“The old hags occupied all the benches”, Dasha points out disapprovingly. Dasha has no reason to be well-disposed to old women – both on funny pictures, and in real life they often spit out a capacious description: “Prostitute” when they see her. That’s what Dasha had been called for 5 years. “Drug addict” label had been sticking to her for as long as 15 years. Today, for the first time after a long while, she’s just Dasha, who tries to understand herself and her new life.
When we find a place that “old hags” can not occupy, which is a summer cafe already closed to visitors, Dasha tells why the girls go out on the road, what the retired men are willing to pay $500 for, and how “a cop married a dead and mute prostitute Natasha”.
“I thought I was immortal”
– I keep a picture from my childhood in my memory: I am at our summer cottage with my grandmother, and it’s the poppy blooming season. Grandmothers whisper ” soon drug addicts will show up” and would take an axe into the house for the night. And I’m terribly curious about the drug addicts, Dasha laughs. – I remember: tattooed men carry whole stacks of poppy plants, petals are showering down, and I’m chasing after them on the bike – so I’m excited! And it’s not scary at all. I wanted adventures … I got the full of it.
I still cannot say: “At some point, something in my life went wrong, not as I wanted”. It will be a lie.
Drugs were part of the life in my yard: boys, motorcycles, songs along to guitars and drugs … The older brothers who injected from time to time. I wanted to be a part of this subculture.
Mom … What about mom? She worked on a responsible office, she was waiting for a further promotion. Moreover, she’s got a young husband, 15 years younger than her and older than me. Mom had other things to do except for me.
Moreover, I was seemingly a good girl without problems, keen on music, sports, with excellent grades.
Yes, I do not think, honestly, that someone could take me by the hand and protect me from what happened. I always was rebellious … I did not actually change, I’m 30 by passport, but still foolish like I used to be at my 14. At 14 I tried drugs for the first time.
Dasha says she never believed the addicts’ telltales about the possibility to control one’s condition and inject only on weekends and on holidays. And if there were illusions, they shattered soon.
-I understood very soon, that the more drugs – the better, and it will always be this way. That’s what I believed strongly – and until 2016 I did not even try to change anything.
It was strange enough for me how people study, go to work, live this gray, dull life.
I began to think that something is wrong in my life, only when the veins began to do deeper. This is quite a sad thing for the addict, I tell you. That’s when you have drugs but have nowhere to inject them. Maybe use as eye drops, I dunno.
Before that, I was not afraid of anything – hepatitis, HIV, pneumonia, pleurisy, during which I was still running around… I thought that I was immortal.
I just now understand, how much the heavens should love me, if they kept me alive after all that.
“I am walking along Independence Avenue – and I’m shivering. I know that patrols remember me”.
Dasha is convinces: drug addiction and sex work are inseparable. “One can go to the highway or sleep with a dealer for drugs. This is quite the same”, – she says and remembers:
– Why did I go out on the highway? First, I needed money for drugs. Secondly, the man whom I loved very much, all the time had jealousy fits, which were at that time groundless. And I at some point something switched inside of me. If he wanted a prostitute girlfriend – here you go! I was tired of being blamed for nothing.
I was 23 then. Was it frightening to go to work? Not really. However, I always thought that this story is definitely not about me. Where, interestingly, could this confidence come from? .. (Smiling.)
After all, when you take drugs, there is no choice. Because the amounts you need to pay for them are much higher than our average salary in the country. With sex work I could earn $100 per hour, $500 – per night. 15 minutes in the car will bring me 30 bucks.
Dasha admits: after the first night of sex work one bears the stigma of the prostitute forever. At least for law enforcement officers it is so:
– There is no need for any evidence base for me to be arrested, once I show up on the highway. It’s enough that they just know me in person. If I leave the house late at night for cigarettes, I know that the first patrol will grab me. It happened already. I say: “So, what do you have against me? If I’m strolling in purple hair curlers along Zhukov Avenue, is it an offence? So I’m not registered in Molodechno district, but on Odoevsky, which is a block from here. Do we have a curfew already?”
And my friend had a situation: she went out to the neighbor’s apartment in slippers, her child was sleeping at home. They took her from the entrance, and let it go only in the morning.
I’m still walking along Independence Avenue – and I’m shivering. I know that the patrols remember me. If I stay here near the Circus, they will have questions to me. As they once said to me: “Don’t f*cking loiter around here, if you don’t want problems”
What the hell! Don’t f*cking loiter here, and there, but how shall I move around the city?
After the arrest, Dasha tells us, everything usually happens according to the standard pattern.
