«Offering shelter for a young, healthy, beautiful Ukrainian woman» (English version)

Russian men solicit Ukrainian women for sex, love, and housework

«Offering shelter for a young, healthy, beautiful Ukrainian woman» (English version)

Since the begin­ning of the Russ­ian inva­sion of Ukraine, hun­dreds of ads offer­ing to help Ukrain­ian women have cropped up on the Russ­ian social media net­work, VKon­tak­te. Writ­ten pre­dom­i­nant­ly by men, the ads promise hous­ing for Ukrain­ian women and girls in exchange for a sex­u­al part­ner, a spouse, or a house­keep­er. Ver­st­ka spoke with dozens of authors of the ads to learn their sto­ries and find out why they post­ed on social media.

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«We are even»

Maria [her name has been changed] left her home­town of Mar­i­upol on April 2nd, 2022. The south­east­ern Ukrain­ian city was under heavy artillery fire. In the rush to evac­u­ate, Maria left her cell phone at home. To make mat­ters worse, she was suf­fer­ing from a slow­ly heal­ing shrap­nel wound. When she final­ly arrived at the bus sta­tion, she real­ized she had for­got­ten to bring her pass­port, too.

It took the evac­uees a day and a half to get to Tagan­rog, a port city in south­west­ern Rus­sia. Togeth­er with oth­er refugees, Maria was brought to what is called a tem­po­rary accom­mo­da­tion facil­i­ty: a sports hall that was turned into «one large bed­room» with two hun­dred cots.

Ukraini­ans who are tak­en to Rus­sia are trans­ferred to dif­fer­ent regions of the coun­try via evac­u­a­tion routes. They usu­al­ly don’t have the abil­i­ty to choose where they will go. Those who came with Maria were head­ed for Chelyabin­sk, Chebok­sary, and oth­er cities far from the Ukrain­ian bor­der. But Maria didn’t want to go deep into Rus­sia. She was hop­ing to reunite with her child, who had been left behind in Mar­i­upol with her ex-husband.

She set her sights on the self-pro­claimed Donet­sk People’s Repub­lic, but she soon learned she need­ed a pass­port to gain entry. Then she decid­ed to look for a place to stay in Ros­tov Oblast, on Ukraine’s south­east­ern bor­der, but she didn’t have enough mon­ey for rent. Using her mother’s cell phone, she logged on to VKon­tak­te and wrote a post ask­ing for help. It was an uncom­fort­able expe­ri­ence. «I nev­er had to ask any­body for any­thing, much less beg,» she said. It nev­er occurred to her that she might be con­tact­ed by users with their own inten­tions. Liv­ing for weeks under siege, she lost her sense of dan­ger. «What can be more fright­en­ing when’ve you already been through the worst?» she said. «When every minute you think you’ll get hit by a shell—when you don’t know if you’ll live or die?»

Soon after Maria post­ed on VKon­tak­te, a man named Vasiliy [the name has been changed] offered to let her stay at his house in Ros­tov Oblast. But he had one con­di­tion: she had to help him with house­work. Maria thought this was fair and accept­ed the offer. They agreed on a meet­ing place, where Vasiliy’s moth­er would pick Maria up and dri­ve them to their house in a small rur­al local­i­ty called Bokovskaya, six hours away. When the car arrived, a man in a wheel­chair greet­ed Maria: it turned out that Vasiliy had cere­bral pal­sy. Maria was caught off guard; she had no idea her host was dis­abled, and that she’d prob­a­bly have to assist him.

Vasiliy also imag­ined their meet­ing dif­fer­ent­ly. He said that when he made his offer to Maria, he expect­ed they might end up togeth­er. But when he first saw her, he knew it was impos­si­ble: «My moth­er didn’t notice that she [Maria] was preg­nant,» he said. «It’s fun­ny, but that’s what hap­pened.» Vasiliy was dis­ap­point­ed. Nei­ther told the oth­er the full truth of their cir­cum­stances. «That makes us both even,» she says.

«Can I have refugees too?»

