MAIL ORDER BRIDE
THE UKRAINE IS A MODERN HOTSPOT FOR WESTERN MEN SEARCHING FOR THE PERFECT WIFE ONLINE, BUT DOES SUCH A THING EXIST ANYMORE OR ARE NAïVE OLDER MEN SIMPLY FALLING INTO A HONEY-TRAP? SARAH GARDEN INVESTIGATES
A poll of the Emirates Woman team uncovers that we all have a relatively similar idea of Mr Right. He’s handsome, adventurous, cultured, popular, romantic, loyal, emotionally astute, charismatic, has good teeth and a fine crop of hair, and, of course, a fantastic sense of humour.
This sounds like every woman’s dream, right? Wrong. A quick web search pulls up dating profiles of thousands of women, many of whom are younger than us, who would forgo our dashing comic genius in favour of a mature family man. This is the new age of mail-order brides, where disillusioned Western men peruse online candy shops of Ukrainian women and meet them on package holidays known as ‘romance tours’.
“As a man, when you visit the Ukraine you feel as though you’re in heaven,” says Ronald Jutte from the Netherlands, who’s been searching for a wife in Eastern Europe for eight years and has set up his own agency, “Ukrainian women are very good wives. They support their man, they love children and they take care of their family.” This is the image that’s sold online: ‘Young, attractive woman with 1950s ideals seeks man 20 years her senior for marriage.’ It sounds too good to be true. And, just like the old saying goes, it probably is.
THE TROPHY WIFE
Author and college professor Walter Parchomenko studied the phenomenon of Eastern European bride shopping for his book, Ukrainian & Russian Bride Guide: Dangers & Joys Awaiting Western Men. Walter believes that some online sites are selling a Stepford wife-style bride who doesn’t really exist. “Ukrainian dating sites intentionally use the concept of traditional, alluring young women as an irresistible magnet to draw in foreign men,” Walter explains. “They promote the pernicious myth that all of the women on their sites are cut from the same cloth: traditional, submissive, and love to cook, clean and take care of the family.”
While there are sites filled with women who are indeed genuinely searching for a husband from the West, there are many looking to take advantage of naïve men. It’s become such a widespread problem that the US embassy in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, has a whole section on marriage and dating scams. Along with a list of official advice, the embassy recommends being wary of photographs displaying “a very attractive person, [that appears] to have been taken at a professional modelling agency or photo studio”.
“AS A MAN, WHENYOU VISIT THE UKRAINE YOU FEEL AS THOUGH YOU’RE IN HEAVEN”
The scam works so well as an irresistible woman is the bait. Not only is she advertising herself as an exemplary wife with family values, she’s also got looks akin to a Victoria’s Secret model. It can be said it’s a misogynist’s dream. “Western men are their own worst enemy when they search marriage sites,” explains Walter. “They often see red flags but try to justify these warning signs so they don’t interfere with their fantasy of having found the perfect woman.”
However, Walter reasons that their primary motivation is much more superficial than a desire for bygone gender roles. “Let’s be honest, most western men turn to Ukraine to upgrade,” he says. “They want the kind of woman who wouldn’t give them a glance back home. For example, a large number of women aged between 18 and 24 indicate a suspicious willingness to be with a partner at least 25 years older than them. Youth and beauty clearly trump men’s stated interest in a traditional wife.”
“THE COST OF A TYPICAL TWO-WEEK ROMANCETOUR IS US$5,000 AND CAN PRODUCE ZERO RESULTS IN FINDING A POTENTIAL BRIDE. YET MANY MEN
I’VE SURVEYED REPORT BOOKING BACK-TO-BACK
Ronald’s first relationship with an Eastern European lady began when he “fell immediately in love with her photo”. But even though he paid a lot of money for her to visit him in his homeland, his homesick love interest cut the trip short, and he was left feeling that he’d been used for a free holiday. “Many different [scams] have happened during my search,” says Ronald. “Agencies and ladies work together and they earn money for dates, translating, taxis etc, but you have no real chance of a relationship with them.”
Ronald has also wired money to a woman for a plane ticket that was never purchased and forked out for unnecessary English lessons. “It’s hard to see it because you trust the lady,” explains Ronald. “It’s even more difficult to see when you are in love. Sometimes you find out when it’s much too late.”
Walter warns that free websites often have the highest con-artist population. “They are scam ridden and full of prostitutes, professional daters and men masquerading as women,” he says. “A man’s online special lady can only be a perfect stranger until they meet. And this perfect stranger is probably receiving gifts from multiple men.”
Dating agencies offer giftgiving services, but accepting flowers and chocolates under false pretenses is nothing compared to the thousands of dirhams that many love-struck men are swindled out of. Their miraculously unlucky belles will encounter visa problems, stolen credit cards, and costly medical bills – there’s always one more reason why they can’t meet, and one more reason why they need more money. Despite the fact that only around five per cent of men emerge from behind their computer screen and travel to Ukraine to meet a potential bride, ‘romance tours’ are big business. These expensive package holidays offer men the chance to visit cities such as Odessa, which have a notorious female to male discrepancy, and attend ‘socials’ – events where 20 to 30 men mingle with around 100 and 300 women.
Romance tours are something that Ronald has always avoided. “They’re more for entertainment and profit for the dating agency. Your chance of finding someone special on a trip is extremely low,” he says. “Professional daters are present there. For this reason, I tend to go independently and meet ladies I’ve been previously corresponding with.”
This is a strategy that Walter agrees with. “The cost of a typical two-week romance tour is US$5,000 and can produce zero results in finding a potential bride. Yet many men I’ve surveyed report booking back-to-back tours,” he says. “These tours are not for serious men looking for marriageminded Ukrainian women. Typically, about 20 middle-aged foreign men will be paraded before around 100 suspiciously young looking women in a meatmarket, happy hour environment.” Whether on romance tours or travelling independently, there’s one tool every bride-bagger needs: a translator. These people are the key to blossoming relationships and, in some cases, the integral cog in profitable scams. “Many agencies offer expensive translation services. However, professional daters in Ukraine commonly engage in translator fraud schemes, including hiding the fact that they have good English-language ability.”
However, before you write off all Ukrainian women as black widows, meet Galyna Tate, one of the success stories. She and her husband met through a friend who was working as a translator at a marriage agency. “My friend was his interpreter when he was visiting Ukraine, and she thought we’d be a good match,” explains Galyna. “At the time, I wasn’t interested in foreign men because I didn’t want to leave my country. I agreed to meet him and we fell in love almost instantly.” Galyna and her husband have been together for seven-and-a-half years, and married for four. They now live and work together in the USA.
As an educated woman who remains interested in Ukrainian development, Galyna blogs about a range of topics including mail-order brides on galynatate. wordpress.com. She explains there’s a very narrow-minded view of Ukrainian women, which is now dated. “Women in the Ukraine used to be desperate to leave their distressed word in search of a better life,” she says. “These days the economic state is much better and women are educated – they’re not going to marry a man they’ve never met. Men don’t choose, even if they think they do. Women choose.”
On first glance, it seems that innocent young women are being used by older men as a trophy wives, and that they, in their desolate state, have little option. On closer inspection, these appear to be shrewd women, enterprising on their looks in order to take advantage of an old mailorder bride dream that’s dying out. While there’s hope of obtaining a beautiful domestic goddess, no matter how erroneous, some men will continue to fall into the honey-trap. But then again, we shouldn’t judge. The handsome, adventurous, cultured, popular, romantic, loyal, emotionally astute, toothy, charismatic, hairy, humorous man we dreamt up is probably just as illusive. n