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Viktoria

Australian comes to Kiev on romantic tour to find a life partner and had acquired a new potency

By James Mackintosh

night kievThere were visitors to the glorious but elusive city of Kiev of the type you didn't seem to find elsewhere in the region. Central European capitals in summer usually sprouted masses of students, backpackers, couples, families, groups of pensioners - people from all nations admiring the culture, art and architecture. Floods of tourists descended on Prague and Budapest and then made their way further east to cities like Krakow or Warsaw or Kosice. Travelling to Russia entailed a greater psychological leap and required more planning and usually more money, but the number of individual tourists to Moscow and in particular to the showcase city, St Petersburg rose sharply during the nineties.

But curiously almost none of these regular tourists made it to Kiev, the "mother of Russian cities", with its gilded domes of churches and monasteries, lying on the peaceful green banks of the Dnepr. There was something about the whole set up, the visa regulations and the obscurity of the country, which put off all but the most hardened of tourist travellers. A Russian visa was challenging enough. Once they had succeeded in getting a Russian visa, they couldn't face the idea of doing it all over again for newly independent Ukraine, a country they knew nothing about and could find almost nothing written about in tourist guides.

Of course there were business and professional visitors, who came and checked out the country. There were the expatriates living in the city constantly escaping from and returning to their pressure-cooker existence in Kiev. But some of the so-called tourists who arrived in Kiev were men of a certain age who seemed to have lost their way in life and were floating on an uncertain sea. They came for a reason, not connected with the art or architecture or the scenery. They came to find an answer to a fundamental problem that life posed to them - their need for a partner. The flotsam and jetsam of western life washed up on the shores of Ukraine drawn by an attraction that outweighed all others - the women.

*****

John was an example of one of these creatures that had drifted rather aimlessly towards the flower of Ukrainian womanhood. He was a computer technician in a provincial university somewhere in Australia. John was Australian of Italian origin. The words that could most be used to describe him were 'nondescript and ordinary'. He had brownish, slightly curly hair that was neither long nor short. He had slightly furtive brown eyes and a small nose. He dressed in the regimental jeans and sneakers and t-shirt. He wasn't overweight but he wasn't skinny either. He didn't look strong or capable. He was just ordinary looking. One of those men who in their late thirties no longer have any means of attracting attention from women. He had lived for too long within the stultifying atmosphere of his little university town.

John had come to Kiev to visit a girl called Viktoria. Deneil knew Viktoria. He had met her late one night in the Caribbean club. She was a waitress in a restaurant somewhere in the city centre. He couldn't remember where. She'd been friendly with him and given him her mobile number and they had met again for coffee one afternoon. Soon after that she had called Deneil to ask if he could come and provide some company for her 'new' Australian boyfriend, who had just arrived and was ill after eating something that didn't agree with him.

Viktoria was small and lazy-eyed, with long dark hair and a pale complexion. She had a neat, attractive figure but a slightly decadent, sleepy look about her. She was half Armenian and half Russian. When she wasn't working as a waitress she played piano for a living. The summer before she had worked in Greece, playing Beatles covers and the latest pop songs with a small group, in a five star hotel. Occasionally she was allowed to show off her classical training with a quick rendition of Chopin or Schubert but mostly it was just background music for the holiday makers to drink and eat to. She explained to Deneil that John had met her whilst on holiday in Greece and decided to come and visit her. It seemed plausible and very romantic but Deneil had a strong inkling that it wasn't true. Since coming to this part of the world he had discovered a vast underground industry, exporting girls to the west through marriages agencies on the Internet. This charade was usually played out in the name of love and finding the perfect partner. On the whole though, it was clear that older, lonely western men would benefit from the undivided attentions of charming, younger women who could in turn profit by getting their hands on a western passport, their entry to an affluent, comfortable society. In general the women of Ukraine knew very little about the west, which to them seemed like a fairy tale enchanted land where men were kind and gentle and attractive and life was easy. They took it for granted that western men were soft and didn't understand what it was like to be without money. In most cases they were right. So there was a certain type of 'tourist' who arrived in the city to meet his 'girlfriend' and John seemed to fit the category of man crouched anxiously at the computer, surfing the Internet rather than a healthy, outgoing personality who had met Viktoria at a Greek holiday resort.