Since 2014, numer­ous social media groups have formed on VKon­tak­te with the pur­pose of uni­fy­ing res­i­dents of Donet­sk and Luhan­sk People’s Republics. Right after the 2022 inva­sion, users became more active, and many new posts appeared. As Ukrain­ian refugees start­ed arriv­ing in Rus­sia in the first half of Feb­ru­ary, they appealed to Rus­sians for help, seek­ing hous­ing, med­ica­tion, cloth­ing, and doc­u­ments. Mean­while, Russ­ian men start­ed post­ing in relief forums, offer­ing their assis­tance — but only to women. We count­ed more than a hun­dred such posts. Some of them sim­ply offered to meet with Ukrain­ian women, as if on a dat­ing site.

Yuriy: I would like to meet a good-look­ing Ukrain­ian refugee under 45 years old. You should be kind and have a pure soul. Please send me a pri­vate mes­sage. I live near Saint Peters­burg.
Screen­shot from Vkontakte

The posts showed up in both region­al groups, such as «Set­tlers and Refugees in Kalu­ga» and «Help­ing Refugees in Saint Peters­burg,» and in nation­al online com­mu­ni­ties. In one pop­u­lar group, called «Ukrain­ian Refugees,» which boasts near­ly a thou­sand mem­bers, the first ads appeared in late Feb­ru­ary. In May, twen­ty-two men had authored posts offer­ing to help Ukrain­ian women.

Ver­st­ka also uncov­ered two small­er groups sole­ly for dat­ing female refugees: «I Want to Mar­ry a Ukrain­ian Refugee» and «A Ukrain­ian Refugee Needs Help.» Some of the posts in these groups get right to the point: «Will mar­ry a Ukrain­ian refugee,» «Offer­ing half of a couch for a Ukrain­ian refugee in Voronezh,» and «Can I have refugees too?» Oth­ers are more infor­ma­tive, con­tain­ing detailed descrip­tions of the writer and his mate­r­i­al sta­tus. One from Sverdlovsk Oblast alludes to a «kind and divorced» man. A 32-year-old res­i­dent of Mur­man­sk Oblast describes him­self as an «ade­quate, calm, cool-head­ed, hard work­er.» A sin­gle, 42-year-old author from Saint Peters­burg look­ing for «a Ukrain­ian refugee with kids» promis­es to send his pho­to in a pri­vate message.

Niko­lay: I will rent half of a couch to a Ukrain­ian refugee in Voronezh.
Screen­shot from Vkontakte

Some ads also spec­i­fy cri­te­ria for receiv­ing help. For instance, a man from Moscow says he would only help a «young» Ukrain­ian refugee. A res­i­dent of Stavropol, seek­ing a woman «to have a fam­i­ly with,» says she must be «young, healthy, beau­ti­ful, and hard­work­ing.» Oth­ers appeal to wid­ows with chil­dren or offer shel­ter for «a young girl with a small baby.»

Niko­lay: I will take in a Ukrain­ian refugee, I pro­vide an apart­ment and mate­r­i­al sup­port. You should accom­pa­ny me on busi­ness trips and always be in touch.
Screen­shot from Vkontakte

«I don’t want to be a bother»

When Maria arrived at Vasiliy’s home, she was giv­en a room with a sofa and a TV. Although she was late in her preg­nan­cy, she man­aged to do sim­ple chores, like heat­ing and serv­ing food and help­ing Vasiliy’s moth­er with the cook­ing. (Vasiliy claims he just «fed the girl.») For Maria, the time she spent in Bokovskaya was «sat­is­fac­to­ry,» except for Vasiliy’s mother’s com­plaints about her own health. «I just don’t think it’s appro­pri­ate talk about with some­one who’s been wound­ed while flee­ing a war zone.»
Two weeks after her arrival, Vasiliy told Maria he no longer want­ed to keep a woman with child. She wasn’t that upset about it; she didn’t want to «be a both­er to any­one.» Vasiliy’s moth­er took Maria to the hos­pi­tal, where she hoped to stay until the baby was born. The hos­pi­tal denied her, so Vasiliy’s moth­er brought Maria back to the refugee facility.

Maria stopped try­ing to find vol­un­teer hous­ing on VKon­tak­te. With no mon­ey for rent, she board­ed a train along with oth­er refugees and head­ed for Stavropol. She decid­ed to have her child there.

