Patrons Say Interclubs Were Not Brothels

Hundreds of girls swooned over British and U.S. sailors at three entertainment lounges set up by Soviet authorities during World War II. Some also made money on the side, selling sexual favors.

But several women who frequented the Interclubs and the Federal Security Service flatly rejected the notion that the clubs served as brothels.

"Archives about the Interclubs contain no evidence that they served as official brothels," said Natalya Ozhigina, a spokeswoman for the Arkhangelsk branch of the FSB.

The clubs -- located in Arkhangelsk, Murmansk and Molotovsk (now Severodvinsk) -- offered movies, music and dancing to sailors working in Arctic convoys, which delivered vital supplies from Britain and the United States to the Soviet Union under the Lend Lease program from August 1941 to May 1945.

Some of the sailors and girls had affairs, but only recently did speculation begin swirling that the clubs might have acts as brothels.

Fueling the rumors, U.S.-based author Leonid Perepletchik wrote a fictitious account of how Arkhangelsk's Interclub operated as an NKVD-organized brothel for foreign sailors. The story, published in the Word literature magazine in 2006, told of specially trained girls who simultaneously worked as prostitutes and spies and, after the last sailors left, were put on a ship that was sunk at sea.

Several years earlier, St. Petersburg filmmaker Alexei Uchitel considered shooting a film about 300 women who worked as prostitutes at Murmansk's Interclub and were subsequently drowned at sea. Uchitel told Izvestia in 2001 that he had "absolutely authentic" evidence to support his account.

However, Yury Aleksandrov, the head of Arctic Convoy, a veterans organization, dismissed the idea of the sunken ship, saying it was a maritime legend dating back at least 80 years. He said various retellings of the sinking had the boat filled with prostitutes, White Army officers and Tatars.

Aleksandrov also said there was no proof that the clubs were brothels. "We have asked our English veteran friends from the convoys, and they said there were no brothels. They even were insulted to hear the question," he said.

Two women who frequented the clubs -- Lidia Chernyayeva from Molotovsk and Valentina Yevleva from Arkhangelsk -- also said the clubs were not brothels.

One of the few Australians who took part in the Arctic convoys, Laurence Downey, said some young women working as hostesses at Molotovsk's Interclub accepted fees to help sailors find women willing to sell sexual favors.

"These girls were not prostitutes in the strictest sense of the word. They were, probably, married women trying to earn a living for their hungry families," he wrote in an unpublished biography available on the Internet.

Yevleva said prostitutes lived in her hometown of Arkhangelsk like in any other city but that they were not associated with the Interclub. From the age of 15 to 17, she dated U.S. and British sailors at the club -- relationships that caused the NKVD to declare her an enemy of the people in 1946 and imprison her for six years in a labor camp.

"Nobody was punished for prostitution," Yevleva said. "They punished us only for love."