The Mail Order Bride Sites Exploiting War in Ukraine to Find Women
In an exclusive undercover investigation, Sian Norris discovers how websites advertising mail order brides are using Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to drum up business
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Websites offering mail order brides are exploiting the war in Ukraine to attract more business, an investigation by Byline Times can reveal.
Websites that review and offer advice to men on how to find a mail order bride from eastern Europe are pitching the service as a way to “support Ukrainian women”.
One website known as NewBrides describes itself as an “informative source that is perfect for men who dream to find a mail order bride abroad”.
It ran an article on 16 April – nearly two months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – asking “Ukrainian mail order brides – why is their popularity on the rise?”
The answer, according to the website, is war.
The article states that the number of Ukrainian mail order brides is “at its peak” and that, as a result of the Russian invasion, “the ladies are looking for ways to move abroad because they’re scared for their lives”.
“As you might have heard,” the article continues, “there’s a war happening in Ukraine… they’re looking for ways to leave their country because they want to be safe. And marrying Western men who will support them and surround them with love and care is one of the best options for these ladies.”
This line of argument suggests that a war in which women are being raped, abused, losing their homes, lives and loved ones is in fact an opportunity for men to find a wife – and for mail order bride sites to boost their profits.
“It’s an exploitative industry and it has been for a long time,” Dr Natasha Carver, of the Specialist Research Institute at Migration Mobilities Bristol, told Byline Times. “So the war in one sense is just another situation to exploit.”
While the website is targeted at US men, the fact that becoming a mail order bride is presented as “one of the best options for these ladies” highlights the gaps in protections for Ukrainian women seeking asylum. In the UK, refugees fleeing Russia’s invasion can come to the country on a family visa or with a Homes for Ukraine visa – but safeguarding concerns remain.
The article’s author reassures men searching for a bride that, despite the trauma of war, a Ukrainian woman is “optimistic” and the war has only made her “stronger”. It continues: “She sees something good even in the most challenging situations because she understands that positivity is the only thing that will help her stay afloat.”
The rhetoric seeks to present women fleeing war as grateful and happy – denying the reality of the impact of Russia’s invasion and the potential traumatising effects of fleeing war. Russian forces have been accused of rape and summary executions, and have bombed civilian targets such as maternity wards.
Western men, the article continues, “can help Ukrainian women become happier and safer”, meaning that she will be “forever grateful” to him.
This narrative denies agency and humanity to women fleeing war and sends a message to men that the women they find online will only and always be pliable and thankful.
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“The advertising relies on a colonial discourse,” said Dr Carver. “With the white man as saviour, rescuing the woman. In these cases, the women are being sold an image of a Western man who is wealthy, caring and holds modern or progressive views on gender, while the men are being sold a very Orientalist image of women who are passive and subservient on the one hand, but also at the same time exotic and sexually voracious.”
Dr Carver sees the promotion of mail order brides as reflecting what academics call the ‘gendered geographies of power’.
“This phrase captures the relevance of global structural inequalities which result in Western men being able to claim a superior status over women from non-Western countries whatever their actual circumstances,” she said. “Even the phrase itself – mail-order bride – speaks to this: the woman is called a bride to denote her as virginal, while the ‘mail-order’ bit makes her a commodity.”
One of the more sexually graphic mail order bride websites referred to the women on the website as “desperate girls” but it was not clear if this meant due to the danger in Ukraine.
A second website, FindForeignBrides, also reviews and redirects to different mail order bride sites. It explains that marrying a Ukrainian woman is “affordable” and that “one can easily buy… a Ukraine mail order wife through online dating platforms”.
As before, heavily gendered and racialised stereotypes are used to best “sell” Ukrainian women to Western men.
Looking for Brides Online
There are dozens of websites catering for men looking for mail order Ukrainian brides – with the top-rated ones listed on both NewBrides and FindForeignBrides.
Byline Times found that many of the individual sites were run by an overarching company featuring hundreds of profiles.
This reporter went undercover using the fake name ‘Alex’, as well as a fake email address and date of birth to access the larger websites. The accounts have now been deactivated.
No messages were exchanged, no money was spent, and there was no interaction with the women on the websites.
One website featured chat pop-ups from women inviting Alex to chat. The majority of the approaches were explicitly sexual, but some referenced the war in Ukraine.
One woman asked if she could work in the UK if she was a refugee, while another asked how many refugees were now in the UK. Another said that she was looking for a room and could Alex help.
Currently, Ukrainian refugees coming to the UK must apply for a visa either on the Ukraine Family Scheme or through the Homes for Ukraine scheme. The examples suggest that some women feel that they have few options but to seek a sponsor via dating and mail order bride websites.
“Many commentators have said that the UK political response to refugees from Ukraine has been atrocious,” said Dr Carver. “But the fact is that this has been the case for all refugees for many years, and is getting worse year on year – the Government seems to be out of step with public feeling on this.”
She added: “Immigration laws that make migrant spouses dependent for five years on their British husband or wife exacerbate and even create unequal power dynamics, whatever the circumstances of how they met.”
Other messages on sites appeared to reference the crisis, asking for “support right now”; to be “saved from a nightmare”; and for “invitations to the United Kingdom from you”. These chat invites could be interpreted more generically however, and as not necessarily related to the war.
At least one profile on the top-rated website on NewBrides referenced the war. The young woman said that “before everything was different” she had wanted to travel.
The opportunism of mail order bride websites is a clear and disturbing example of big businesses seeking to profit from a humanitarian crisis. But Dr Natasha Carver warns against demonising the men who seek to find a partner through these sites.
“It would be easy to demonise the men accessing these sites but many of them are also vulnerable,” she said. “Research shows that women are exploited by these sites and so are men. The solution is to focus on changing structural inequality, such as hostile immigration policies.”
NewBrides did not respond to a request for comment.