Vasiliy con­tin­ues look­ing for a female refugee from Ukraine for a seri­ous rela­tion­ship, or just to spend «some time» with. He pub­lished anoth­er ad on the social media plat­form, this time seek­ing a Ukrain­ian refugee between 30 and 45 years of age, claim­ing he has «a large prop­er­ty.» Dur­ing our inter­view, he asked us sev­er­al times to help him with his search.

«Women who have been through hell will make good wives»

Ver­st­ka respond­ed to forty-five ads post­ed on VKon­tak­te since Feb­ru­ary. Thir­ty-three respon­dents con­firmed that they were will­ing to host female refugees if they accept­ed the offer. Twen­ty-nine-year-old Dmitriy from Moscow said he’d pre­fer to mar­ry a woman from Ukraine «because Russ­ian girls don’t respect men and only care about mon­ey.» He said that if he met a Ukrain­ian refugee he liked, he’d mar­ry her and «help her get a Russ­ian edu­ca­tion, a Russ­ian pass­port, love, fam­i­ly, and a decent lifestyle.» If there’s no spark, he would help her find a job in Rus­sia. Dur­ing our con­ver­sa­tion, Dmitriy even asked one of our jour­nal­ists if she was married.

Anoth­er Moscow res­i­dent pro­posed to «take in a house­wife­ly Ukrain­ian for a year or on a per­ma­nent basis.» He refused to give us his name, but said he was dis­sat­is­fied with women in the cap­i­tal and was look­ing for a Ukrain­ian part­ner. «Nine­ty per­cent of women in Moscow don’t know how to take care of the house or how to cook,» he said. He insist­ed that he had no par­tic­u­lar require­ments regard­ing age or appear­ance, but that who­ev­er he host­ed should be able to cook and clean his one-bed­room apart­ment. The man added that he hopes to have a roman­tic rela­tion­ship with this person.

Roman: I will pro­vide shel­ter to a girl. I live alone.
Screen­shot from Vkontakte

A 31-year-old man from Tagan­rog, address­ing him­self as Viken­tiy, wrote in a group called «Help­ing Refugees in Saint Peters­burg» that he was ready to help «a slim girl.» He told us that he lived in a stu­dio but was plan­ning to buy a big­ger home for him­self and his future spouse, and was look­ing for a Ukrain­ian partner.

Artem, a 49-year-old father of three, says that he would take in a Ukrain­ian refugee if she would do chores and have sex with him. He says that it’s a fair price for liv­ing in the cap­i­tal. «Should I clothe, feed, and shel­ter her for free?» he said. «Think about it, if we live togeth­er for six months, won’t we have sex? It’s human nature, and we can’t change that.» Artem claims that Ukrain­ian women have writ­ten to him, but none have tak­en up his offer yet. «They’re lying when they say they need help.»

Albert from Naberezh­nye Chel­ny quotes a Russ­ian proverb to explain his desire to sup­port refugees: «Luck would not have hap­pened with­out misfortune’s help.» He says it’s nor­mal to live with a woman for some time before hav­ing a sex­u­al rela­tion­ship with her. There has to be «mutu­al sym­pa­thy.» He also says he’s will­ing to sup­port a woman in return for help with the house­work. «In a rela­tion­ship, both mem­bers should try to make it work.»

Niko­lay: I will take in an Ortho­dox, pure, chaste woman, can be with rel­a­tives. I live alone, on my prop­er­ty. Seri­ous rela­tion­ship only. Bel­go­rod oblast.
Screen­shot from Vkontakte

Fifty-eight-year-old Oleg writes that he is look­ing for a Ukrain­ian refugee in her ear­ly 50s to take care of his home on the Vyat­ka Riv­er. «I think that women from Ukraine who have been through hell will make good wives,» he told us. He also asked if we knew any­one who would be a good «fit» for him.

