Kyiv Post









The Sex Issue

1 August 2003, 11:48 | Sam Singh, Special to the Post


Kyryl Kislyakov
A photographer for the InterDating
marriage agency takes portfolio shots
of hopeful bride-to-be Svetlana at the
company’s offices in central Kyiv.


When it comes to sex, the Ukrainian capital sells itself'


According to statistics provided by Valentyna Demyanenko, head of the Department of Demographic Statistics at Kyiv’s Regional Division of the State Statistics Committee, 19,002 registered weddings took place in the city last year.


Are men from Mars?

In the capital of a country lauded by the Beatles for its knockout women, single men in Kyiv have reason to behave like kids in a proverbial candy store. Beautiful women are seemingly everywhere. When it comes to finding  a partner, life for men here has few parallels.

The ex-pat bar scene, for example, holds considerable promise for men on the prowl. Bars and pubs draw loyal crowds of mostly male foreigners – and the women that go there to meet them. Such places allow ex-pats to find their bearings – a “home away from home.” Many hip hang-outs, such as Art Club 44, Baboon, Bukva and Eric’s Bierstube are located near major universities and business areas, and for the men especially the experience can be almost overwhelming.

“The first thing that the guys in the office talked about was how beautiful the women are here,” said Thomas, 22, who came to Kyiv from Germany. “It was absolutely impossible to avoid the topic.” Among the places he’s quickly come to enjoy for dancing and socializing are Art Club 44, Caribbean Club and Tchaikovsky. “But it’s amazing how fast things change here in such a short time,” he said, referring to clubs. “These places are good for a couple of months, and then they begin to attract a bad crowd.”

After “graduating” from the more low-key and familiar pub scene, young ex-pats move on to mingle with Ukrainians at the capital’s most popular clubs, including Tchaikovsky and Ozone. These venues are great for people watching, but the consensus on meeting people in them remains decidedly mixed.

Yura, a 26-year-old Ukrainian, considers Fusion one of his favorite spots. He said that he considers many factors when choosing a club.

“Many clubs are really expensive, but some can be a good investment when it comes to meeting someone.” He also enjoys 44 during a concert or Molodyzhny Beach in Hydropark on a hot sunny day.

When it comes to bars and clubs, more than a few women have a cautious, even cynical outlook. Still, many female socialites in Kyiv love to see others and be seen as much as men do.

“The most popular way to meet someone is to go to a bar or disco. There everything goes naturally. You meet, talk and so on,” said Katerina, a sport club manager who’s 25. “That’s how I met my husband.”

Natasha, a 20-year-old restaurant waitress who specifically mentioned Opium, 111 and Hydropark as places to meet guys, recalled meeting several boyfriends in nightclubs. She admitted having better luck with club employees (barmen, deejays) than with other patrons, probably because employees don’t usually expect to meet new acquaintances. Patrons, on the other hand, do, and that can leave some who feel intimidated by the bar scene, such as Markus from Sweden, feeling put off.

“Girls [at some premiere clubs] are a bit snobbish. You have to be in ‘perfect mode’ to talk to them,” he said.

Overall, Kyiv’s single population extolled the virtues of that famous pick-up spot, Art Club 44. And why not? Owner Eric Aigner has a reputation for establishments that tend to be cozy and overflowing with a sophisticated singles crowd. Elbowing through standing-room only crowds invites random conversations, and asking for someone’s pretzels is a pick-up line that actually works. What’s Aigner’s secret?

“It has a democratic atmosphere,” he said. “You can meet people from different levels – students, ex-pats and businessmen. They all come together here.”


The ladylike Venus

In general, women tend to speak more openly than men about meeting partners in more conventional places, like shops, the gym, the office, or in specialized groups.

Elena, 26, PR manager of a venture capital firm, said that clubs might be well-suited for meeting friends and colleagues, but there are no secrets to finding someone special; it could happen anywhere.

“In Ukraine we say that a person beautifies a place. A woman’s inner energy and good mood may be felt by others and, I hope, by men,” she said.

Definitely not all Kyivans are enthusiastic about clubbing.

“In my experience, clubs are useless,” said 25-year-old Viktoria, who works in photography. “Most people go there to hang out with their friends, or to meet prostitutes [one-night stands].”

She mentioned yoga class as a good place to meet people, as well as concerts at 44, “since most people go there for the music.”

Speaking of music, trendy book stores Baboon and Bukva host a variety of concerts, and their atmosphere often provides concert-goers who share musical tastes with just the spark they need to ignite a relationship.


Helping hands

Over time, the pub and club scene wears many out, especially ex-pats in their search for a soul mate. Those who want to get serious can surf the Internet and check the classified ads. What they’ll find is that there are plenty of Ukrainian women registered with dating and marriage agencies who want the same thing they do.

With demand in the market being driven by men, obviously little room is left for single women. A few agencies do claim to have men registered in their databases, but as one agency’s receptionist said, “In the 2.5 years I’ve been working here, we’ve only had one person inquire about dating Ukrainian men.”

In either case, it all starts with a phone call.

