Police in Georgia have arrested a 37-year-old Ukrainian woman on suspicion of child trafficking after police discovered that four of her ‘10 children’ were born in the same year.
Yuliya Suslyak, originally from Ukraine, was arrested in a hospital in Kutaisi on Thursday.
According to investigators, Suslyak arrived from Russia on 8 April and was planning to smuggle the 10 children into Abkhazia.
In a statement, the Interior Ministry said that the woman had documents showing that all 10 children were hers and had her last name. Police suspected she was trafficking them after they found out that four of the 10 children were born in 2017.
Investigators said they had found that Suslyak was travelling to Abkhazia, and had rented a flat in Samegrelo, in western Georgia, where she stayed with the children for several days.
Officials issued a restraining order to separate her from the children after witnesses testified that she had behaved aggressively towards them.
‘Testimony also revealed that she might not be the mother of the minors’, said a statement by the Interior Ministry. The statement said that tests were now being carried out to determine if there was a ‘biological connection’ between Suslyak and the children.
Eight of the children have been transferred into the custody of child services, while two others remain in hospital, reportedly due to food poisoning.
‘Two minors, aged seven months and one year are being treated in the hospital. It is possible they have food poisoning’, Edisher Asatiani, a doctor at the hospital, told media.
Zurab Todua, Suslyak’s lawyer, told journalists she and her husband, Yury Suslyak, who is a ‘well-known Ukrainian businessman’, had to leave Ukraine ‘due to conditions that the former Ukrainian president put them into’.
He said that Suslyak had to flee to Georgia and was seeking temporary refuge in Abkhazia after being deported from Russia.
Regarding the children, Todua said that both Yuliya and Yury Suslyak came from big families and that they wanted to have a big family as well. He added that Suslyak was told by doctors she should not have children, and therefore she and her husband signed contracts with seven surrogate mothers.
Todua also said that the family had been living in the US for a year where Yuliya Suslyak received medical treatment. While she was there, she gave birth to her youngest child, making them a US citizen.
Trafficking in Georgia
According to Georgia’s State Fund for Protection and Assistance of Victims of Human Trafficking, the number of calls made the trafficking hotline declined significantly from 2015 (189 calls) to 2018, (34 calls).
In 2018, three trafficking victims stayed in a state-administered shelter, none of whom were minors.
The Georgian Public Defender’s 2018 Parliamentary report stated that ethnic minorities and transgender women were particularly vulnerable to human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
‘In 2018, investigations were launched into 21 alleged cases of trafficking’, the report said.
The Public Defender’s monitoring of shelters for victims of trafficking in Tbilisi and Batumi indicated that these facilities were ‘mainly designed for the needs of victims of domestic violence while providing interpreters and services for psycho-social rehabilitation for trafficking victims is still a challenge’.