Mari­na Pisklako­va-Park­er, a Ph. D. can­di­date in soci­ol­o­gy and the direc­tor of the domes­tic vio­lence pre­ven­tion cen­ter «Anna» (list­ed as a for­eign agent by the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment), says that this idea of a «hap­py fam­i­ly» is patri­ar­chal, sub­or­di­nat­ing woman to the role of loy­al and obe­di­ent house­wife. «These atti­tudes are root­ed in gen­der stereo­types and tra­di­tion­al gen­der roles with­in fam­i­ly and soci­ety,» she says. «Some are open and cyn­i­cal about them, and oth­ers try to con­ceal their inten­tions.» Accord­ing to Pisklako­va-Park­er, some men sin­cere­ly believe that women pre­fer this kind of relationship.

She adds that men who lack self-con­fi­dence tend to look for vul­ner­a­ble women, expect­ing her to be less demand­ing and more sub­mis­sive. With­out the fear of rejec­tion, these men can feel like sav­iors. Pisklako­va-Park­er asserts that this dynam­ic pos­es a sig­nif­i­cant prob­lem, since any rela­tion­ship with a depen­dent part­ner is inher­ent­ly unsta­ble. «There is a type of man who’s prone to domes­tic vio­lence,» she says. «Uncon­scious­ly, they believe a refugee is a poten­tial part­ner they can eas­i­ly con­trol.» She adds, «And then there are crim­i­nals involved in human traf­fick­ing. A cri­sis sit­u­a­tion spurs on all neg­a­tive trends.»

But for most men seek­ing Ukrain­ian refugees online, accord­ing to Pisklako­va-Park­er, their bur­den is an after-thought. «They don’t both­er to think of [these women’s] trau­ma,» she says. «Many actu­al­ly believe Rus­sia is lib­er­at­ing Ukraine, and their role is to help and pro­tect Ukrain­ian women on what they think is their territory.»

Tatiana Orlo­va, co-founder of the psy­cho­log­i­cal help cen­ter «Don’t Tol­er­ate This!,» agrees that these ads are a pure man­i­fes­ta­tion of patri­archy. «In a patri­ar­chal soci­ety, the man plays the dom­i­nant, cen­tral role, and the woman is expect­ed to serve him. The man is a mas­ter who takes in a ser­vant.» Orlo­va explains that after the inva­sion, these neg­a­tive ten­den­cies became more appar­ent in Russ­ian soci­ety: «Social ten­den­cies change very slow­ly. Both Ukrain­ian and Russ­ian women are less and less in favor of a patri­ar­chal rela­tion­ship in which a man makes deci­sions and a woman takes care of the house and the kids.» She says that Ukrain­ian women are extreme­ly vul­ner­a­ble to being preyed on by men who want to act out their patri­ar­chal ideas and find a suit­able sex­u­al partner.

Orlo­va also warns that rela­tion­ships like this can lead to domes­tic vio­lence: if a woman is treat­ed from the begin­ning as a source of free labor or as a sex­u­al slave, and if she doesn’t have any fam­i­ly or friends to help her, it can be very hard for her to escape the relationship.

Yuriy: I am 64, I am reli­able and loy­al. I have a house and a car, I work, I do sports. I don’t drink or smoke, I am well-off. I will host a Ukrain­ian refugee under 45, slim and good-look­ing. With a right of inher­i­tance.
Screen­shot from Vkontakte

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«Looking for a nanny, 35 and older, with no bad habits»

Not all men who want to take in a Ukrain­ian refugee are look­ing for a sex­u­al part­ner. Some told us they need­ed a nan­ny or a house­keep­er. For exam­ple, 35-year-old Ivan from Tula says that he «lives alone in a big house with a gar­den,» works a lot and wants a Ukrain­ian woman to take care of his house. He says that a sex­u­al rela­tion­ship «isn’t nec­es­sary,» but he did invite one of our jour­nal­ists to Tula.

Dmit­ry from Chere­povets works as a secu­ri­ty guard and says he’s often away from home for weeks. His moth­er used to take care of the house before she died. Now Dmit­ry is look­ing for a Ukrain­ian refugee who would live with him and do the chores. As for sex, Dmit­ry says that it’s «up to the woman.»
Denis, a rail­road tech­ni­cian and sin­gle par­ent from Vel­sk, is look­ing for a nan­ny for his 2‑year-old son. He doesn’t exclude the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a roman­tic rela­tion­ship but sug­gests that the woman he hires first «try out» as a nanny.

