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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Developer - HTML, CSS, Javascript

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Application Developer - ...

Ashdown Group: B2B Marketing Manager - Events, Digital, Offline

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: B2B Marketing Manager (Events, Digit...

Guru Careers: Senior Account Manager / SAM

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: A Senior Account Manager / SAM is needed to join the ...

Day In a Page

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

The end of an era across the continent

It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

'Focus on killing American people'

Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

Same-sex marriage

As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

The Mafia is going freelance

Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable