Freedom Hall Recovery Center in Piketon has become a home to many young woman who have been rescued from the shackles of human trafficking and are able to share their stories. Among them is Elizabeth Tsymbal, 22, who is originally from California but made it to Ohio on a journey for hope which instead put her in cuffs attached to a man who was auctioning her off. There was already a half million dollar bid placed.
Tsymbal grew up the daughter of refugees from Ukraine. Her parents were hard workers, who had lived through the depression. Her father had several vocations among them being bee keeper, winemaker, farmer and mechanic. Tsymbal was one of 11 children. Her father was a hardened man, though those are not the exact words Tsymbal would use.
“He was very Russian,” she assured. “We were working a lot.”
The children were kept busy working on the farm with the exclusion of Tsymbal’s two disabled siblings, who occupied much of her mother’s time. However, it was not only that the father has stern and asked much of his children. Tsymbal says that he was also abusive.
As Tsymbal grew into adolescents, she started to rebel and got into some trouble in school. She had an older sister that she looked up to, a sister who was getting into a bit more trouble than she was. The first time Tsymbal smoked a cigarette or drank alcohol it was with this sister. By the age of 13, she was smoking weed. She started using pills when she was 15. Her sister always had pills, and they had other siblings who were using as well. Drugs were accessible to the young girl. As her drug addiction progressed, tension grew between Tsymbal and her parents. She even moved out as a young teenager. Then, at 17, the beautiful but vulnerable girl tried a drug that would take her to new extremes. She used methamphetamine for the first time.
“It took me downhill really fast,” she explained.
Tsymbal was soon living at her sister’s house. Her father would try to get her help by calling the police on her. She had no money. Life was a dark place. With no money to support her drug habit, Tsymbal starting selling was she had for drugs. All she had was her body. She would have sex with her drug dealer in exchange for her dope. No one seemed to be able to stop her. No one seemed to be able to help her. Before Tsymbal was 19, she had been in six rehabilitation programs and walked out or been kicked out of them. Her parents, especially her father, rarely wanted her around, but that never kept her from making visits home.
Tsymbal had men in and out of her life. She had grown to hate sex because of the shame she attached to it. However, that would change when a special guy came into her life. He was giving away a free dog on Facebook, and she had contacted him about. The two hit it off.
“He (David) was the best boyfriend I ever had,” Tsymbal stated.
Tsymbal cared much for David but little for herself.
“I was still using, and I looked terrible,” she stated. “I was embarrassed.”
After a fight with her father, Tsymbal and David found their relationship moving to the next level without little choice. Her father kicked her out, so she decided to move in with David at his parent’s house in 2015. For the first time in a long time, she was clean and sober. Life seemed to be going somewhere great. It was not long before Tsymbal was pregnant. She was still very young and had taken great care of her health. The pregnancy ended with her distraught over a miscarriage.
“Something flipped in me,” she remembered.
She lost control. Before that, alcohol had never really been her drug of choice. She could drink socially, but never had a problem with control. After her miscarriage, Tsymbal stayed drink. This went on for months until David and his parents could not deal with the ugliness of her addiction. She would have violent outbreaks and was difficult to deal with. She started seeing a counselor at their request but had no intention of getting help. One day her alcoholism landed her in the hospital. She got out to find her stuff packed on sitting on the porch of David’s house. She was no longer welcomed to live there, but the two could not seem to let go of one another. They were still seeing each other, and she was still drinking. She would even spike her morning coffee.
David was a corrections officer who got dragged into one of Tsymbal’s family fights one day. Mad at her father, the older sister told David that their father had molested one of their younger sisters — a story Tsymbal says is true. David was obligated to call the police was the reasoning behind involving the young man in the issue. This caused a riff in the family. Tsymbal’s father blamed David and forced her to choose between him or her family. Once again, she was not welcomed at her home. She was staying drunk and violent, but another opportunity for help became a possibility.
Tsymbal had another sister who was living in Ohio with her husband. She had told Tsymbal that she would be welcomed to come stay with her and change her life. The next day, she was at the airport. Ohio, however, could not change her.
In Ohio, Tsymbal had even more highs and lows. She met a guy and got a job, but she started drinking at the nearby bar and quit the job to get away from the bar. She would get drunk and crash her car. She would get both high and drunk and crash her car. And then, driving was no longer an option after wrecking it beyond being drive-able. Often, she found herself with no where to live. Guys would try to help because she was very pretty. Sometimes the guys would further her addictions. Sometimes they would try to save her. While hanging out in Jackson, she met James, who offered to have her car towed to him, where he would fix it. She was also staying with him, and he was driving her from Jackson to Columbus so that she could work. Once her car was fixed, she went on her way. For a period of time, she was living in her car.
During a short jail stay, Tsymbal met a girl who offered some help. She told Tsymbal that she had a friend named Keith, which Tsymbal says was not his real name. She never actually knew it. The girl gave this now addicted and homeless young girl the man’s number and explained that if she ever needed anything to call him. He was help, she assured.
After getting out of jail, Tsymbal stayed with friends as she could. On a cold day with no where to find shelter, Tsymbal called her sister from the docking area of a Kroger, asking her to bring a blanket. Afterward, she gave into the idea of asking for help. She called “Keith.”
When he picked her up, there was a girl in the car that was noticeably high. He drove them to a Motel 6, where there was another girl passed out. The next day he was gone.
“The girls asked me to step out,” Tsymbal remembers.
They had told her they were having a guy over to make some money. She went downstairs and called her mom. Tsymbal does not remember much. She says everything was kind of a blur, and she was blacking in and out a lot, something that she had never done from alcohol, which is all she was using at the time. She does remember that they had to leave the hotel in a hurry one day because of a girl dying. There is evidence that some things happened that Tsymbal does not remember. She had ended up in a hospital, telling hospital staff she was trying to jump out of a car to get away from a man, an event that she can’t recall. On another day that she does not remember, Tsymbal called the father of James from Jackson who fixed her car. Jame’s father was a bishop. After hearing a concerning message from her and not being able to reach her to return her call, he called the police. He was informed to keep calling her so that she could be tracked by phone. She was found in a car handcuffed to “Keith,” who she later discovered was a leading human trafficker. Tsymbal also found out that this man was auctioning her. Someone had placed a half million dollar bid already. For her own safety, she was taken to jail on an old warrant. There she stayed from Nov. 29 to Dec. 10, where her friend’s father picked her up. She has been in Freedom Hall since, where she is getting treatment for a lot including addiction. Much of her time in another’s possession she still barely remembers.
“I don’t know what he did to me,” she stated. “I was unconscious most of the time. I wish I could remember, but I can’t.”
She says that even through that experience she believes that her father hurt her more than that man that would send her to auction as livestock. It is her father that led her down the journey to this man. Tsymbal says she still feels a lot of anger toward her father. She still has much to cope with.
“I still feel I have a long journey ahead of me,” she stated. “I don’t want to ever go back to where I came from.”
Tsymbal says she hopes to stay sober because she wants to help people. After all that she has put others through, she feels a need to give back.
Reach Nikki Blankenship at 740-353-3101 ext. 1930.