John and Viktoria were staying together in a flat in the centre of the city, which they had rented for a three-week period. Deneil was living round the corner and they invited him to visit them a number of times. Viktoria seemed fond of John in an abstracted sort of way, although Deneil couldn't see how he could compare with her previous boyfriend, a musician she had met whilst waiting tables in her restaurant. Deneil had watched him play jazz piano in Dynamo Lux nightclub. It was a sparkling performance and he exuded vitality and potency. John was a pale shadow of this man. However John offered two things her former boyfriend could not compete with. Financial security and a passport to the west. Little Viktoria, who had been badly hurt by a man in her past, was hard inside, with a self-centred selfishness that was singularly unattractive. After ten days or so Viktoria was openly calling John her fiancé and Deneil understood from their conversations that they were soon to get married. Then she would emigrate to Australia, become an Australian national, and the poverty of her home country would be a distasteful memory to be pushed aside. 'Where's the romance in that?' Deneil thought unhappily. Neither John nor Viktoria seemed to set much store by romance.
But there was something not normal about John. He could not adjust to life outside his native Australia. He couldn't seem to eat any of the local food. The healthy borscht and solianka soups went through his stomach like liquid. Vareniki, (a form of ravioli) and deruni (simple meat-potato pies) left him groaning and clutching his belly. The only substantial food he was able to hold down was McDonalds double cheeseburgers and fries. John grew thinner and he slept much of the day and night. Once when Deneil was in their flat and John was feeling unwell as usual, Viktoria turned on him angrily. 'What is wrong with you? Why can't you be a man!' Deneil understood things were not going well.

Viktoria was prepared to put up with the odder side of John's character to get her ticket to the west. She was a small woman with a high sex drive. John's weakness frustrated her. She was becoming increasingly restless. Their relationship was absolutely without sex. They slept in different beds in different rooms. John came up with an excuse that he didn't want to respect her less and that they should wait until they got married. In reality he seemed to be terrified of the prospect of sex. Viktoria didn't give a damn about waiting to get married. One evening she tried to seduce John. She succeeded in reaching under his pants and putting her hand on his male member. It was small and flaccid and it did not come to life under her caresses. John turned away almost in panic

Viktoria gradually realised that John had neither a psychological nor physical interest in sex. To all intents and purposes he was impotent. Why. She didn't know or care. He had explained that he had been very hurt by a relationship in the past. But Viktoria was not concerned about the past, only about the future. She decided she needed to return to her hometown for a few days rest from this irritating situation before they set out to Australia together.

*****

John was left on his own and to pass the time whilst Viktoria was away he walked around the streets. It was mid July and the weather was beautifully hot and the air was clear. There was something about the atmosphere of the city that was suggestive of sex. Something about the women. A constant message of expectation and consent. More than any other city, this was one of infinite sexual possibilities. The girls looked at men, especially foreigners, in a more longing way. Even very beautiful girls with wonderful figures seemed unaware of the value they possessed, perhaps precisely because they didn't possess value in their country. During the hot summer days when John was walking around at a loose end, he stared at these exotic, foreign girls. And what a mélange they were. Russian, Ukrainian, blonde Scandinavian types, Jewish, Greek, Tartar, Armenian - all the representatives of the old Russian empire for him to admire. They mostly wore short skirts and (a Kiev speciality) see-through muslin blouses over skimpy black bras out of which spilled generous, white, soft breasts. Lipstick was painted on their mouths in a great smudge of deep red, in stark contrast to their pale faces. There was something about the intensity of these girls that was highly disturbing. It was a constant temptation for any healthy, red-blooded male and John, walking around began to be affected by this visual feast. One Saturday, mingling with the early evening shopping crowds he realised he was having an erection. The blood had quite literally come back into his loins.