– There is such an unspoken thing: if you sign the protocol, you can get off with a fine, and you will be released. If you start to resist, you’ll spend a day in the detention cell. But they understand: girls who use drugs do not have this day. No one will endure these torments, everyone will sign to get off with a lesser problem.
I never heard of such terrible thing as being raped, beaten, injured by cops. Yes, they offend verbally. The question “how much is your blowjob?” Is a standard story for patrols, it’s used instead of hello, I would say.
Dasha easily juggles with abbreviations and says that the attitude to sex workers in each department is different:
– Everything is all right with the district police: if you don’t snap on them, they are okay with you. The special units are also just doing their job the way they can… I remember, once I was arrested and I said to them: “Guys, I feel so awful, I’ll hardly make it to the department” – and they immediately called the ambulance.
But patrols are tough. They humiliate us very much while driving to the station. There are also offers like “Let’s go to the forest, you’ll provide us sex services and we won’t take you to the police station”. But no one is buying that, so I think: maybe they just joke? (Laughs.)
There is one detention station in Minsk … The girls, when they find out that they will be taken there, are ready for anything. They just weep and beg not to take them at that place. They know that they will not be allowed to the toilet, they will not receive water, no one calls ambulance if they feel bad. No standards are respected at that lawless place.
But we must appreciate that there are structures tackling such cases. Once we had problems with the police – extra-departmental security service tried to collect money from the girls, and even special purpose department came and took our testimony. They worked in a very humane manner, they said “we want to help”. I know that few police officers were fired – and we began to live more quietly.
Dasha says that girls often know about their rights, but demanding these rights to be observed may sometimes cost them more:
But the things are like this: at the level of the law, everyone knows and understands everything. But it does not work that way!
There is no one to whom we can call directly from the police office, and he will come. And there, in the police station, they know about it. So even if you try to talk the way a lawyer taught you, it does not work out. For example, I never saw a single cop who would show me his identity documents. I say: “Show your ID.” And he told me: “Why?”. “But you can buy such a uniform on Zhdanov market!”, I answer. He started to yell, and I immediately realized that it’s better to shut up.
“We’ll watch the movie, and I’ll hold you by the knee”
While Dasha has a grudge against the police, she can hardly say so about the clients. She remembers them with irony, somebody even stirs warm memories.
– The age of clients is very different: from greenhorn boys to old men. I had such an elderly gentleman once! It’s well over 70, but is still active and generally handsome. He was a former sportsman, he created his business, but decided to relax a bit after retirement and to get pleasure from life.
There was such a client, who offered, “Let’s go to the hotel. We’ll watch the movie, and I’ll hold you by the knee”. I’ll pay five hundred bucks. I’ll feel good, and you’ll feel good”.
Elderly men, in general, rarely are a source of problems. I was much more afraid of youngsters: these insane kids flock into a pack, and it is impossible to manage them. Therefore, one must understand where to agree to go, and where to avoid. And you should not be provocative.
As for me, most of these eerie stories that the girls tell, in fact, about the fact that the woman was foolish. Well, if you swear at a drunk man in criminal-like tattoos, you have to understand that he’ll slap back. If you steal a gold chain from a drunk sleepy trucker, be ready that he can wake up and hit you with the crow bar on the head. In short, be aware that you are taking a risk.
What girls complain about is also a question. It happens, that they just feel upset about wasting time and not getting any money. I remember the girl who returned from the client in tears: “A freak, a goat, a pervert!”, she screamed. We asked: “What happened? What did he do to you? ” It turned out that nothing, she just spent two hours with him, but he did not pay money. She cried very hard.
Of course, it’s frustrating! Especially when you realize that in another hour or two you’ll feel so bad that you cannot work.
Dasha surprises us with a paradoxical statement: “Sex work is not that much about sex”. Rather, about psychology:
– Even if you get into a car for a 15-minutes job, you have to communicate with the client. And if a guy goes to see you for two years in a row, you know what is going on in his house, where the children go to school and what a piece of shit is his boss. (Laughs.)
I realized for myself, that it’s better to talk to a person – then the tension fades away faster, and he does not perceive you as a thing. After a good talk we already feel like friends.
I even had a client who called and said: “Come with a girlfriend, but do not hook up anyone! If they offer themselves, do not agree. They are all married and will regret in the morning. Just come join us in the sauna, so that we don’t sit there in all-male company, like a bunch of fags”. Often it happens that guys just call you with them as a decoration to the party. Well, he needs this meeting without a tie with the girls and a bath: they just relax and talk about everything – how the wife is tapping on his nerves, what ungrateful scums are his children, what shitloads they have to manage at work, and they know this information will not leak anywhere.
