It was ten minutes after two-o-clock, and Natasha Dubrova could smell
the cinnamon bagel the man next to her was eating, which only made her
hunger pangs worse. She had not eaten for hours and was desperately
hungry, but she only had a few kopeks and couldn't even afford a stick
of gum. The world seemed to her to be surreal because only a week ago
she'd been planning a honeymoon to Dubai, a new life in Odessa, and
maybe having a baby. Now she was broke, frightened, and headed home to
her village of Slavne - a place too small to appear on any map – but
the perfect place to hide from the man who had threatened to kill her.
She remembered his last words to her as she'd left his apartment for the
last time: “You are a slut. You are a whore. You are a stupid bitch
and you will never find a man as good as me.”
All the gifts he'd given, he'd demanded she return. He took her
underwear so she'd never look sexy for another man. He took her perfume
so she'd never smell good for another man. And he took most of her
clothes, which made for a very cold October in Ukraine. Now she was left
with nothing more than her old sweatpants, a cheap warm-up jacket, and a
bus ticket back to her childhood home.
She discreetly scanned the waiting area to make sure she hadn't been
followed. The bus station in Nikolaev was a small, dated structure with
stray dogs, pigeons, and beggars scattered about. It smelled of
cigarettes and hot dogs and was painted dark green and white, a color
scheme that had not changed since the USSR had been in charge of the
city more than two decades ago. The new Ukrainian government had never
upgraded the building and it looked like a place that had been frozen in
time. Fortunately, the man she feared was nowhere to be seen.
Over the loudspeaker, the bored voice of an underpaid attendant
announced that Natasha's bus was ready to depart. She walked over to the
platform, climbed the steps into the bus, and chose a seat by the left
window near the front. She always chose a window seat to avoid the odor
of men who stood in the aisle – her sense of smell had always been so
very sensitive – and as the bus pulled out of the station, she
breathed a sigh of relief. Natasha had escaped from Hasan.
Hasan was a jeweler from Ankora who not only owned a store in Ukraine
but also dated there. Ukraine was an excellent hunting ground for him.
For his age group, a five-to-one ratio of women to men gave him an
advantage he didn't have in Turkey. And since Ukrainian men were
notoriously unreliable and poor, many Ukrainian women were obsessed with
finding a foreigner to marry so they might have a chance for a better
life, which made them vulnerable to his advances. Hasan's playbook was a
simple one. Pay a girl's bills, compliment her, and give her attention,
and an unattractive jeweler from Turkey could date a woman that might be
a supermodel in any other country. Someone like Natasha Dubrova, for
When Natasha met Hasan at a friend's office party, she could clearly see
that he was much older than she was. He was Turkish and thin, with a
well-trimmed black beard and a dark tan, and he had a large nose that
was not in proportion to his face. There was a scar on his left cheek
he'd earned in a knife fight, and he wore it like a badge of honor
because the other man had died in the altercation. He smelled of fine
cologne and was wearing smooth, black slacks and a white button-down
shirt, and he carried himself with the manner and confidence of a
He'd been married once before to a Turkish lady of high status and
reputation, but the marriage hadn't lasted long. His wife had been a
beautiful woman with flowing black hair that felt like fine silk and
large brown eyes that captivated everyone who met her, but he'd fallen
out of love with her because she'd been too good to him. She'd been
madly in love with him, she'd cooked for him, she'd protected him – in
short, she'd been a perfect spouse – but he'd found life with her to
be mundane. Hasan's mother had imbued him with the idea that there were
“good women” and “bad women” and he'd decided, quite
incorrectly, that the bad ones were good in bed, and that the good ones
made good wives. It was this strange notion that had prevented him from
becoming aroused by his wife and had caused him to seek out a woman who
could truly excite him. A woman that was, in his simple mind, “bad”
in private, but still presentable in public as “good”.
