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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

FRAGMENTS: June 22 No Party for These Ladies




I first saw the young people from some distance away. It was about 10 on Thursday night, and I was walking home somewhat late from the metro. They were dressed as if for a party and standing near one wall of the institute near my apartment building. Oh, how nice, I thought. It's a vypusknoi vecher, a graduation party.


Then I spotted one young woman who looked like she was dressed somewhat inappropriately frather skimpily f for a graduation party. Her filmy-thin pink dress just covered the strategic portions of the upper part of her body. I scanned the crowd again; there actually were no young men standing among the young women. Then I realized what was happening: These were not young people gathering to celebrate the completion of their education and their entry into a new profession; these were young women out on the street, ready for a night of plying the world's oldest profession.


A car drove up and the women quickly formed a neat row, a bevy of beauties posing in various attitudes in the glare of the headlights. The newly arrived client surveyed the goods from the comfort of the driver's seat.


I approached one of the young women. This is my neighborhood, I thought, and I want to know what's going on.


The young woman identified herself as Karina, 20. She was very pretty, tall and slender. She said she was from Nizhny Novgorod. She said she has been in Moscow two months, that she lives with two other girls near Otradnoye metro station, and that she gets 50 percent of the take on any given night, which can be as much as $100.


I asked if her parents knew what she was doing. No. And what would they think if they found out? "They'd probably be shocked, because my upbringing was very different."


I have interviewed women in this trade before, several times on Ulitsa Tverskaya and again on Kotelnicheskaya Naberezhnaya, where many of the women went in the summer of 1997 when then-Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov suggested flippantly that they leave the center of town for the periphery.


And the periphery seems to be where these women will congregate in the future. The glory days of working on Tverskaya seem to be over. The women say there is pressure on them to leave their old haunts. And so they travel around the city in groups f staying in certain spots so long as they are not disturbed by the militsiya f a wandering caravan of lost hopes and missed opportunities.


An elderly woman approached the crowd. "Oh, the girls are dressed so beautifully," she said as the women milled about in the street, their legs visible through sheer skirts. "Do you know why they're here?" I asked. The woman, 71, said she had had the same thought I did, that these were recent graduates. When she learned the real motivation for their gathering, her jaw dropped. "Really?!" She said if her daughter had ever walked the street, she would have strangled her. "The main thing is not to be afraid to work."


But a man who identified himself as Goga, a 45-year-old driver for some of the women, said that they aren't afraid to work; they just can't find any other employment. "Of course, if they had other opportunities, they wouldn't be here."


A Zhiguli slowed down, its headlights scanning the crowd. "Seventy dollars!" shouted Olesya, an attractive 31-year-old blonde who said she acted as the mamochka, "mommy," for the group. The women lined up again.


I looked at my watch. It was almost midnight. There was still a bit of light in the sky, but I was tired. It was the end of June 22, the 59th anniversary of the day the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union. As I took my leave of Goga, Karina, Olesya and the other women, I wondered how many of their fathers and grandfathers had defended this country so that their children could enjoy this kind of heritage.