Dasha admits that she learned to understand men much better. And, strangely enough, she does not believe that “all men are bastards”:
– Well, I do not think sex is an adultery. As I say, man is infidel not when he is in bed with other woman, but when he buys flowers to that other woman.
And sometimes men would come with a wedding ring and start finding excuses: their wife is pregnant, they cannot have sex with her, blah-blah … I say: “Oh, you need not tell me this, everything’s okay”.
Well, he comes to me, leaves being satisfied and relaxed, the wife is not getting on his brains, and they live a smooth life.
I feel sorry for our men, I swear. In my mind I made a picture of a forever tired man, who is head to toes in worries and problems. Everyone always complained about life! And if someone started to brag at first, they would sooner or later end up sobbing in their necktie.
They are so troubled by work, family, everyday life, boredom … Some seek thrills in buying sex services. Others do this because of psychological problems. They just to raise self-esteem, when they’re done, they ask: “Well, how am I? Good?”. And even if they are not good in bed at all, somehow I want to support the guy. Because he went here to hear me say “You’re good”.
I tried to have a rather ironic attitude both to the man and myself in situations like these. Because the victim’s position seems to me … dishonest, I would say.
You asked about the choice, whether I had it or not. I said that no … But honestly, there is always a choice. It’s just that it’s convenient for us this way, and not otherwise, therefore, we create the illusion of hopelessness.
When Dasha gave up drugs and sex work, she stopped communicating with her clients. But she admits (and it seems, it is flattering to her as a woman): men miss her.
– Sometimes I come to Kamennaya Gorka, I give out leaflets to girls (informational leaflets with phone numbers for legal, psychological and medical assistance), and then the car stops by, men greet me: “Hey, Dasha, long time no see!”.
And when I say “no”, they start to persuade: “Dasha, there is no one to take with us here, except for you?”. (Laughs.)
And the girls, really, are going downhill – age spares no one. Many were into drinking so hard that they became marginalized…
“Natasha was a sex worker, and then she married a cop”
Dasha says that girls agree to sex work for various reasons, but the need is the basic factor.
– There was a girl who had five children in her incomplete 25 years. They were all born a year apart. I really do not know what was before: children or work. But she never injected, she did not drink, and carried all the money to the family. That was her way to earn for life – she bought a car recently…
Often women go to the highway because of unpaid child support. As a rule, it is, of course, drug or alcohol dependent women. But these outstanding debts are the last straw. Authorities will put such women in prison, so what should they do? Go to the “Grodno” (a sex work hotspot), which will solve all the problems.
However, Dasha admits: sometimes girls try sex work for reasons which she cannot call something other than foolishness.
– I saw a group of very young girls that went out to the highway, because their dad did not give them money for shoes. Apparently, they bought shoes, because we did not see them anymore. There was another weird lady, too. She appeared at our spot suddenly, right out of the air, in a frigid frost. I asked her, “Listen, where did you come from?”. And she replied, “I live near Rakov. I was late for the bus and saw the girls earning money here. I decided to try it myself”. She worked there a couple of years, it took her so long to get to her Rakov city (Laughs.)
And, by the way, no one hurt her. There are not showdowns related to dividing the work spots anymore. We would gruff at the newcomers, tell them go to hell a couple of times, and then, by and by, become friends.
The girls have their own legend. More precisely, Dasha says that this is not a legend, but actually the Belarusian version of the “Pretty Woman” movie.
– There is a story about Natasha, who married a cop. He, of course, is not Richard Gere, but still a decent party.
They say that the girl was deaf and really crazy. She could scratch one’s face, if she disliked something. But she was very much appreciated for her work! And the clients were asking about her so often, that I was interested who is that Natasha.
And the girls told me that Natasha worked for some time, and then married a cop and everything is fine in their couple now. And the man was afraid of neither her disability, nor the troubled past.
However, Dasha says that often it happens the other way around: not the girls get married and taken from the highway, but the married girls go to highway.
“There she is, and next to her the husband is standing”, Dasha resents. – Or even a more terrible picture: mom, dad, baby in the stroller, grandfather, grandmother and their dog. Everyone is waiting for her to earn some money and give them, so that they can buy alcohol sooner. They are always marginalized families, of course … They come under the pretext of guarding her.
Dasha did not have a dependent, but at some point she ceased to earn enough for herself.
