9 - Under Attack

Domestic assault and kidnapping might be trivialities beneath official intervention, but threatening the furniture isn't! A brassed off security guard appraised the toppled chairs and bent table, and then, glared accusingly at Papa.

Elena Vaytsel in Kyiv, Ukraine. photo elenameg.com

[Image 9-1] Meg takes a picture of Elena taking a picture of Meg.

"She, there!" Papa gestured. "That woman is a foreigner, a criminal! Good thing you are here!"

The guard wasn't moved. I'm guessing that any disturbance demanding his intervention was a disturbance that had gone on long enough. He asked the Russian family to kindly vacate the premises.

That went over like a lead Zeppelin. Mama and Papa flew off the rails, trying to out scream each other in a tirade about the threat I posed to the security and moral fibre of Ukraine. Papa whipped out his grainy portrait of me and my coffee cup. "See, here is the proof!"

The security guard shrugged his shoulders and repeated his request.

The frenzy of incoherent snorting-growling-screeching-barking-squawking-screaming-hooting-cawing-bellowing only got louder.

The rent-a-cop turned to me. "You OK?"

I cocked an eyebrow. "Call the police."

The parents' caterwauling went weapons-grade.

Flag Kyiv at the European Table on Kreschatic photo elenameg.com

[Image 9-2] Sunday afternoon on Kreschatic, Kyiv's main downtown street, closed to vehicles on Sundays. The big yellow flag proclaims Kyiv's (Ukraine) place at the European table.

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With the snarling fistula of Russians outside, the second floor became an indoor viewing platform. Toasty and warm inside, the crowd pressed up against the windows to enjoy the bout. They were lucky, the temperature had been falling since the tunnel ambush. By then, it was well below the line, and blustery wind was scraping up dry snow and sand-blasting -- more like, ice-blasting -- anything in its path with icy needles. That included the rent-a-cop, me, Mama and Papa, and the gutted twenty-seven year old clamped between them. Elena wouldn't have noticed an avalanche, mind you, given how little she cared about the weather at the time. She was hanging on by a thread to the last of her strength and sanity and looked like a losing prizefighter awaiting the final blow.

Elena Vaytsel restrained by parents outside McDonalds in Kyiv Ukraine photo elenameg.com

[Image 9-3] Elena is restrained by her parents outside the Kyiv train station's McDonald's during the assault and kidnapping attempt.

I stepped toward her. Nothing. Zero response.

Papa broke from the clot and spun toward me.

That time, I ducked.

His haymaker passed high. He stumbled in the follow-through. I stepped aside. The bloke fought like a drunk, but caught himself before planting his face in the snow. Straightening up and shoving his face in mine, he made a fist, threatening to break every metacarpal he had on my snout. The guard grabbed his elbow and Papa made to plough him one but thought better of it. Instead, he hawked up a prize-winning bogie and spat in my face.

I was suddenly blind. And not in that hilarious, glasses-fogged-up sort of way, but with my eyes filled with whatever pathogens Papa incubated in his dark, moist places.

A squad of Ukrainian militia sauntered onto the scene about an hour later. Could be, they were there for us but given their nonchalance, they likely stumbled onto the scene going for McCoffee and McPies.

"What is this disturbance you are making at McDonald's?" One of the militia men demanded.

Hell erupted pyroclastically. The officer backed away, leaving a couple of subordinates snickering. But when Mama and Papa went ultra-fortissimo, they bloody well weren't laughing any more.

"Enough!" The senior cop bellowed. "Break it up. Move apart. Let her go."

Elena Vaytsel photographs candles photo elenameg.com

[Image 9-4] Elena photographs candles

"No!" Shuffle. Shuffle. Retreat.


"No! Look at her, she is insane." Mama snarled.

"You are the ones restraining an adult against her will. It is you, who is insane!"

He signalled his younger colleagues to separate the group. They cleaved Papa from the scrum. It gave him a chance to root around for his most-wanted poster of me and my coffee cup. It also got Mama back into full auditory assault mode. Hooting and screeching over her shoulders, she positioned her back to the cops, barricading them from Elena with her ass. Must have been some kind of lost martial art of butt jousting. Probably where the word assault came from in the first place.

Militia, comical violence, Russian crazies pulling a Three Stooges act, and a foreigner. Crikey, it's middle of the day, nothing on TV, nothing to do between trains. Let's just say, we were pulling in a good-sized crowd. The older cop wasn't impressed. It was time to take the show on the road.

The coppers and Russians headed off, completely ignoring me. I was a complication nobody needed. Elena's parents didn't want the stranger they'd assaulted, speaking for herself. Worst of all, being an evil capitalist, it was a sure bet I could out-bribe them. So, it was like I suddenly stopped existing.

A plush toy bunny, Celtic bracelet, Chanel glasses, cheesy candle, package of nickel metal hydride batteries photo elenameg.com

[Image 9-5] A plush toy Elena gave to Meg when she arrived, sits on a Formica bedside table along with various artifacts.