Some men told Ver­st­ka that they’d like to help with­out expect­ing any­thing in return. Dmitriy from Udmur­tia, «a Russ­ian with no bad habits,» writes that he is ready to help a woman with chil­dren and offers his house which he has built for his future fam­i­ly. «I believe in God, and I am against adul­tery,» he said. «But men are the stronger sex, and they under­stand life better.»

Andrey: I will meet a Ukrain­ian refugee for rela­tion­ships. You should be kind, with pure soul. Write me a direct mes­sage.
Screen­shot from Vkontakte. 

Andrey from Kerch says he has already helped two Ukrain­ian refugees find work because «he was raised to believe that men should help women in need,» oth­er­wise «they will end up in brothels.»

Vladislav from Irkut­sk Oblast said that he doesn’t want to take advan­tage of a vul­ner­a­ble woman. His house burned down recent­ly, but he built a big­ger one and wants to help those who have no place to live. Vladislav says that if he invites a woman and then abus­es her or makes her work, the whole vil­lage will know. «Here, in Siberia, things are dif­fer­ent,» he said.

Stanislav Khot­sky, a psy­chother­a­pist spe­cial­iz­ing in treat­ing peo­ple prone to aggres­sion and vio­lence, says that some men who offer to help refugees have an ulte­ri­or motive. «These are attempts to build a rela­tion­ship with a sub­mis­sive, emo­tion­al­ly vul­ner­a­ble per­son,» says Khot­sky. «This is dan­ger­ous: a per­son who offers a rela­tion­ship based on an imbal­ance of pow­er, resources, and emo­tion­al sta­bil­i­ty cre­ates con­di­tions to exer­cise vio­lence. In a sit­u­a­tion like this,» he adds, «a pow­er­ful man can abuse his pow­er and will do so in the absence of resis­tance. The only way to avoid phys­i­cal and emo­tion­al vio­lence in this kind of rela­tion­ship is to refuse to take advan­tage of the more vul­ner­a­ble part­ner. But it’s impos­si­ble if a man offers a relationship.»

Alex­ey: I will take in a lone­ly young refugee girl, slim and kind, from 25 to 37 years old, from Ukraine. Astrakhan. For hav­ing a fam­i­ly and liv­ing togeth­er. I do not drink or smoke, I am neat, and of aver­age weight. I am a work­ing mil­i­tary pen­sion­er.
Screen­shot from Vkontatke

«They wiped their feet on me»

We also heard from men who said they had an unpleas­ant expe­ri­ence try­ing to help Ukrain­ian refugees and that they had lost their trust in Ukraini­ans. Sergey from Moscow told us that he had met a woman from DNR and invit­ed her to Moscow with an offer of finan­cial assis­tance. He said they had devel­oped a good rap­port on the phone. But the meet­ing nev­er hap­pened: after he sent her mon­ey, she blocked him on What­sApp and on social media. We tried to con­tact her, but she nev­er replied.

Sergey insists he only want­ed to help. «It would have been all right if she came and said she didn’t want a rela­tion­ship,» he said. «I’m not wor­ried about the mon­ey. It just feels bad for some­one to wipe their feet on you like this.»

Oleg from Vol­gograd wrote to Ver­st­ka say­ing he post­ed in sev­er­al groups offer­ing to house a Ukrain­ian refugee, but all he got in response were mon­ey requests. He’s sure they were all scam­mers. «No one who real­ly need­ed help respond­ed,» he said, «just those who make mon­ey by beg­ging.» He was upset. «I have an apart­ment, a house, and no kids. I thought some­one would want to come and live with me.» At the same time, he says he’s not ready to help refugees with relo­ca­tion expens­es. «If you don’t even have the mon­ey to buy a tick­et, there’s no point in going to anoth­er country.»