Some thirty minutes later he bumped into Deneil. They strolled together along Khreschatyk, the wide central boulevard lined with chestnut trees. On Saturdays after one o'clock the street was closed to traffic and became a huge, bustling pedestrian mall. They walked past the ponderous blocks of huge pseudo-classical buildings, the Soviet style reconstruction of the old Khreschatyk destroyed during the war. They went past the makeshift stores doing a roaring trade in pirated videos and software CD ROMs, past the busy outdoor cafes. They could feel the excitement in the air. Everyone was gearing up for Saturday night entertainment.
It was getting dark and Deneil proposed a drink at one of the cafes. As they sat looking out at the street, Deneil noticed from the way John was watching the passing girls that he was more alert than usual.
'What do you know of Kiev nightlife?' he asked.
'Almost nothing.'
'Well let me show you one place, the Cowboy Bar. I think you'll find it interesting, especially on a Saturday evening. It's just around the corner. If we go there in about one hour it should be really rocking.'
An hour later they left the café, already slightly drunk on Moldavian white wine. They turned right through one of the huge Stalinesque victory archways on to the Passazh, a narrow street running between imposing, Soviet style buildings. At the other end of the street was another victory archway and through it you could see elegant nineteenth century buildings with their ornate carvings, But on the corner, built literally under the archway, as if undermining it, were the steps leading down to the Cowboy Bar.

Deneil and John went downstairs like lambs to the slaughter but the slaughter was sweet. Once inside the blast of music and the hot, perspiring air melted their senses. The Cowboy Bar was modeled on a Wild West saloon with a long, wooden bar and swinging saloon doors. In fact it was the wild east in all its glory. When they arrived it was already bursting at the seams. It was a popular place with the expatriate community. It was also the place to pick up girls. What a crowd there was. Bankers, diplomats, the advertising crowd, millionaire company directors in town for a few days to recruit software specialists, antique traders, cigarette smugglers and girls, girls, girls! Nice girls, beautiful girls, ugly girls, amateur prostitutes and full time pros. No one minded and everyone had a good time. The place was heaving. Everybody was dancing.

As they moved through the crush, Deneil greeted someone he knew, a middle-aged English banker who had recently arrived in the city. He looked like a little cherry. He was small, bright and cheerful.

'The bank wants me back in London,' he shouted to Deneil. 'How can I go back to England,' he said, 'when I've got this,' and he gestured at the mass of dancing, female bodies in front of them. 'I can't keep away from this place. It's just marvelous.'
'What about the quiet life?' Deneil shouted back.
'The quiet life!' he snorted. "Give me the quiet life when I'm past seventy - not now. There's too much to enjoy.'
That was the kind of place the Cowboy Bar was. It was highly addictive.
Deneil and John made their way slowly through the crush of people at the bar clamouring to buy drinks. John found himself being pushed up against a plump, attractive girl. His jeans pocket with his protruding wallet in it was jammed against her bottom. She turned her head and gave him a totally provocative, knowing and generous smile.
'You are English,' she said.
'No Australian, 'John muttered
'Ah, from Sydney?'

He didn't contradict her. She smiled at him again and her smile was so frank and suggestive that he felt almost weak at the knees.
They stayed in the crush at the bar. The small dance floor was full of heaving bodies. Some of the dancers were up on tables removing articles of clothing to wild cheering and encouragement. Deneil soon met a girl he knew and started dancing with her. John stood staring at the spectacle bewildered by this array of female flesh around him. Suddenly he felt a hand pinch his buttock. He whirled round suspecting someone of trying to steal his wallet but it was the same plump, sensual girl grinning at him. She was moving her red, inviting lips but he could hardly hear what she was saying. He leant forward and as his body touched hers he felt a wave of passion thrill him.
'We can dance?' she said.
'Yes,' John replied as if in a daze.

They moved to the very middle of the small dancing area surrounded by anonymous bodies in the darkness. They came together and the closeness of the girl excited him even more and when he looked in her eyes he knew she understood exactly what he was experiencing and was enjoying the sensation. He moved closer to her she responded by gently pushing against him. He edged even closer until they were bonded together and she slowly rubbed her body against his - until suddenly he knew that his defences were about to give way. All that paranoia, all that fear, the months of depression, of lowered self-esteem, everything that had destroyed his capacity for sex - was brushed aside. His mind was closing down and pure animal instincts, dormant for so long, were taking over. He stiffened and groaned and clutched the girl and they rocked back and forth for a few seconds in blind ecstasy - and then suddenly he jerked back and blundered clumsily away from her through the crowded dance floor and back to the bar. His mind was swimming. There was not enough air. He had to get out.
Finally he made it to the entrance and stood panting in the cool night air. His heart was racing as if he had run a hundred metres race and he was smiling, a big foolish grin on his face. He was potent. He was a man again.