That was fine and dandy for everyone -- except Elena. "Let me go!" She twisted. Mama constricted. The coppers got nervy.

Each shuffled-dragged-wrenched step further from me ramped up Elena's resolve to fight. "Meg, don't leave me! Don't-- gaaack!" A pre-emptive Heimlich shut her up. The cops didn't intervene.

"Officer, how long can she stay here, in Ukraine?" Mama, wrestling with Elena, asked. Adding, "Legally?"

"Three months, like anybody else."

"Ah, I see--" Yank, jerk, stumble. "Umpf and what if she has no passport?"

"She is Russian, yes?"

"Ah, yes-- Oomph, my daughter," She emphasised, daughter. "Is Russian."

"Three months! Russians need only their internal passport." The officer referred to a leftover, Soviet identity and registration document. A kind of non-passport for use in the USSR.

They dragged Elena down a narrow, square-sided gully formed by a Berlin Wall replica on one side and a dilapidated industrial structure on the other. We were on some kind of service road, but hard to tell with it buried under at least a foot of fresh snow.

The gully ended at an imposing iron gate. Russian techno-pop followed a gatekeeper from his plywood hut, bopping and scratching its way onto the gusts of wind. He heaved the gate aside for Elena and her entourage, then shut it with a dramatic clang.

I approached. The gatekeeper waved me off. I was locked out.

Elena heard the gate. Wrenched herself around to look.

"It is done. Who is there for you now?" Papa sneered.

"Meg, come with me!" Elena screamed. "Make them let you through. Show them your passport. Don't leave me. Meg, help me!"

The gatekeeper stood his ground, staring me down with a machine gun balanced on his belly. The militiamen and Papa came to a stop. Mama kept wrestling Elena toward the crumbling slab building in the middle of the compound.

"Stop! Silence! It is enough!" One of the juniors hollered. Then, from the other side of the gate, he turned to me. "You! You are the cause of all this?" He started toward me. "Show me your papers!"

I handed my passport through the bars. Junior thumbed through it, likely interested only in my nationality, then he gestured at the gatekeeper.

The gate opened a crack. Junior grabbed my blood-spattered collar and yanked me into the compound. "You wait here. You are under arrest!"

The gatekeeper spat at my boots.

The senior officer snatched my passport from junior. "This visa has expired. What are you doing in Ukraine?"

Slowly, forming the words in English and translating them in my head, I said, "It is year, two-zero-zero-six. Now, government of Ukraine does not require visa's from Canadian visitors."

Papa looked at the senior officer hopefully. Mama stopped breathing altogether.

"Correct. She has a right to be here." He handed back my passport and turned toward the detachment.

"What about her?" The gatekeeper pointed at me with his machine gun.

"Leave her there. I will deal with this bunch and send for her. Understood?"

The gatekeeper gave me the once over and waddled into his ramshackle hut, wiring the door shut behind him. And so, that's where I stood. All alone. Outside. In a rapidly intensifying blizzard.

Elena Vaytsel in Kyiv Ukraine photo elenameg.com

[Image 9-6] Elena with her tiny Nikon. Pre-attack and kidnapping.

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In hyper-stuffed down-filled mittens, I couldn't even hold my mobile, let alone flip it open and dial. I pulled off a mitt with my teeth, spat it into the snow and speed dialled my home number in British Columbia. It rang... and rang.

"What!?" Bernadette answered. "Do you know what time it is!?"

"Bernie, listen, I'm in trouble."

"Of course you are! I can't believe it took you this long. It's like, five in the morning--"

"Nilzya!" The gatekeeper was out of his shack, stomping toward me. "It is forbidden to phone from the police station."

"What is that? Who is yelling?"

"A copper." I hunched over the mobile. Tried to disappear inside my hood. "Well, sort of a cop. Some kind of guard. I think."

"A guard! Where are you?"

"Kiev. Central train station. At the cop shop."

The guard was still coming. Stomp. Stomp. Stomp. "No telephone!"

"What did you do?" I like to think that Bernadette sounded concerned, but really, she was probably narked.

"Not me, Lenna! Her parents attacked us."

I had my back turned to the bellowing guard. Should have assaulted him, but all I came up with was a lame: "No speakie Rooskie!" And why not? It works for the tourists.

It didn't work for me. He circled, reached toward my face and blew his stack in English. "Give to me mobile telephone. Not allowed in milleetsaya station!"

"Hey Bernie, gotta go. If you don't hear from me in twenty-four, ring the consulate. Miss you, bye! Kiss, kiss, kiss." I snapped the mobile shut and dropped it into one of my marsupial pockets.

The guard repeated slowly in English, giving me the evil eye. "No tee-lee-phone here." Then turned and trudged back to his shack.

Ukrainian police in 2006 photo elenameg.com

[Image 9-7] Militsia - or Militia, the Ukrainian equivalent of police, huddle around the station entrance smoking nervously in a blizzard.

[[ updated Apr 22, 20:48 ]]