Igor from Saint Peters­burg says he refus­es to help any refugee who asks for mon­ey. He’s fear­ful of scam­mers and will only sup­port a woman who «will clean his apart­ment, cook din­ner, and be next to him,» even if the arrange­ment doesn’t end in mar­riage. He also wants this per­son to share his beliefs about the the «spe­cial mil­i­tary oper­a­tion», but knows that many Ukraini­ans will oppose the inva­sion. «Since child­hood, they have been told that Rus­sia is bad and that I won’t be able to re-edu­cate her. But if she comes, she has to under­stand that I am pro-Rus­sia and eli­gi­ble for mil­i­tary service.»

«How shall we recover?»

After Maria left Vasiliy’s home, she went to Zheleznovod­sk in Stavropol Krai. She was placed in a hotel in the Cau­ca­sus, but could not be admit­ted to a hos­pi­tal until she had all prop­er doc­u­men­ta­tion. Accord­ing to Maria, «They said that I can still ‘run.’» Her sit­u­a­tion is fur­ther com­pli­cat­ed by the fact that she still doesn’t have a passport.

Maria can stay in the hotel until August 9th but has no idea what she’ll do next. Her house in Mar­i­upol was dam­aged by shelling and will prob­a­bly be demol­ished. «Where will we live? How shall we recov­er?» she asks. She has nobody in Stavropol, except for a fel­low refugee, whom she can ask for help. 

Maria says that if she wasn’t preg­nant, she would try to find a job and a place to live in Rus­sia. She wouldn’t mind work­ing on a small farm, espe­cial­ly because she has a back­ground in agri­cul­ture. «I saw ads offer­ing 10–15 thou­sand rubles for this kind of work,» she says. «They pro­vide hous­ing, so I’d have more than enough.» But with a baby on the way, it’s a vir­tu­al­ly impos­si­ble undertaking.

“How do I Know Their Intentions?”

Oth­er Ukrain­ian refugees, like Maria, who sought help online told Ver­st­ka they had seen ads writ­ten by Russ­ian men, too, and received mes­sages from them. Twen­ty-five-year-old Iri­na says she was evac­u­at­ed to Saint Peters­burg when she was three months preg­nant. In ear­ly May, she inquired with a group called «Help­ing Refugees in Saint Peters­burg» about buy­ing a trans­port card. In her post, Iri­na explained that she couldn’t find a job with­out a reg­is­tra­tion, so she had to spend hours walk­ing around the city (she couldn’t afford pub­lic trans­porta­tion) to col­lect all the nec­es­sary doc­u­ments. In response to her post, Russ­ian men invit­ed her to live with them in exchange for cook­ing and clean­ing. «Not all of them want­ed a rela­tion­ship,» she said. «Still, it was scary. I am alone and preg­nant. I don’t want to take a risk liv­ing with men I don’t know.»

Thir­ty-one-year-old Mari­na from Donet­sk also says she received mes­sages like this after she post­ed in one of the groups, but she declined all of them: «How do I know what inten­tions they have? I have a child I don’t want to put at risk.» Twen­ty-one-year-old Vale­ria from Donet­sk says she thinks that men who look for Ukrain­ian refugees online are «per­verts,» and did not respond to any of them.

Oxana Gor­buno­va, a women’s rights advo­cate and a mem­ber of Vital Voic­es, an Amer­i­can non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tion for women, warns that Ukrain­ian refugees who become vic­tims of vio­lence or traf­fick­ing can be denied legal aid. «In inter­na­tion­al law, those who have suf­fered from human traf­fick­ing have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to defend their rights, get com­pen­sa­tion and return to their home­land,» says Gor­buno­va. «But inter­na­tion­al stan­dards do not apply in Rus­sia. Ukrain­ian women are abused and exploit­ed for sex and labor, even though they are already vic­tims of Russ­ian aggression.»

In one of the largest groups on VKon­tak­te for Ukrain­ian refugees, «Don­bas in Moscow: Set­tlers and Refugees,» posts like this are banned by mod­er­a­tors. The group admin­is­tra­tor told us that men try to take advan­tage of refugees and «send thou­sands of requests every day.» She said that men seek­ing a rela­tion­ship should look on dat­ing sites, not in refugee relief groups.

Anna Ryzhko­va, Daria Kucherenko

Trans­la­tion: Daria Solomen­niko­va, Christo­pher Lapinski