“We have everything to be thankful for in Orange Beach, Alabama.”
Mayor Tony Kennon shared those thoughts during the Oct. 3 City Council meeting after welcoming a small delegation from Belgorod-Dnestrovskyi, Ukraine, who were visiting Lower Alabama with Mobilian Joe Savage of the nonprofit Projects that Matter Inc./Emmanuel House.
Kennon’s comments came after Savage described the stark realities of human trafficking faced by many orphaned teenage girls in the Eastern-European countries of Moldova and Ukraine, and following warm words from Belgorod-Dnestrovskyi Mayor Alla Ginak as translated by her Councilman Rymskyi “Slavik” Viacheslav.
With the help of Savage, Slavik had visited coastal Alabama with young Ukrainian professionals in late summer and returned home only to be encouraged to return with his mayor. In addition to his city duties, Slavik is an International Assistant in the Ukrainian Parliament and he and his wife also work in orphanages.
“I have an organization, a nonprofit, in Moldova, which is a neighboring country to Ukraine,” Savage said in the council chambers on Oct. 2. “Moldova is the poorest nation in all of Europe and they have a problem; and the problem is human trafficking.
“I go up and down our coast, we have a lot of workers from those Eastern European countries. Well, what happens over there is because of the lack of jobs and opportunity, and the economy is so poor, that a million young people for instance in Moldova, between 18 and 28, have left that country for work in places like Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, etc. And so in the midst of that are the human traffickers because the girls tend to be very pretty and very poor.”
Adding being orphaned to the situation, Savage called it the tragic trifecta of trafficking.
“What happens is the mafia takes these orphans when they finish [leave the orphanage] at the age of 15, offer them jobs around the world – at resorts or resort communities like Gulf Shores and Orange Beach – and the result of that is they get them there and then they turn them into prostitutes whether they want to or not,” Savage explained. “Statistically, 60% of all orphan girls in Ukraine and Moldova will become victims of trafficking – 60%! And when that girl becomes a victim of trafficking, she’ll be prostituted 6,000 times and she’s dead in 7 years.”
He added, “75% of all orphaned boys will become criminals; 15% of all orphaned boys and girls commit suicide before their 18th birthday. The reason? Because they don’t have love. They don’t have a family. They have no hope.”
Savage said when he came across the “horrific situation,” he knew something had to be done. Teaming up with a missionary couple in Moldova who were already helping orphans and thanks to the “generosity of American people,” Savage said The Emmanuel House opened in 2013 near Chisinau, Moldova. The home aims to rescue 15- to 21-year-old girls from dangerous situations and give them every opportunity possible to have a wonderful life.
The nonprofit is now working with another house of refuge for older orphans in Belgorod-Dnestrovskyi and finding foster homes for the young at-risk women.
“These are my dear friends,” Savage said as he introduced Mayor Ginak, Slavik and others. “Mayor Alla here started a shoe factory several years ago, 10 years ago. Her factory last year produced 6 million pairs of shoes, so she is a big-time business woman in Ukraine. She decided to give that up because she saw her people in despair with unemployment and she decided to go run for mayor to see if she could turn their city around. Now Belgorod-Dnestrovskyi is becoming an emerging city on the hill for all of Ukraine and what it needs to be. And so she is over here making relationships.”
Mayor Ginak thanked the city for the warm welcome.
“I am truly delighted by what you have accomplished in this city but even more I am delighted with the people who live in this city,” Ginak said through Slavik’s translation. “I am sincerely grateful for your warm hearts and with the hospitality which you have treated us with. … And we hope that our relationship with your people and specifically with the city, will go on and result in sister cities because we are very similar and we have something we can learn from you and implement in Ukraine.”
Ginak then presented a gift to Mayor Kennon, a framed depiction of the ancient medieval fortress that is located in the city. It is the largest ancient fortress in Ukraine. Built during 13th-15th centuries, the fortress attracts millions of tourists.
“This is our pride. This our pearl fortress,” Ginak said. “I would like for you to have this picture in your office that every time you look at it you may be reminded of our sister city in Ukraine. This is our history. This is our heritage and we would love to host your delegation to show you around and to bless you and to welcome you to the Ukraine in Belgorod. And thank you very much to all of the residents of Orange Beach.”
Belgorod-Dnestrovskyi, formerly known as Akkerman, is a port city situated on the right bank of the Dniester estuary that is linked to the nearby Black Sea. The population of the city is approximately 55,000 people.
Mayor Kennon said he spent an “eye-opening few hours” with the Ukrainian delegation prior to the council meeting.
“It’s unbelievable the difference between what we take for granted, such as water, sewage. I mean it’s just unbelievable,” Kennon said. “A town of 60,000 with a $12 million budget. We’re a (city of) 6,000 with $40 million plus. It’s unbelievable how blessed we are in this country. But I guess until you see and hear it, it’s hard to remember it.”