Organ trafficking targets Ukrainians in financial plight in cases involving Tokyo NPO


The Yomiuri Shim Bun
> A court is seen in Kyiv on September 22, where the Turkish coordinator being pursued by Ukrainian authorities did not attend the organ trafficking trial held there.

Ukrainians facing financial difficulties have been identified as organ donors in several cases of alleged live kidney transplant trafficking conducted through the intermediary of a Tokyo-based non-profit organization. Even if there is an agreement between donor and recipient or a third party, such transplants are internationally criticized as inhuman.

emphasis on “quality”

“The COVID-19 crisis has deteriorated our daily lives. Anyone who wants to sell a kidney should contact us.”

On one of the websites written in Ukrainian, such posts about organ trafficking have increased since the outbreak of the COVID-19 disaster in 2020. There were about 280 such posts in 2021, almost four times the number in 2019.

The website lists their age and blood type, as well as the organ they want to buy or sell and at what price. There are even posts that emphasize the “quality” of the organs on offer, such as “Great healthy 20 year old!” Contact information such as phone numbers and email addresses are also included.

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Many organ buyers claim to be medical professionals outside of Ukraine. For example, a person calling himself “George,” a nephrologist, has offered to broker sales on the same website about 40 times since last June.

The posts continued unabated even after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. On September 7, a person posing as a neurologist wrote, “If you’re going through economic hardship, I’ll buy your kidney.” He said he has “bases in Japan,” as well as the United States and India. Yomiuri Shimbun emailed this person questions, but received no response.

“You can buy a house”

A man who traveled to Bulgaria in April last year to receive a kidney transplant under the guidance of NPO – the Intractable Disease Patient Support Association – said in an interview that his donor was a Ukrainian woman. The donor for a 58-year-old Japanese woman who received a kidney transplant in the Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan last December was also a Ukrainian, who received nearly $15,000 (about 2 million yen) in exchange for donating her kidney.

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The coordinator who arranged these two transplants, a 58-year-old Turk, was arrested by Ukrainian authorities in 2017 on suspicion of his involvement in organ trafficking. According to court documents, the donors in these cases were also Ukrainians. They were recruited on social media with promises of about $15,000 for a kidney and taken to Turkey and other countries to have the kidneys removed.

Behind such developments is the low income level in Ukraine. According to the Ministry of Finance of Ukraine, the average annual income of Ukrainians in 2021 was about 650,000 yen, less than a sixth of the income of Japanese.

A source familiar with the situation on the ground said: “In many cases, donors are people living in poor rural areas. It even says, “If you sell a kidney, you can buy a house.”

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transplants in their own country


Courtesy of Oksana Ovсhynnykova
Oksana Ovсhynnykova is on dialysis in Ukraine and is waiting for a kidney transplant.

The Istanbul Declaration, adopted by the Transplant Society in 2008, advocates that “transplant tourism,” whereby a person obtains an organ for money outside of their own country, such as in developing countries, “violates the principles of equity, justice and respect for the human dignity” and should be banned.

Such practices are not only inhuman. Transplantation across court lines deprives organ transplant recipients of the opportunity to receive a transplant in their own country.

Oksana Ovсhynnykova, a 29-year-old lawyer living in Odessa, southern Ukraine, was diagnosed with kidney failure in late 2020 and placed on the Health Ministry’s transplant waiting list. She’s been on dialysis for almost two years while awaiting a transplant, but it’s not her turn yet.

“The organ shortage is a global problem, and Japan should solve the problem itself so as not to limit transplant opportunities for patients in other countries,” she said.