“By the time I approached the point of no return, I needed at least $200 a day just to keep moving. And I had problems with earning that money, either police would take me to the station, or I was unable to walk. I realized that sooner or later I will spend that very day in the jail when I die.
The condition is … We call it “the shakes”. You can compare it, probably, to influenza. But it is worse, one has joint pains, watery eyes, runny nose, upset stomach … But I never had hallucinations, I think, my psychic condition is strong. It was even frustrating, I wanted God to show me these pink unicorns, but I saw nothing.
I remember that I tried everything: once I injected eye drops into my leg, and it was nearly cut off then. My leg was like a tree in girth. I am grateful to the surgeon, who performed a surgery and saved my leg.
It was more difficult with nurses. “Are there visible veins?”, they asked. I showed that no. “Well, then stay without a dropper, we cannot do anything for you.” They also managed to take blood sample only two weeks later. I say to a nurse: “Well, did you take the blood samples from everyone? But I bet, you will not take it from me”. She’s was like, “Come on!”. And I say, “No, you will not succeed”. And she took the challenge and sampled my venous blood. (Laughs.)
At first doctors always have bad attitude to us, but if you do not give up at this stage, and try to negotiate – not bribe them with chocolate bars, but simply show an interpersonal approach, you can change it.
Dasha admits: she went to the “Novinki” center, because she was afraid to get in jail and hoped that she would be enrolled onto a methadone program there (methadone is a medical opioid that removes the withdrawal symptoms, but does not make people “high”). But everything went the other way as planned.
“Then I came to the Novinki center” And there were worshippers of all sorts … Well, there were various nuns, volunteers of the rehabs, “Allah-Akbar” and “Hare Krishna”, and other religious shit … These are really weird guys!
And then two guys approached me and started talking in a language that I understood. I immediately saw that these are fellow junkies! But they kept sober, and I became curious, how they managed to do it.
It turned out that the guys were also going to open the rehabilitation center, they were at the start. They honestly admitted they did not have any experience other than their own. But, they say, they knew how to stay sober, and promised to try to teach me.
Payment was minimal, just to cover food expenses. I called my mom and asked for money – my mother was happy, she gave me money. Not that I decided to quit, I had a meticulous plan: I’ll stay there for a year, during this time I will get rid of withdrawals, the veins will heal … seemed like an ideal plan!
The three of us, the whole ward, headed on to the center. Two days later, only I stayed, and received a personal psychologist 24/7. I should have considered it kinda VIP service. (Laughs.)
At first I was very pleased of being sober: for the first time in many years I noticed that some kind of life is going on around me. There was a funny story about a little bird: every morning it flew to the gymnastic bar near our window at 6 am and started screaming. I my neighbor – one of the consultants, who lives without drugs for 10 years – heard it. He would say “this f*cking bird is always screaming”, and for me it was a sweet little birdie singing beautiful songs. Everything in this period of first sobriety seams sweet and heavenly … You love everyone, you want to embrace the whole world.
But when the euphoria passes, it becomes scary. You realize how hard you should work, you should break your most serious craving. And I was snapping at every word, throwing mugs at the wall … But there were no failures – and for 2.5 years I have been holding on without drugs. We must pay tribute to the specialists of the center: they are not the people with whom I would become friends today, but they are professionals, this is a fact.
“When I suddenly turned out to be sober after 16 years, I understood: there is no more fear”
Dasha is very straightforward and directly tells about himself, jokes a lot. Therefore, her seriousness becomes yet more striking.
“I understand that all the worst that could happen in my life has already happened”. With all my sense of humor, I’m a double widow, my children were taken away, my closest friends died of drugs.
The first husband hanged himself, he did not manage it out of depression – I myself took him off the loop, I tried to breathe for him … It did not help. The second one was killed by brain cancer.
Before that he had a stroke caused by drugs. But already on the third day afterwards we danced tango in the waiting room, and the doctor said: “He’s immortal, the one whom nothing can kill”.
But none is actually immortal. For half a year a muscular man who weighed over 100 kg has wasted to a half of his former weight, he could not get to the toilet himself. He has four trepanations of the skull, and in the end he asked me to give him an overdose to die. He said: “You promised me” – and I could not do it. It was so painful …
Therefore, when I suddenly turned out to be sober after 16 years, I understood: there is no more fear.
Talking about children is obviously difficult for Dasha, but she does not try to make a good face in a bad game:
– The eldest son is with the parents of my first husband. I know that they told him: his mother died. Now he is 9 years old. The youngest is 6, he was adopted even before the age of 1.
