Roadside girls of Russia sell sex for pounds 2.50

"LOOK OUT for the war memorial," I was told. I had passed the town of Torzhok on the highway north from Moscow to St Petersburg and left behind two villages with the curious names of Bolshaya Kiselyonka (Big Jelly) and Malenkaya Kiselyonka (Little Jelly). Where the road turned off to Vydrapusk (Otter's Chute), there was an overgrown garden with a white plaster statue of Mother Russia, beckoning with one hand, with the other protecting a child. Could that be it?

On closer inspection, I noticed that the lips of Mother Russia and of the child had been painted a bright carmine red. That was all. The monument was not defaced in any other way. It was hard to be sure. Kids might have done it for a joke.

But when I entered the village of Domoslavl, there could be no mistake. A teenage girl, dressed in white like the statue and with lips painted the same shade of red, was sitting on a bench. Down the whole length of the village, outside the fairytale wooden cottages, other girls were sitting on benches in the gathering dusk.

It was as my source had said. Here, on the edge of the Valdai lake district, one of the most beautiful national parks in European Russia, the population was reduced to such poverty that young women were selling themselves as prostitutes to passing drivers. The war memorial marked the start of the sex zone.

Last August, I drove up the same road and saw country people hawking buckets of berries, and workers from the Red May crystal factory, paid in kind rather than cash, trying to sell goblets and vases by the roadside. A year is a long time in Russian politics. Three prime ministers have come and gone. But ordinary Russians have only got poorer.

How do you start a conversation with a prostitute? In Domoslavl, it was all so obvious that the conversation happened naturally. "Yes, it's true," the pretty girl in the white dress said simply. She introduced herself as Katya. Soon she was joined by a fat lass in a white blouse, also called Katya. And a woman with straggly blond hair called Ira. And a giggly girl in velvet called Vika.

They were working. They were ready to serve clients, to be sure. But consciously or unconsciously, they were also making a statement. By theidentification with the statue, they were saying: "We and our country have come to this." It was a cry of despair, one they could not or did not want to articulate to me. "Some other girls did it," was all they said, when I asked who had painted the lips of Mother Russia.

With a pimp hovering in a nearby shop doorway - he made a note of my car registration number - our conversation was necessarily terse. Pretty Katya gave direct, practical answers but was not inclined to chat.

The girls earned 50 roubles (pounds 1.25) for oral sex and 100 roubles for intercourse during daylight hours, she said. The rate went up at night. The mafia controlled the business and the police took their cut. "Sure, it's dangerous and frightening for us," said Katya. "The clients take us off the road and we do it in their cars. So far, none of the girls has been hurt."

Katya, 21, said she had trained as a hairdresser but there was no work in the area. Fat Katya, 18, said that her qualification as a seamstress was equally useless as jobs were unobtainable. Ira, an older married woman with children, said that since her husband was unemployed, she had to go on the game to keep the family.

The area north of the industrial city of Tver is, indeed, an economic wasteland. Apart from the Red May glass factory, turning out crystal that nobody wants, there are few employers. The textile factories in the town of Vyshny Volochok are dying. Collective farms have collapsed while private agriculture has yet to flourish.

The region, with its pine trees and lakes, has great tourist potential but the infrastructure is not there to attract visitors who can get the same beauty with more comfort and service in Scandinavia. Girls who might have made hotel receptionists or waitresses turn to the oldest profession.

"If there is nothing for the older generation, then it is even harder for the youngsters to find a place in life," said Valya, a retired teacher, tending her goat on the grass verge. "It's common knowledge that this [the prostitution] is going on. Of course, we don't like it. We find it painful and embarrassing. But we all turn a blind eye to it."

"Never happened in my day," laughed Nina Vladimirovna, a pensioner. Suddenly she had to dash for the bus, the only one of the afternoon in this public transport desert where bus and train timetables are made not to co-ordinate.

The police station at Vyshny Volochok, the nearest administrative centre, looked like a Wild West jailhouse. On the pavement outside, a middle-aged man in a shell suit stood smoking with a swaggering youth in a cowboy hat, shoelace tie and square-cut black boots.

"Have you got permission from the chief?" asked the junior detective inside the station. I answered in the affirmative. He agreed to speak on condition that I did not name him.

"What can I tell you about the situation on the road?" he said. "We know who all the pimps are. And the ex- prostitutes, who are now madams. We know that something stands above them. The mafia, Russian in this case, not Caucasian. The girls are mostly local. They get transported from village to village by minibus.

"Both soliciting and exploiting prostitutes are illegal in Russia. Of course, the girls are only to be pitied, really. We would like to help them but it is a hard struggle. They simply won't give evidence against the people using them."

On the street outside again, the shell suit and the cowboy had met the police chief. Laughing, they all got into a car and zoomed on to the highway.

Returning to Moscow, I passed through Domoslavl once more. At a motel outside the village, some "hitchhikers" I had seen before were still flagging down cars in the same place for the second day running. In the town five lorries were parked. "Broken down," said one of the drivers. "I know about the girls, poor things. Would never use one. Happily married man with kids, hurrying home to the wife."

Five lorries, all broken down in one village. And as I drove away, I saw in my mirror a couple of girls approach the cabs. Waifs in white dresses. One of the most haunting sights in this suffering country.

Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth GamesJust 48 hours earlier cyclist was under the care of a doctor
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
arts + ents
News
Orville and Keith Harris. He covered up his condition by getting people to read out scripts to him
People
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
arts + entsFilmmaker posted a picture of Israeli actress Gal Gadot on Twitter
Sport
Vincenzo Nibali rides into Paris on the final stage of the 2014 Tour de France
Tour de FranceVincenzo Nibali is first Italian winner since Marco Pantani in 1998
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel
arts + entsPrince Oberyn nearly sets himself on fire with a flaming torch
News
Danny Nickerson, 6, has received 15,000 cards and presents from well-wishers around the world
newsDanny loves to see his name on paper, so his mother put out a request for cards - it went viral
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana stars in this summer's big hope Guardians of the Galaxy
filmHollywood's summer blockbusters are no longer money-spinners
Sport
Red Bull Racing's Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo (C) celebrates with Scuderia Ferrari's Spanish driver Fernando Alonso (L) and Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton
sport
Arts and Entertainment
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmComedy was dominated by the romcom at its most insufferable
Sport
Tour de France competitor Bartosz Huzarski’s legs have highlighted the gruelling nature of the race, after he posted a picture on Facebook showing extremely prominent veins stretching from his feet and all the way up his legs
Commonwealth Games
Life and Style
Elle Kaye demonstrates the art of taxidermy
food + drinkFood revolution taken a step further in new ‘edible taxidermy’ class
News
A rub on the tummy sprang Casey back to life
video
Sport
Halsall broke her personal best in the 50m butterfly
Commonwealth GamesEnglish swimmer is reborn after disastrous time at London 2012
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Life and Style
Workers in Seattle are paid 100 times as much as workers in Bangladesh
fashionSeattle company lets customers create their own clothes, then click 'buy' and wait for delivery
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Voices
The Express offices in the 1930s when writers (such as Orwell) were paid around £2 weekly
voicesWebsites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
A cut above: Katy Guest at The Ginger Pig
food + drinkThe Ginger Pig's hands-on approach to primary cuts
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Data Analyst

£30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable software house is looking ...

Application Support Analyst / Junior SQL Server DBA

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established professional services...

Commercial Litigation

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION SO...

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried