The country is also suffering from one of the worst AIDS epidemics in Europe.
Teen prostitutes are extremely vulnerable to HIV due to lack of knowledge or access to methods of prevention.
In the Mykolaiv region of Southern Ukraine, the death rate from HIV infection in the 15-24 age group is one of the highest in the country.
Seventeen-year-old Nataliya explains how she first got involved in sex work.
“My friend has been doing it for 7 years, she told me I could do it too. At first I didn’t want to. Now I have enough money. I can help my mom. She doesn’t know what I do, not even my friends know,” she confides.
Nataliya hopes to go on to study medicine, but Yuliya has no plans to quit.
“There aren’t so many opportunities to make money in our city. What I do really helps me and I’m OK with it. I also like the fact that now I have someone to ask for advice, to talk to and even listen to that advice in certain situations. But one of the most important things is that I can check my health regularly and talk to a psychologist,” she notes.
In Mykolaiv, the UNITUS charity works alongside UNICEF to provide healthcare, social services and psychological help to young people at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.
Out of 350 female clients, most have been tested.
Up to 10 per cent have the virus.
“One of the biggest problems is an extremely low level of knowledge and understanding of how HIV is transmitted. And even if people know it, they still do not regard this risk important,” says Olena Sakovych from UNICEF.
This mobile HIV testing unit can find women most at risk on the streets and provide them with advice and access to a psychologist.
Studies show that use of mobile units can reduce the numbers infected.
A nurse carrying out an HIV test tells the teenage prostitute:
“When accidents happen and the condom breaks, you have to get a check-up.”