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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

An Undercover Housekeeper Serves Up the Dirt

MTKomsomolskaya Pravda opted to show Tankova in a different uniform from the one she actually wore at the hotel.
Having paid 600 euros ($815) for a room in a five-star hotel, few guests would have guessed that the young woman cleaning their room was no ordinary housekeeper, but a journalist for the country's most famous tabloid.

But the exploits of Yaroslava Tankova have been splashed all over Komsomolskaya Pravda for the last month, as she has provided tales about foreigners and prostitutes, as well as describing exploitative working conditions.

Tankova, who once also went undercover as a homeless person for a piece for the paper, worked for a month at the hotel, which was not named in the piece.

While the fact that nobody at the hotel realized she was a journalist might be a sign of poor hotel security, Tankova said this was far from the biggest problem in that area.

"You can bring anything in that you can fit in a purse, even a small caliber machine gun," she wrote.

Tankova says she didn't go that far, but she did smuggle in a fake pistol and large quantities of soap, which she used as a substitute for explosives in her security experiment. The newspaper's web site features pictures of her attaching the chunks of soap under tables and beds in hotel rooms to show how easily she could have hidden explosives.

Although the paper did not print the name of the hotel, it did provide readers with some clues. At one point, Tankova says she was cleaning the rooms of the Canadian national hockey team. After the hockey World Championship in April and May, the ultimate winners of the tournament stayed at the five-star Swissotel Krasniye Kholmi.

Representatives of Swissotel Krasniye Kholmi Moscow refused to comment on the Komsomolskaya Pravda story, while those from other five-star hotels said they could not comment because they had not read any of the pieces.

Attempts to contact Tankova for comment on the piece went unanswered.

Despite its penchant for sensationalism, Komsomolskaya Pravda undercut the investigative feel by running the story every day for almost three weeks and by regularly accompanying the pieces with pictures of Tankova in a low-cut maid's outfit that looked more like something out of a bachelor party than the drab and uncomfortable uniform she describes in her pieces.

Tankova said the housekeepers at the hotel were required to work 60 hours per week, although they are paid for only 40.

"If they had unions, this would not happen," said Sergei Chaly, the head of the union for municipal workers in Moscow, which covers hotel workers. Chaly said the problem was widespread, as most of the city's five-star hotels are not unionized.

As for the running of the hotel, the account Tankova provides is not flattering either, and the story of a fellow housekeeper using a guest's toothbrush to clean a sink is not the worst of it.

At one point, Tankova writes about spotting a preteen Russian girl with a foreign man at the hotel. After overhearing a suspicious conversation, she tells the management, which refuses to do anything. She meets with the same lack of action after reporting that a patron had sexually harassed her.

Male guests often bring women back to the hotel, and assuming that many of the women are prostitutes, she says there was a big difference between the behavior of the foreign and Russian guests. While the Russians tend to be pretty brazen, she says, the foreigners usually look away, as if embarrassed, the next day.

While Tankova's expose tried to bring to light some of the hardships faced by housekeepers working in the hotel, not all of her erstwhile colleagues appreciated the effort.

"Why have you let us down?" one of the workers wrote to the newspaper. "We accepted you as one of our own, and you have aired all of our dirty laundry."

"There have been reprisals at work because of you," the housekeeper said.

For prospective guests, Tankova offered two main pieces of advice: Don't leave toothbrushes out and hand any tips directly to housekeepers rather than leaving them in the room.

She said money left in the room tended to be taken by other employees -- her explanation for the fact that she did not make anything in tips.