Natasha stepped into his “bad girl” fantasy as soon as he met her,
and after several dinners he told her that he considered her to be a
good friend, which pleased her. He started to call her every evening and
he always seemed to have something interesting to talk about. Her
boyfriend had never given her such regular attention, and Natasha was
starting to feel good about herself for the first time since she'd
graduated from college. Hasan was available whenever she needed his
advice or consolation, and she appreciated his ability to speak Russian,
albeit with a slight accent.
Her feelings for him were growing stronger with every passing day, and
she soon found herself visiting his apartment. It was a decent rental on
the fifth floor of an old “stalinka”, a refurbished structure that
had been built originally to house residents of the former Soviet Union,
and was in one of the nicer areas of town. There was only one bedroom,
one bathroom, and a small kitchen, but the lack of space was not a
problem because she and Hasan were seldom there; they took long walks,
visited cafes, and talked on park benches for hours on end.
Although she was initially embarrassed to be seen with a man who wasn't
as handsome as she'd like, his smile and warm eyes eventually melted her
heart and she found that she no longer cared about his appearance. Their
many long conversations were leading to something more for Natasha. She
was feeling something that she thought might be love, if such a thing
could exist in her country, so she was warming to the idea of having a
relationship with him when they returned to his apartment after a long
night of bowling, shopping, and drinking at Stepanek's Pub near the
central park. They watched television for a while, he put his arm around
her while she watched Ukrainian game shows, and she nestled comfortably
by his side.
And then, during one of the commercials, he kissed her. Not tenderly,
not soulfully, but abruptly, roughly, and without her permission. It was
more like an assault than a kiss - quick, unexpected, and without
context. Natasha pulled away and was visibly upset. Hasan had caught her
completely by surprise, and she felt betrayed because their friendship
had seemed so secure.
“What's wrong?” he asked.
“I don't like it when you kiss me that way,” she said.
“But that's how a grown man kisses,” he said. “With passion, and
Natasha was embarrassed and confused. Although she hadn't expected to be
kissed that evening, it was also true that she'd enjoyed his company for
weeks and she was curious to see where their relationship might lead. So
she decided to return his affection. She matched the pressure of his
lips and tongue and took in the scent of his aftershave, and soon his
hands were all over her. He teased and aroused her, but did not try to
undress her. This excited her even more, and she could feel his
experience with every move he made; she could sense his confidence and
strength, and she decided at that very moment that no matter how the
night might end, she would not regret it.
They didn't have condoms and she didn't care. Natasha begged him to make
love to her, and as he obliged she discovered that his appearance did
not match his skills. She would have never thought that such an
unattractive man could be so good in bed, but she climaxed as never
before and felt the stress of a thousand concerns leave her body as if
by magic. There was no doubt in her mind that she had made the right
choice. The line between friend and lover had been crossed, and she was
happy with her decision.
Natasha decided to stay overnight and nestled her head on Hasan's chest
as he gently stroked her hair. He sensed her contentment and basked in
the glory of the moment as he lit a cigarette. In Hasan's mind, his
latest conquest had been one of his best. Natasha had moaned and touched
him like a sexy woman from an American movie, and yet she seemed so
sweet and innocent. He wondered if he could trust her; so many Ukrainian
women were just after his money. Yet, somehow, Natasha seemed different.
“Well, how was it? he asked. “Did you like it?”
She smiled. “Of course. I had no idea you were such a good lover.”
Hasan grinned like a little boy who had just received a passing grade on
a school exam, but what Natasha hadn't told him was that she was feeling
guilt as well as contentment. Natasha still had a boyfriend named
Sergei. She hadn't seen him for weeks because he was working on a
construction job in Kiev, but she was sure his interest had been waning
because he hadn't been keeping in touch. As far as she knew their
relationship was over, but the fact that they hadn't officially broken
up made her feel like she was cheating on him. She pushed these thoughts
aside and enjoyed Hasan's warm embrace and the fine, silk sheets of his
soft bed. It felt good to enjoy such simple comforts for a change.
