Wednesday, May 27, 2009

On the great Ukrainian bride hunt part 6

By Kristoffer A. Garin

Nearly forty minutes passed before the women, trickling in ones and twos past the unsmiling attendants at the door, began to outnumber our group—plenty of time for bluster and small talk. “You ready?” the men asked one another. “What kind of numbers you think you'll get?” They looked less like globalized predators than dateless eighth-grade boys at a school dance. Some carried Polaroid cameras slung over their shoulders to help them keep track of the women they would meet; many held folios full of pictures from back home—the dog, the house, the car, the local supermarket.55. In the summer months, expats living in Kiev have told me, the outdoor caf├ęs in the tourist district are aflutter with older American men showing these albums to their young Ukrainian dates. One NGO worker said he remembers eavesdropping on a dentist who was actually showing his would-be bride pictures of teeth. “You overhear them all the time,” he told me. “The girl's feigning interest, but, God bless her, she's giving him some attention—because a normal person like you or I would slit our wrists over such a conversation.” Several of the men stood near the entranceway, scanning the line with a more specific anticipation than the others; marriage agency had allowed us, if we liked, to anonymously invite women from the website so that we could check them out in person without feeling obligated to entertain them. Women thus invited are often told that they have been requested but not by whom.

Wandering back and forth I saw one of the more colorful members of our group, a fish farmer whose wife had died five years earlier and who saw no prospects in the tiny rural community where he lived. Unlike most of the men, who were dressed up in one way or another—some in business suits, others in blazers or a shirt and tie—he wore a T-shirt (red, white, and blue horizontal stripes, tucked over his vast beer belly and into his jeans) and a pair of Wranglers. He clapped me on the back and gestured toward the doors. “Nice, watching the stock come in,” he said.

Ninety percent or more of the “stock” looked to be under the age of thirty-five, and more than half of them a good ten years younger than that. Most had dressed to impress, though there were a variety of styles in play, from the demure to the outrageous. Roughly half of the women, especially the older ones, came dressed in evening attire, business suits, or simply slacks and sweaters. But among the younger ladies, exposed midriffs and plunging necklines abounded. In the Ukrainian manner, there were miniskirts, fishnet stockings, and vertiginous high-heeled boots; ruffles, sequins, and sheer, frilly sleeves. A pair of girls, neither of whom could have been over twenty-two, were covered in glitter and wore their hair in identically cut Cleopatra bangs. Heavy makeup, especially around the eyes and cheekbones, was de rigueur. Almost all of the women had long, straight hair. I had the distinct impression that many were wearing their one nice outfit for the occasion.

As the room filled in earnest, I encountered Dan the Man, and I marveled to him about the sheer number of women who had come out for the event. Are things really so desperate for them here in Kiev? I asked.

The money, Dan told me, is only part of the problem. Even for the women who can make a good living, he claimed, it was all but impossible to find a good man. He gave me a practiced mini-seminar on the shortcomings of Ukrainian and Russian men—how they drink, philander, alternately beat and neglect their women; how even if the men were worth a damn, the population has grown so out of balance thanks to war and a short life expectancy for males that there simply aren't enough of them to go around; how men, in fact, are so scarce that more and more Ukrainian women are turning to lesbianism, so starved are they for sexual satisfaction.66. According to the CIA's estimates, the overall ratio of men to women in Ukraine is 86:100, as compared with 96:100 in Germany or 97:100 in the United States. But this statistic is heavily weighted toward citizens sixty-five and older; for Ukrainians fifteen to sixty-four, the ratio is a considerably healthier 92:100, a noteworthy gap, to be sure, though hardly a pretext for Sapphic revolution on a national scale.

“Wow,” I said. “Well, I guess I'm going to go walk around.”