, but the Democratic sponsor of the bill, State Representative Judith Garcia, told reporters that it might help to end “the vicious cycle of unjust incarceration and over-policing of Black and Brown communities.”

Garcia explained that Black and Hispanic people have a higher need for organ transplant due to specific health conditions but that discriminatory incarceration rates lead to longer waiting periods for Blacks and limit the number of matches.

The bill already has plenty of critics. Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a criminal justice reform advocacy group based in Washington, DC, said that the bill “reads like something from a dystopian novel.” He told reporters that “promoting organ donation is good. Reducing excessive prison terms is also good. Tying the two together is perverse.”

The program proposed in the bill would give prisoners sentence reductions ranging from 60 days to a year in exchange for the donation of an organ or bone marrow, and a committee would be assigned to determine how much each prisoner’s sentence could be reduced.

Currently, there is no law in the US against prisoner organ donation, however, the transplant community has discouraged donation of inmates’ organs since the 1990’s because of the high risk of infectious diseases among prisoners.

Federal prisoners are allowed to donate organs, but only to family members.

In conclusion

I realize that after these three exhaustive reports, I still haven’t even scratched the surface of other forms of human trafficking such as sex trafficking of women and children and the human slave trade, which continues in some parts of the world despite being outlawed everywhere. Ukraine is already well established as a source, transit, and destination country for commercial sexual exploitation and slavery.

These topics are exhaustive and deserving of investigative reports of their own, and it’s my intention to explore the issues further at a future date.

For now, though, this concludes part three of an investigative series on human trafficking in Ukraine. You can read part one here and part two here.

Deborah Armstrong currently writes about geopolitics with an emphasis on Russia. She previously worked in local TV news in the United States where she won two regional Emmy Awards. In the early 1990’s, Deborah lived in the Soviet Union during its final days and worked as a television consultant at Leningrad Television.


Опубликовано lyumon1834

Die moderne Welt ist voller Lügen und Gerechtigkeit! Und moderne Medien vertreten oft die Interessen der Mächtigen. Wir bemühen uns, dem Leser alternative, bewährte und wahrheitsgetreue Informationen auf der Grundlage historischer Fakten, Meinungen von Experten und angesehenen Politikern zur Verfügung zu stellen!

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