When people think if human trafficking, they inevitalby think of young girls being duped into the sex industry. Here’s a story of a middle-aged man with no hands who was used as slave labout to made a recording studio.
“Music is my life. If there’s no music, I don’t live. It’s like breathing”, says Andrey Zhukov, a famous Belarusian sound-producer and sound-designer.
Andrey’s success is remarkable as he created music and runs his business without hands. He is an amputee, and he’s also a victim of trafficking.
Up to the age if seven, his life, in the then Soviet Union, was happy. His whole family was musical. “My mother was an operatic singer and we used to sing songs together. When I still had hands I played musical instruments”.
But that all changed when he was seven and accidentally grabbed an electric cable, resulting his both his hands being so severly burnt they had to be amputated. In those days there were no special facilties for a disabled child and he was placed in an orphanage.
But even this didn’t quell his passion for music: he tied stick to his ‘hands’ and learned to pay the drums. He worked hard and was susccessful, playing with several prominent bands. What he earned allowed him to study aroad, first in Austria, and then in the United States. He was in big demand.
Two years ago he was invited to Ukraine to build “a state of the art musical studio”. This seemed like the pinnacle of his life and career.
Instead, he fell victim to modern-day slavery.
“My student invited me to Ukraine. That's why I went there. He is from our circles, and we are used to trusting each other when it comes to work. I didn’t need to request documents, I knew him for years”.
“I started off my equipping the studio, which if I say so myself, is one of the best in the former Soviet Union. I was also teaching people to sing and giving music lessons.”
It seemed that to make the dream come true was so easy.
“At first, I was so carried away by the process that everything was fine to me, though I lived and ate in the basement where they also fed me and where the equipment was stored. I suppose it was suspicuous, looking back but at the time the building for the studio was still under construction.
“That guy promised me: "you will get 1000 dollars a month, plus medical care". We agreed that when I needed money, he would give it to me.
They came here (Belarus) and took my equipment. They promised me to help with procedures for citizenship and register me officially. It all turned out to be lies. For two years I was there illegally, and they took my passport from me saying something like "we’ll do everything, don’t worry".
“And I trusted them. I never anticipated any problems.”
But he never got his passport back. He couldn’t even travel to another city without documents and money. When he started to ask questions about his passport and salary he was met with empty promises. He stopped working. He was told that nobody owed him anything and that he could go wherever he wanted.
“I was left alone in the country I didn’t know - and I really didn’t know it as I was always in the basement or in the studio - somehow it was suddenly very scary. It was winter, cold…”
Andrey looked for help at different NGOs. One of them recommended he addressed IOM Office in Kyiv and through that meeting he was helped to get back to Belarus. After his return the IOM Office in Belarus helped him to recover his documents and provided medical and psychological assistance.
“I was taken out because I could not leave the country myself. I had neither my passport nor money. IOM bought me some clothes because I was wearing flip-flops and no socks.
Now Andrei is planning to start working again.
“My plan is to start working. I'll start buying everything that I need for work. I’ve already started working on some projects .I’m not going to be taken in by dream-like offers again. I don't need a studio now. All I need – all anyone needs - is knowledge, talent and vision”.
His musicians friends are rallying round. The legendary Belarusian band Drum Ecstasy with whom Andrey worked many times has organized a charity concert to raise money for new equipment for his new studio in Minsk.