For men, the process seems easy enough. After being invited to an office or apartment, men may peruse a catalogue of women listed with the agency. For women, they don’t need to accomplish a task so much as cross their fingers that the next agency client will settle upon their photo after flipping through the agency catalogue. With thousands upon thousands of women to choose from, a woman’s chances for meeting any client grow smaller with each turn of the page. Even with flattering photos to go with their first name, age and other telling personal details, many try to stand out further with a personal greeting that goes with their portfolio.


Taking care of business

After the man chooses one or several people that he’d like to meet, agencies require him to pay a fee before he goes any further – anywhere from $15 and $50 per candidate.

Most agencies will take care of arranging the first “date,” and will provide a translator if required at low cost. Some even put together day- or week-long tours that include accommodations, visas, a driver and candlelit dinners with as many women as the man fancies for as little as $300.

What kind of women do they typically meet?

“Women with traditional values who act like women,” explains Brett Ousley from Kiev Connections. He estimates there may be up to one million women registered with agencies in the former Soviet Union.

“Like all of us, they want a better life, not just materially,” Ousley said. “They’re looking for kind, loving men who can be nice fathers and good husbands.”

Who are their would-be mates? Typically, they’re over 40 with above average incomes and permanent homes in the West. Alex, a Russian-born Australian citizen, is one of them.

After looking for an Orthodox bride in his newly adopted land turned out to be a huge disappointment, Alex went back to his roots – sort of.

“This is all new to me, and I’m a bit nervous,” he said, “but if it can work out then by all means I’ll give it 110 percent.”

But buyer beware: This industry is notorious for its scams, and there are few guarantees for foreign men looking to avoid the pitfalls and bogus claims of seemingly suitable Ukrainian mates. But there is a flip side.

“We or our partner agencies abroad screen the client to avoid sex tourists or men who aren’t serious,” said Oleksandr Khavrouk, co-owner of the InterDating Club. “The biggest problem is a lack of regulation. Licensing is not required for marriage agencies as it is for other industries.”

His company belongs to the Angelika network, a worldwide voluntary association of self-regulating marriage agencies, Khavrouk explained. It’s still no guarantee, and yet sometimes everything still clicks, as it did for Johan and Margarita.

Johan, 44, came to Kyiv this spring from Belgium looking for a wife and met 15 women through InterDating in just over a week. But it was Margarita, 25, of Kyiv who actually chose him, as the story goes.

“He was actually talking to someone else and didn’t notice me, but as soon as I saw him, I felt electricity in the air,” Margarita said. As the unofficial newest “happiest woman in the world,” Margarita beams confidently about the future. “With my man, I’m not afraid of anything at all.” A little naive perhaps, but isn’t true love always about taking a leap of faith?


Ladies get the low-down

Twenty-seven-year-old graduate student Natasha is already a happily married woman. But, she unabashedly admits, she likes to party “with the girls” when she has the opportunity, and specifically mentioned Al Capone club for its male strip tease on Thursday nights.

For her, she said, the experience isn’t about meeting men, but about spending time with female friends, relaxing and dancing.

“As far as stripteases go, honestly, it’s very average,” said Yulia, 29, a young office manager. “The dancers make almost no contact with the audience, and their striptease seems automated and pre-programmed. It lacks creativity.” But she said she would come again just to socialize with other women.

Also taking the stage on Thursday nights is a troupe of 15 professional dancers known as “Guys from Heaven.” Their weekly slot at Sun City Slavutych may not reveal as much skin as is revealed at Al Capone (where dancers will take it all off), but their show is considered more erotic and better produced by those who’ve seen both. One woman who attended a GFH show described the dancers as possessing “emotion and energy that,” for all intents and purposes, “is lacking [in the city’s strip venues].”

“I don’t call what we do a strip-tease,” GFH founder and choreographer Vadym Prokopenko said. “It’s rather dancing with elements of eroticism.”

Prokopenko rejected the idea that his group performs strictly with a female audience in mind. That sets his act apart from the one at Al Capone.

“The most important thing for me is a quality result,” said Prokopenko. “In fact, people of different genders, ages and social backgrounds come to enjoy our shows.”

And he’s right. A night with GFH is quite unlike female strip clubs in the West, where women find themselves in a largely homogeneous environment.

Prokopenko said that there are no female equivalents in Ukraine of Guys from Heaven, although he said he’s thinking of creating one, and judging from the standard set by most female strip shows in Ukraine, that idea would be well-received.


Guys get hosed down

At high-end gentleman’s clubs in Kyiv, like Millennium in the Dnipro Hotel, beefy doormen greet visitors who will pay Hr 50, or more likely Hr 100, as a cover charge before walking inside to have scantily clad waitresses escort them to a table.

Stripping in 21st-century Ukraine doesn’t carry with it the nasty aura of wild, unrestrained hedonism that it once might have. Rather, it is an almost mundane affair, where typically trios of women in various outfits doff only their tops, most doing so in a robotic manner in front of small groups of bored-looking, well-to-do 30- to 50-year-old men.

“Actually, it’s nothing special,” said former Kyiv resident and Las Vegas native Kevin, 42, who compared several of Kyiv’s male strip clubs to those in the U.S. “They don’t even get me aroused.”

For those who want to see a lot more, dancers will come around to offer a table or private dance for Hr 150 and 300, respectively. And in virtually all clubs, further “intimacy” can be negotiated, if so desired, leaving all the guessing as to what a given woman’s real line of work is up to those still looking for love in the city’s clubs.


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