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With a century of military experience between them, their antennae are finely tuned for trouble. But the battle-hardened group of British veterans was stunned at how quickly they happened upon it at the Ukrainian border.

The Mail on Sunday last week accompanied the team of ten security specialists, who all served in Afghanistan and are now protecting women from sex-trafficking gangs operating around Poland‘s busiest crossing at Medyka.

It took just 30 seconds before their suspicions were aroused. One of the ex-soldiers, Billy Wright, pointed to a pair of burly men sitting outside a cafe across from the border. Both were keenly switching their attention from the new arrivals to their mobile phone screens.

‘Take these two – they don’t even have a cup of tea to try and blend in,’ said Billy. ‘It’s blatant. I would be 100 per cent certain they are looking for someone specific.’

One of the volunteers managed to take a surreptitious look at a man’s phone and counted more than a dozen photographs of what appeared to be different Ukrainian families.

An ex-army soldier talks to a Ukrainian refugee mother and child at the Polish/Ukraine boarder at Medyka. (His face has been pixellated to protect his privacy)

An ex-army soldier talks to a Ukrainian refugee mother and child at the Polish/Ukraine boarder at Medyka. (His face has been pixellated to protect his privacy)

An ex-army soldier talks to a Ukrainian refugee mother and child at the Polish/Ukraine boarder at Medyka. (His face has been pixellated to protect his privacy)

Billy, who travelled to Poland from Australia just two days after the Russian invasion, explained that the gangs operate by having look-outs – known as ‘dickers’ – who scout for potential victims on the Ukrainian side. 

The 38-year-old explained: ‘They’ll spot a victim, usually an older mother with a daughter in her 20s or a younger mother with teenage daughters. It’s better the younger they are. The going rate now for a girl in her 20s is £145,000.

‘They will then take a picture of them as they get on the train at Lviv or are waiting at the Ukrainian border and send that through to the men waiting on this side.’

In the space of just 15 minutes at the crossing, eight men were identified as suspected traffickers by the British volunteers.

‘We have to be careful,’ said Billy. ‘It’s about surveillance. We take pictures covertly and put them into a database that we can share with the anti-trafficking charities at the border – and the police.

‘Sometimes we even hand out food in high-vis jackets to blend in. Only when we see the men approach the women, trying to lure them into a car, do we act.’

The MoS was with Billy when he saw two men in tracksuits asking a young woman if she wanted a lift.

Using Google Translate on his phone, Billy quickly typed: Be careful, human traffickers are in this area. Please do not accept anything from strangers, and showed the warning to the woman. ‘We can’t speak Ukrainian so this is the best way to communicate,’ he said.

Pictured: Suspected sex traffickers at the border with Ukraine, who could be looking for women. (Their faces have been pixellated for legal reasons)

Pictured: Suspected sex traffickers at the border with Ukraine, who could be looking for women. (Their faces have been pixellated for legal reasons)

Pictured: Suspected sex traffickers at the border with Ukraine, who could be looking for women. (Their faces have been pixellated for legal reasons)

The men work six-hour shifts every other day gathering intelligence. Billy’s patrol partner, Jake Smith, 35, who has worked in special operations, said: ‘Last week this guy had a picture of a family, clearly taken without their knowledge as they boarded a bus in Lviv. It was two older women and two girls between about nine and 13.

‘The man was telling them, ‘Your friend has sent me this picture and has told me to pick you up.’ He was starting to get aggressive and push them towards a set of parked cars.’

The volunteers also use specialist technology to send text messages to families crossing the border warning them of the dangers ahead.

Unbound Now, a network of anti-human trafficking agencies, say they had seen lone men try to lure women into vehicles. ‘It’s a challenging situation at the moment,’ concedes a spokesman for the charity.

The volunteers have vowed to remain on the border for as long as women are at risk.

‘We knew this would be an opportunity for horrible entities to make some money,’ said Dean Taylor, 37. ‘We understood there would be, and there is a big problem.’

Billy, once a bodyguard to actor Sylvester Stallone, added: ‘There’s a massive void. A lot of people would want to be on the frontline, but this side gets neglected.

‘If I can just save one woman or child, it would be all worth it.’

‘He promised me a new life in the US’ 

A Ukrainian refugee has described how she narrowly escaped the clutches of an American trafficker posing as a UN volunteer.

Margaerita Plotnick was with her mother and teenage cousin when she was approached at a refugee reception centre by the stranger who offered to take her to the US.

It was only when the suspicious 25-year-old waitress secretly checked US entry requirements for Ukrainian refugees that she discovered the stranger was lying.

Speaking to The Mail on Sunday after travelling to Ireland, Margaerita said: ‘I had a lucky escape. I could have been a victim of this predator.’

Margaerita was approached at the Medyka crossing after 33 days of Russian bombardment and a shortage of food and water forced her to leave her home in Kharkiv.

Safe at last: Margaerita Plotnick (pictured) found sanctuary in Ireland

Safe at last: Margaerita Plotnick (pictured) found sanctuary in Ireland

Safe at last: Margaerita Plotnick (pictured) found sanctuary in Ireland 

When she and her family members arrived at the Polish border, they were taken by bus to a sprawling industrial site on the outskirts of Przemysl, which has been converted into a reception centre for refugees.

They were excited to be offered accommodation in the Irish city of Limerick after registering. ‘We thought we were safe,’ she said.

But Margaerita was approached by ‘George’, a 44-year-old Russian-speaker with a US passport who told her he ran an import and export business in America.

‘He was wearing a yellow jacket like the other volunteers and he had an official wristband which meant he had been vetted to provide transportation,’ said Margaerita. ‘He told me he was from the UN.’

She said George’s initially affable charm changed when she declined his offer. ‘We refused but he wouldn’t stop asking,’ she said.

Margaerita alerted a volunteer at a centre help desk, who challenged the stranger.

‘George’ was escorted out by security and has been banned from all humanitarian centres in Poland. The US embassy is investigating.

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Source: Daily Mail

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