10 - Busting Loose

While I stood outside, flirting with hypothermia, a plain clothes copper parked Elena in an unlit, first floor corridor. Plainclothes Man and her parents then sequestered themselves in an interrogation room for who-knows-how-long. It's not like Elena was keeping time. With stress gnawing away at her, she moved into a delta of dead daylight coming through a stairwell window. She saw me out in the compound. Her heart beat a little slower, and a wee bit stronger.

Loose floor tiles scrunched and screeched behind her. "Lady! You there..." It was a youngish, towering hulk of an officer. "You can not be here. It is off limits."

Elena gaped.

The officer strode past, down the stairs and out a side door. A moment later, she watched him ploughing a track through the deepening snow, straight toward the iron gate -- and me!

Gang graffiti in Kyiv photo elenameg.com

[Image 10-1] Elena examines graffiti on a cement wall similar to the one surrounding the Kyiv train station's police compound.

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"Bollocks, bollocks, bollocks." A side door crashed open, and a Goliath in cop togs started straight for me. I froze, like a cockroach in a torch beam. You can tell it worked, seeing as I'm still here. Robocop steamed right past and out the gate. Yay, I was going live! At least, until I froze to death.

A former circus building converted to a grocery store. photo elenameg.com

[Image 10-2] The grocery circus! A former circus building repurposed into an indoor market.

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A door opened and Elena heard her parents’ muted voices. Plainclothes Man walked passed and down the same stairs the giant descended earlier. Mama lurched toward her daughter, a heavy overnight bag throwing her off kilter. Elena figured that was where they stashed her passport. Shattered, she turned her back on them.

Mama cranked up the theatrics: red face, tears, wheezing, angina. Papa held her.

Interior of the Kyiv central train station's police detachment building at the time of the attack on Elena and Meg photo elenameg.com

[Image 10-3] Inside the reception area of the Kyiv central train station's police detachment.

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I'd been out there an eternity. In actual fact, it was maybe an hour. Eventually, my mastodon-hide hoodie became ice-encrusted and froze solid. It was kind of like wearing an igloo. I figured the coppers were placing bets on how long I'd last before going over the wall or freezing solid.

Elena Vaytsel files a police report photo elenameg.com

[Image 10-4] Elena files a police report one week after the attack.

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"Hey, woman!" Someone yelled from across the compound. "You! Come here."

In the tranquillity and privacy of my wearable igloo, I had been blissfully meditating on the turbulent flow of my own breath. Mesmerised by the condensate swirling before my eyes, the bellowing didn't register, until: "Amerikanka!" Then in English, "Ahhh-mar-eee-can lay-dee!" Louder and from somewhere close.

Ah-ha! I clued in: being the only Amer-Can, human ice lolly out there. I swept the icicles from my hoodie and looked up.

The gate guard leaned from his shack and gestured toward a man in shirtsleeves at a side door of the police detachment.

Ubiquitous, heroic, Soviet, public art photo elenameg.com

[Image 10-5] Not one step back! A ubiquitous example of heroic, Soviet, public art. This piece is part of a wall relief about four times normal human size. It lines a deathstar-like trench leading to the thirty-three story, stainless steel, Motherland monument.

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It was our turn with Plainclothes Man. Crikey, the bloke could have been lifted from Life On Mars, for the caricature of tough copper he played -- likely, for my benefit. "Birds like you are never heard from again." He worked on Elena first, thinking his crude Russian was lost on me. "Your parents know what is best for you. This woman," he jabbed his finger of suspicion at me, "She is a cult leader. She takes innocent girls and turns them into prostitutes."

Based on her parents' accusations in McDonald's, Elena knew the detective was regurgitating their twisted fiction. She turned to me, translated what he said.

"I got most of it. He's baiting us."

"Baiting? What it is that you mean by this, bay-ting?" Elena asked me.

"They want you to react, lash out. Go mental and act guilty. He wants an excuse to lock you up." I noticed Plainclothes Man half standing, leaning on his knuckles. OK, he knew some English. I shot him a look of sneering contrition.

Elena caught on and did the same.

He took it up a notch. "She will kill you to sell your organs for transplant." Then he changed tack. "Drugs! She sells drugs! She hasn't drugged you yet?" Elena shook her head. This went on for almost an hour. Finally, he sat down, leaned back and sighed with fatherly concern.

"Can we go now?" Elena asked.

"Your parents want to take you home and keep you safe. Your fiancée is waiting for you. A nice man, I hear. He is worried--"

"I am not going back. I have done nothing wrong. Do I have a right to stay in Ukraine?"

He blue screened at that response. "Ah, what!? No! Eh hem, hem, hem, hack. Show me your passport."

Elena handed him her Soviet, internal passport. A useless document outside the former USSR. It worked for travel between Russia and Ukraine, and the detective knew it. "Where is your international passport?"

"It went missing when my mother took my bag in McDonald's."

"Ah, OK." He sighed with relief. "The only place you can go then, is back home to Russia with your poor parents. Luckily, there is another train this evening. You can have a nice dinner, some vodka, say you are sorry for such--"

"I can stay in Ukraine, da?"

