By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
One of the reasons for the recent mail-order surge can be summed up in two words: Russian women. "We were raised on you being the enemy, our mortal enemy," says a Florida man writing on the Web site Russian Girls-Russian Wives. "And all we saw of Russian women was babushkas, and we felt so sorry for Russian men, but not sorry because obviously as an enemy of the 'Great United States' this was what they deserved. Imagine to our shock as Eastern women began showing up in American magazines and with the advent of the Internet and Russian sites, our tongues hang to the floor."
Bob Buss flips through the snapshots on his coffee table, pictures of his life that he showed off and passed around to the girls he met in Odessa and Kiev last August. "What I did was, I had a routine. I brought pictures," Buss says. "I was the only guy that picked up on that one. That was a huge edge. Huge." Yet he was surprised by the images these women gravitated toward. It wasn't the picture of Bob by his big-screen TV, or Bob in his back yard by the lake, or even Bob by his Jeep Cherokee. They were most interested in group photos of Bob and his family. "The materialism pictures, which I thought were going to be the big seller, they didn't go over that well," Buss says. "What they really are after as far as I can see, is they're not really after the big buck. They're after somebody who is a decent human being, who they think they can live with."
Buss estimates he met some 30 women during his 10-day tour. "There were seven that I would say I was actually out on an encounter," he says. While he wouldn't describe how close those encounters got, Buss says anything can happen. The hotel lobbies were crawling with prostitutes, a common sight on these matchmaking junkets. "There were an amazing amount of beautiful women that were hanging in the hotel lobby," says Hickman's Arizona millionaire. "Prostitution is very big, and there's a lot of it there. The women are stunning."
Indeed they are. Anastasia publishes a catalog jammed with hundreds of women--blondes, brunettes, redheads--most under 30. They're slim and leggy with sumptuous lips. They assume a variety of poses: sitting, standing, lying down, or on all fours like a cat in heat. They pose in everything from slit evening gowns to microminis to hot pants to swimsuits to loud vinyl. One hopeful named Darina saw fit to pose in a white tutu on pointe.
Professions also run the gamut: teachers, secretaries, speech therapists, accountants, economists, medical students, engineers, musicians--even a Toyota plant manager. The women include descriptions of themselves with their photos, as well as a synopsis of the man of their dreams. Sometimes the combination of earnestness and starched English can be intriguing. Olga, a 22-year-old from the Ukraine, describes herself and her potential partner this way on the Web site Blue Sapphires, Beautiful Russian Brides:
In Own Words: I am a kind, sympathetic, cheerful, sociable, orderly, industrious, punctual lady. Do not you get tired of all my positive features of character? So I am also a considerate, purposeful, patient and gentle lady. Is it really I? I hope yes. I like to travel, dance, listen to music, cook delicious dishes, socialize with friends, play with children, dream and swim. In general, if you write me I will be very glad. Internet--it is so popular now! Who knows, maybe I can really find a man who will match me.
Seeks Partner: An educated, sociable, nice, kind, patient man with a good sense of humor and without tendency to corpulence. A man who loves life, children, sex. A man who will understand that I am his special woman.
The reasons some American men are flocking to Russia for women are not complicated. First, there are a lot of young and available women in the republics of the former Soviet Union. Decades of famine, collectivization, the Gulag and wars, most recently those in Afghanistan and Chechnya, have created a demographic asymmetry in which Russian women considerably outnumber men. And the situation continues to get worse. Last March, Russian sociologists and demographic experts sounded the alarm, warning that Russian men are becoming an endangered species. A combination of alcoholism and work-related accidents has decimated the male population over the last 10 years, resulting in a net loss of some 5 million men of working age. Current life expectancy for Russian men is 59 years, significantly lower than the 72-year life span for Russian women.
And Russian women aren't exactly enamored with the surviving crop. "They have a little bit different quality," says psychiatrist Svetlana Mahoney of Alabama, who met her husband Richard through Houston-based One True Love. "They are not so responsible. Not at all. They are not very faithful to family and children." Yana Hickman adds that Russian women believe American men are very romantic, while Russian men often fall short in that department. She adds that many Russian women have suffered at the hands of Russian men, who tend to drink too much vodka.