Europe
3:00 am
Fri June 8, 2012

Soccer In Ukraine Brings Fans, Fear Of AIDS

Originally published on Mon June 11, 2012 3:03 pm

Hundreds of thousands of soccer fans, most of them men, are set to arrive in Ukraine and Poland for Euro 2012, the monthlong European soccer championship that kicks off Friday.

But what's expected to take place off the field has health experts concerned. An estimated 360,000 Ukrainians — more than 1 percent of the population — are infected with AIDS or the virus that causes AIDS, the highest rate in Europe. Sex workers are one of the hardest-hit groups.

All these visiting men, lots of alcohol and the availability of prostitution could result in a wave of new infections. Health officials in Ukraine are doing their best to prevent that.

Twice a week, workers from ENEY, an anti-AIDS group, hit the streets of Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, and visit pockets of the city where prostitutes congregate to provide counseling and testing for sexually transmitted diseases.

Yulia Vorodina says she's worked with ENEY two years, helping those who have nowhere else to turn.

"We provide services to those who need us. Those that have some money don't work with us. They can get their own condoms and visit clinics themselves," she says.

The workers' bus comes to a halt near a rundown sauna complex on Kiev's outskirts.

Six young women dressed in micro-miniskirts, black imitation leather jackets and sky-high needle heels emerge from the shadows.

One of them, 23-year-old Vika, says that some women don't use condoms because they can earn more that way.

But she says that thanks to ENEY, she and her girlfriends no longer have unprotected sex.

"We protect ourselves, always. We work, you could say, according to instructions," she says. "Because in this line of work, you have to be protected."

Fans From Across The Continent

For European soccer fans, Euro 2012 is second in importance only to the World Cup. That means large contingents of fans will be coming from across the continent for extended stays in Ukraine.

"So it means that there will be more women involved in sex work. There will be more alcohol taken. It means that there will be more risks for people having unprotected sex," says Oksana Matiyash with the International HIV/AIDS Alliance in Ukraine.

Matiyash says that the overall rate of new infections has dropped considerably from two years ago. But rates via heterosexual intercourse are on the rise due to prostitution — which is illegal in Ukraine but widely tolerated — and partners of intravenous drug users.

HIV/AIDS infection rates among prostitutes are usually 1 to 3 percent, but in Ukraine, they are close to 9 percent, and sometimes more, she says.

"The highest HIV prevalence is in Donetsk, which is going to be one of the city sites for Euro 2012," Matiyash says. "HIV prevalence among sex workers there is more than 30 percent."

The HIV/AIDS Alliance says that some 70,000 prostitutes work in Ukraine, though that figure could be higher.

Government To Provide Information

Government officials say that they'll inform the fans about the dangers of unprotected sex, but forbidding them from visiting prostitutes would be impossible and counterproductive.

"No one can forbid something like that. You have to understand this. Information is the key element for prevention," says Tetiana Aleksandrina, the head of Ukraine's state service on HIV and AIDS.

But AIDS groups say that in preparation for the championship, police are cleaning the streets of prostitutes. As a result, many have gone underground — but continue to work.

And that, says Matiyash of the HIV/AIDS Alliance, means many sex workers won't be getting the help they need.

Back at the ENEY truck, Tatyana Klimova, a clinician, tells a young woman the results of her HIV test are negative. The woman smiles with relief.

But Klimova says team diagnoses three women with HIV every month. There was one just last week.

What these numbers will be after Euro 2012 is anybody's guess.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

In soccer-crazy Europe, the focus today turns to the kickoff of Euro 2012. The European soccer championship is being held for the first time in Eastern Europe. It's co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine, a source of pride for those host nations.

There are also concerns. Ukraine has the highest HIV-infection rate in Europe among sex workers; as many in one in three are HIV-positive.The arrival of hundreds of thousands of fans - mostly men - combined with lots of alcohol and the easy availability of prostitutes, could prove to be a dangerous mix. David Stern reports from the Ukrainian capital, Kiev.

DAVID STERN, BYLINE: A stereo blares Ukrainian rap as four workers from ENEY, an anti-AIDS collective, hit the streets of Kiev. Twice a week, they visit pockets of the city where prostitutes congregate, providing counseling and testing for STDs. Yulia Vorodina says that she's worked with ENEY two years, helping those who have nowhere else to turn.

YULIA VORODINA: (Through translator) We provide services to those who need us. Those that have some money, don't work with us. They can get their own condoms, and visit clinics themselves.

STERN: The bus comes to a halt near a rundown sauna complex on Kiev's outskirts. Six young women dressed in micro-short skirts; black, imitation-leather jackets; and sky-needle heels emerge from the shadows. One of them, Vika, a 23-year-old, says that some women don't use condoms because they can earn more that way. But she says that thanks to ENEY, she and her girlfriends no longer have unprotected sex.

VIKA: (Through translator) We protect ourselves, always. We work, you could say, according to instructions. Because in this line of work, you have to be protected.

STERN: Oksana Matiyash works for the International HIV/AIDS Alliance in Ukraine. Oksana says that the overall rate of new infections has dropped considerably from two years ago. But rates via heterosexual intercourse are on the rise, due to prostitution and partners of intravenous drug users. Infection rates among prostitutes are usually 1 to 3 percent. But in Ukraine, they're close to 9 percent - and sometimes, more. Oksana Matiyash.

OKSANA MATIYASH: The highest HIV prevalence is in Donetsk, which is going to be one of the city sites for Euro 2012. HIV prevalence among sex workers there is more than 30 percent.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STERN: One of Kiev's numerous glitzy discos - where commercial sex is prevalent. The HIV/AIDS Alliance says that some 70,000 prostitutes work in Ukraine, though that figure could be higher. Clients are attracted to this particular club by more than just the music.

What do you think of Kiev?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Yeah, Kiev is great, right?

STERN: What do you think of the club?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: The girls are great.

STERN: Government officials say that they'll inform the fans about the dangers of unprotected sex. But forbidding them from visiting prostitutes would be impossible and counterproductive, they say. Tetiana Aleksandrina is head of Ukraine's state service on HIV and AIDS.

TETIANA ALEKSANDRINA: (Through translator) No one can forbid something like that, you have to understand this. Information is the key element for prevention.

STERN: But AIDS groups say that in preparation for the championship, police are cleaning the streets of prostitutes. Many continue to work, but underground. Oksana Matiyash.

MATIYASH: So it means they will hide from us, and it is bad for the implementation of the program.

STERN: Back at the ENEY truck, Tatyana Klimova, a clinician, tells a young woman her results are negative.

TATYANA KLIMOVA: (Foreign language spoken)

STERN: The woman smiles with relief. But Tatyana says the DNA truck team diagnoses three women with HIV every month. There was one just last week. What these numbers will be after Euro 2012 is anybody's guess.

For NPR News, I'm David Stern in Kiev, Ukraine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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