He rifled through Elena's internal travel document. Found the Boryspil entry stamp. Scowled. "Ach, go to the devil! You can stay, and you can let this woman kill--"

"Can you get my real passport from my mother?"

Ukrainian police inside their station photo elenameg.com

[Image 10-6] Meg surreptitiously got this shot inside the train-station's police detachment during the attack.

"What a thing to ask!" He slapped Elena's internal identity booklet onto the desk. "I can not make such accusations of an innocent person!" He turned to me. "You! Amerikanka, give me your passport."

"My passport!?" He was the last wanker I'd hand it to. "Nyet! Certainly not."

He glared at Elena. "Tell her, I can have her arrested -- right now. Thrown in prison! She is in a foreign country. She is a criminal. Tell her! Tell her that. Tell her that if you do not leave to Russia, your murder becomes my concern."

"Meg, please. Just show to him your passport. I want to leave this place."

He snatched it, stood up, and went for the door. Then, to Elena, "I am making a copy for the police and one for your parents. They can know who to ask for your remains."

"I am so sorry you are in this." Elena took my hand. "But if police could send me back, they would have done it."

"So, why am I treated like a serial killer?"

"Because you are a foreigner."

"That's illegal here?"

"No. But if you weren't here, I would be on that train. It would be over. To them, you are a rich westerner. You are wearing fur--"

"It's fake!"

"Wearing an expensive looking coat. You can phone to your consulate, make a lot of noise." She cut to the chase. "Listen, choomeechka! They think they can get money from you!"

"All this for a bloody backhander! Why not just ask?"

"That is how it is done here," then she added, "in Russia."

"Ukraine."

"USSR."

"Whatever."

Kyiv central train station's police detachment, holding in processing area photo elenameg.com

[Image 10-7] Inside the Kyiv central train station's police detachment holding and processing area.

Plainclothes Man burst through the door, slapped down my passport and slam-sat in his chair. He obsessively arranged two thick copies of my passport and all of its pages. My drivers' license with my -- now Bernadette's -- home address, and finally, he glowered; first at Elena, then at me. Tut-tutting with unbridled disapproval, he got around to asking: "Where are you staying in Kyiv?"

Elena's jaw dropped. I held up a hand to stop her and prattled off a random address we'd seen near the centre of town. Lucky it didn't turn out to be the coppers' shag-shack or something. Weirdly, I recalled seeing the South Korean consulate on the ground floor. That struck me strange, so the building's address stuck in my mind. The flat number? Ah well, that, I just made up.

A beautiful building in downtown Kyiv photo elenameg.com

[Image 10-8] Meg used the address of this building in downtown Kyiv to throw off the police and pursuers. On the left side, ground floor, is the South Korean consulate.

Plainclothes Man didn't even flinch. He just scrawled the fake address onto both copies of my papers. Eventually he grumbled something like, "You can go."

"Really?" Elena said.

"Da, I cannot hold you!" he looked up. "But be especially careful here. Your kind, is not so welcome in Ukraine."

I thanked him. Our kind,? I guess he meant, vegetarians.

"Thanks, the bread, it will not butter!" he oozed. In Russian it sounds a lot better, along the lines of, 'Spacibo, na hleb, ne na mazhish.' It's an old, time honoured cliche meant to imply that bribes go a lot further than words.

Elena sprang for the corridor. I stood. Plainclothes Man positioned himself between me and the open door. "Good to have friends in the police, da?" He chided.

"Ah, right." I dug through a pocket and bunged him a US twenty.

"Only chocolates for my girlfriend, maybe. Not even flowers and a bottle of wine!?"

I palmed him four more twenties.

In the dingy corridor, Elena stood away from her parents. Nobody spoke. The detective followed me out to break the bad news. Papa came at me swinging. Mama started keening away, in seconds, ears would bleed.

"Go!" Plainclothes Man ordered. "I can only keep them here so long."

Mama surged forward, grabbed Elena's hand and shoved something into her palm. "The hell with you! Live as you want." She snarled.

We ran for the stairwell, loose tiles crunching and sliding under our feet. Then it was down the stairs and back into the blizzard. The cold never felt so good. We trudged as fast as we could through knee-deep, unbroken snow.

The gatekeeper, still sporting his full-auto, stepped from his hut, blocking our path to the gate. "You, American girl! Lucky for you that I turned those men away."

Globus mall, Independence square, Kyiv, Ukraine, at night photo elenameg.com

[Image 10-9] Part of the above surface portion of the massive Globus shopping complex. The venerable Hotel Ukraine is seen in the background. The rest of the massive retail space is sprawled under Independence (Maidan) Square.

"What men?" Elena asked.

"While you were inside; men, they came to find your--" he sneered, "girlfriend."

Elena translated.

He elaborated. "I sent these men away." His gaze darted between me and Elena. "Big, dangerous men!" Finally, "Good thing to have a friend at the gate."

Duh! What was I thinking? I shoved a hand into my pocket, palmed the tosser a twenty. I hoped it was enough. My well was running dry.

He snorted, spat, and opened the gate.

[[ updated Apr 22, 21:05 GMT ]]