By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Bob Buss describes an Odessa social he attended in a club that was converted into a Greek temple. The waitresses wore togas. Greek columns served as décor. Everything was Greek, except the toilets. These were Turkish, with a flush mechanism consisting of a simple hand brush--to, uh, brush away the waste into a small hole--and a bucket of water. "I never did any squatting while I was there," Buss says. "I made sure that I would do my thing at the hotel before I left. I kind of regulated myself where I never had that experience."
What he did experience was a flood of beautiful, twentysomething Ukrainian women dressed for American male slaughter in miniskirts, stilettos and various push-up apparatuses.
The men, however, were not so choice. Included in Buss' squad was a 65-ish man with a heart condition in a feverish quest for his fourth wife. Another was an 82-year-old retired emergency-room physician from Wichita, Kansas, who fashioned himself a ladies' man. "He had a face like a hundred miles of bad road," recalls Buss. "He brought one tiny piece of luggage. Turns out he wore the same thing every day and just washed it at night. He asked the same questions over and over. Turns out he has memory problems. He's like in Ronald Reagan land."
The last several months, it turns out, have brought a wave of Russia mail-order love-gone-wrong stories. Late last year, a 20-year-old Russian woman was found buried in a dumping ground outside of Seattle. She had been strangled. Her American husband, who had found her through a correspondence service, was charged in connection with the murder, which was described as a tangled tale of homosexual trysts, spousal abuse, adultery and deception.
And in Anchorage, Alaska, last January, four people, including a Russian and a Russian-American who operated a "Russian Brides" and "Sex Tours of St. Petersburg" Web site, were arrested and charged with immigration fraud and kidnapping, among other charges. The group participated in a scam to lure Russian girls to Alaska under the guise of a cultural exchange. Instead, the women were forced to work in a strip club while the conspirators confiscated their wages and passports. Media stories such as these circulate among Russian women looking for an American husband, chilling the feet of many prospective fiancees.
"My only fear right now is getting her here," says a chemist from Anchorage who spoke on the condition that he not be named and recently became engaged to a Russian rocket scientist through One True Love. "I'm afraid that she might change her mind or back out."
Yet while these stories arouse suspicion of fraud and abuse, the INS says existing data fails to establish that the international matchmaking industry contributes significantly to such exploitation.
But that's no consolation for Buss. He was hoping to have his bride-to-be, Liliya Perevozchik, with him on his homestead in Little Elm by this time. Instead, he believes he may have lost her. "She's afraid to come to America," he says. "Her mom doesn't want her to leave. I'm just betwixt and between. The papers are set."
Buss met his fiancee at one of the Anastasia socials in Kiev last summer. He's visited her three times since then, even buying her a wedding dress. But after several months of arduous maneuvering to obtain a fiancee visa for Liliya, Buss says she started seeming reluctant. He says she's afraid to leave her family, and she's spooked by the story of the murdered Russian girl near Seattle. "She misses me, but she's afraid to come," he continues. "She has a fear I might turn on her...It's difficult. Where I am right now is to be continued, and I don't know the outcome."
Though he's feeling dejected, Buss isn't taking any chances. He's already planning to go on another Russian matchmaking tour this summer.