*****

Meanwhile Viktoria was relaxing in her hometown. She had met her former musician boyfriend again and willingly submitted to his demands. They made explosive love together. After her enforced period of abstinence she needed this physical attention so badly. In the quiet minutes after their passion was spent, Viktoria realised that John was in fact a monumental bore. She could hardly summon up the interest to return to Kiev. She had no physical attachment to him and hardly any emotional attachment. Was it all worth it?

She came back to Kiev anyway. The lure of the Australian passport was very strong. When she entered the flat John was waiting for her with an odd grin on his face. Her heart sank when she saw him but she steeled herself to be patient and friendly.
'John,' she said. 'How are you. I hope you weren't bored when I was away.' For reply he came towards her and put one arm round her.
'John - what are you doing? '

He drew her hand down and placed it on his male member. It was flaccid but it was stirring and getting harder. One week before, Viktoria might have welcomed this as evidence that John was at least normal and they would be able to establish some kind of physical life together. Now, she was repulsed. All her female instincts shrieked out against touching and being touched by this man.
'No, John,' she almost screamed and she pulled her hand away sharply.
'Why no?' he said. 'You were the one who wanted this - now I do too.'
'Yes, but I've changed my mind. I can't explain. I've thought about this - oh what's the point,' she said, her voice mounting with anger and she got up and left the room.

The next day Viktoria packed and left early in the morning. She told John she was taking the train to her hometown and not coming back. She didn't explain why. She didn't need to. It was obvious that whatever there had been between her and John was over. The arrangements they had made were irrevocably torn asunder.
John sat in the flat all day and brooded. Towards evening he called Deneil and explained the situation.
'I'll come over,' said Deneil.
Thirty minutes later they were sitting in a bar on Volodymirska Street looking out at the green and gold domes of St Sophia cathedral.
'I have no luck with women,' John said. 'They find me unattractive. They don't want me. They don't even want to spend any time with me. I bore them. I know I do. Why do you think I came here in the first place? I was lonely, so lonely. But it's no good. You can't run away from yourself. There's no point in staying here. I'll be flying out on Monday. Thanks for your company anyway, mate.'

Deneil could see that John was deeply hurt by Viktoria's behaviour.
'It's just a different culture,' he said, 'different expectations.' You both wanted different things and it didn't work out. It happens all the time. But look, if you want my advice, meet someone from your own culture, or try to. Don't get involved with girls like Viktoria. That type will always play a double game - she would have made you miserable. Regard it as a lucky escape.' He paused. 'But who am I to give advice?' he continued. 'I've made so many mistakes and I continue to make them. I live here. I'm addicted. I can't get away from these damn women - the most wonderful women in the world you know.' He grinned and raised his glass. 'Cheers,' he said 'and good luck,' and as they shook hands Deneil suddenly felt great compassion for the lost and pathetic man in front of him.

*****

When John got back to Australia he continued much as he had before he had left. He lived in the same town, worked at the same job and met up with the same people. But something profound had changed in his physiological make-up. He could not help dreaming of the sensual girls he had so admired in the streets of Kiev and every time he thought of those exquisite minutes dancing in the darkness of the Cowboy Bar he smiled to himself and if he was alone, he even laughed out loud. He understood that he had acquired a new potency; a new strength and this gave him renewed confidence in life.

Some five months later Deneil received an e-mail from John.
'Deneil, thanks a lot for your support during my time in Kiev. It was a very difficult period for me. You'll be pleased to hear I've taken your advice. I am in a relationship with a woman from a neighbouring town, Yvonne. She's about my age, divorced and already has two teenage kids. We are very happy together and recently got engaged and will marry next month. We have just found out some wonderful news and I wanted you to be one of the first to know. Yvonne is pregnant! We are both thrilled! The baby is due in July. Wish us luck in our new life together and please visit if you ever come to Australia. John.'

Dating Russian women:

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