Interfering in their lives is terrible, and I have no such right. I will not bear this responsibility. I may sound like a real bitch, but honestly I do not want to. I need to understand what is happening in my life, where my place is. What can I give to a child when I have nothing?
Should I claim my maternal rights and in 6 months have to admit that I am failed? A child cannot understand the situation if his mother died, then is resurrected, then again disappeared into nowhere.
I’ve seen such stories. I do not want it for my children.
When asked about her life purpose, Dasha answers immediately:
– My life is in those people and in what I do. I’ve been in “BelAU” for a year now (Daria is a social worker.) I think I’m doing an important thing for girls. They wait for me eagerly and rejoice when I come.
I bring them clean syringes, condoms, information brochures. The problem is that it’s easy to give consumables, but it’s hard to talk, to give counseling. They are frightened, they run away … They are afraid to turn their backs on the road, fearing that the next instant the cops with flashing lights will come to them.
Dasha admits: her goal is to fight not the sex work itself, but the girls’ diseases, their insecurity.
“I just want to make it easier for them.” Because, to be honest, I do not consider prostitution as something terribly immoral and antisocial. Do you know the wording approved by the UN? “A woman involved in sex work is any woman who provides sex services for a reward – in the form of money, food, shelter and any other assistance, doing this knowingly or unconsciously.” That is, you know what it actually means? (Smiling.)
Honestly, our barter arrangements, which do not infringe anyone’s feelings – you give me money, and I do you a favor – seem more decent to me than trading in my soul. These daily masks of happiness, hiding lot of hatred, for the sake of a comfortable life … You know, prostitution is more acceptable for me.
Dasha is one of the believers that the legalization of sex work would solve many problems, but she is sure that this is impossible in our society so far:
– Imagine for a moment a utopian picture that everyone does everything upon their consent, legalization could help to monitor the health of girls and clients, and reduce the criminal component.
Even if you think from the point of view of mere mathematics, sex business is a very big money. And if you introduce a system of taxation, the money will flow in the state treasury.
But the girls themselves are unsure: on the one hand, they want to have protection against diseases, the lawlessness of the police and the aggressive clients. They are even ready to pay for it! And on the other hand, who will agree to enter “the prostitute” in their labor book?
Therefore, before legalizing the phenomenon, it is necessary to make it acceptable in the society. Even if the government is ready, the old hags in your yard should also be ready.
How many generations have yet to change before honesty will take over morality, I do not know. I do not think that such a moment will come at all.
Dasha is still trying not to think about her future, because now she has the opportunity to look soberly at her present:
– Sometimes I think I want peace, I want a house with lace curtains, a normal man by my side. I would marry a policeman, make him breakfasts and sew his epaulettes onto the jacket. He would come home at five in the evening, we would watch TV together and be happy.
And then I understand that this will never happen. Nothing can take the adventure spirit out of me. I still look at life with great curiosity, although, it would seem, that nothing can surprise me anymore. (Laughs.)
I’m learning to ask the God no “how had I deserved this?”, but “what is it given for?”. For example, my diagnosis, what is it for? To tell other people with HIV: “Look, look, this is not the end of life. There is therapy – and it helps”. It means that my losses do have certain sense.
Or, what’s the use of weeping that my beloved man is dead, that the children are not with me? Do you know what is the common reason cited by girls in narcology, when you call them into the rehab? A man and children. They say they cannot abandon them and change their lives. And God took my man and my kids from my hands, so that I could swim out from the very bottom.
For our conversation Dasha often said the phrase “there is no fear”. It turned out, until recently, she still had something to fear:
– My last fear was to tell my loved one about my past and my diagnosis. I talked about HIV with doctors, clients, with those who hang out with me … I knew I should.
But in these relationships my man is healthy, he avoids all those injecting things … And I could not imagine how I would tell him this. “Hello, weather is fine today, and I, by the way, I am a former prostitute, and I have HIV”.
I rehearsed this conversation for three days, my hands were sweaty. I told him: “I respect other people’s fears, if you are frightened at the subconscious level – I’ll understand, do not try to play politeness”. But he calmly smoked a cig and said: “It does not change anything at all. I’ve heard that the prostitutes make the best wives”.
And, you know, the relationship became much closer, he appreciated that I told him everything. Who knows, maybe we have a future?
And if so, then I do not want to wear masks… God has weird sense of humor, but even He will make you pay for this. Therefore, I – as I am – I will be honest.
Polina Kuzmitskaya / Photo: Daria Buryakina / LADY.TUT.BY