The next morning, Hasan made Natasha a cup of fresh coffee and heated up
a cranberry-walnut muffin for her. He had an Italian espresso machine
that he loaded with regular coffee grounds to make a delicious cafe
crema, and it was the finest cup of coffee she'd ever tasted. Hasan
served it in a bone china cup with a silver spoon, and as she sipped the
coffee and thought about the coming day, she realized that she had
nothing to wear.
“Hasan, I have to go back to my apartment to do some laundry – I
need some fresh clothes. Would you mind walking with me?”
“You need fresh clothes?” Hasan thought for a moment. Natasha had a
great figure, and he decided that he would enjoy seeing her in a silk
blouse and a mini-skirt. “We don't need to go to your apartment to get
clothes,” he said. “Let's go to City Center. This sounds like an
opportunity to do some shopping!”
She gave him an incredulous look. “You are joking, right?” No man
had ever offered to take her shopping before, and Natasha certainly
hadn't expected it.
He shook his head. “A woman needs to have a extensive selection of
outfits to be presentable. One pair of sweatpants isn't enough.” He
leaned forward. “Let's buy you some dresses and get you some nice
things. Come on, it will be fun!”
Natasha clapped her hands in excitement. She'd always admired the nice
outfits worn by the wealthy women of Nikolaev, and had always wondered
what it would be like to visit one of the finer department stores.
Hasan's generosity touched her deeply. “Well, thank you,” she said.
“I can't wait to see what we find!”
City Center in Nikolaev was a contemporary indoor shopping complex,
painted red and white with round windows on the outside. It had a
cinema, a bowling alley, restaurants, and several department stores, and
was a favorite place to visit because it offered a taste of western
glamor and glitz in an otherwise depressing, impoverished city. Natasha
and Hasan visited two of the finer department stores and enjoyed looking
through the racks for something that might fit her, and as they
searched, Natasha learned more about Hasan's taste. For one thing, he
seemed to prefer form-fitting clothing that showed off her figure, and
was less interested in color than style. Whenever she held up a dress
that was girly or fluffy, he shook his head and walked away, but after
an hour of searching they finally came across a classic black dress that
he approved of. It was tight, and when she looked in the mirror, she
couldn't deny that she looked sexy and sophisticated. He also bought her
a sheer white dress with a set of platform sandals to match, a mini
skirt, and a few new blouses. Natasha was delighted. She could never
have afforded to buy such fine clothes herself, but as soon as the
outfits were put into a shopping bag, she found herself feeling guilty.
“You shouldn't have done this,” she said as they left the shopping
center. “These clothes are too expensive!”
Hasan took her hand and kissed it. “Don't worry about the money - it's
my pleasure. You spend all of your time with me, so it's the least I can
“Well, I enjoy our time together too, but I don't expect any
“I know. That's exactly why I'm kind to you. Plus, I wanted to show
you how a real man treats a woman. I doubt any of your ex-boyfriends
took you shopping for dresses.” He cradled her in his arms. “Look,
I'm your friend, and I don't mind helping you out. I don't know where
this is all going, but I do know that I like you. You're good company
and you're very attractive – I just don't think that you've ever been
When she heard these words, Natasha couldn't help but compare Hasan to
Sergei. Sergei was a typical Ukrainian man who had never seemed willing
to commit to her. He'd been a good lover and a great friend, but he'd
never provided for her or offered any hope of marriage. And someday,
Natasha wanted to be married. She'd always loved Sergei, and she was
sure he loved her back, but Ukraine was a harsh country and survival was
constantly on her mind. And for most Ukrainian women, survival meant
marriage. Making ends meet was simply too difficult to do alone.
“You're right,” she finally said. “Ukrainian men are oblivious.
They just don't take their women seriously.”
Hasan studied her for a moment. “It sounds like you have someone in
mind when you say that.”
She nodded. “Yes. Sergei,” she said, deciding to be honest with him.
“His name is Sergei. We've been together for more than two years, but
he ignores me most of the time.”
“You mean, he doesn't call you? He doesn't stay in touch to see how
“No, not lately.”
“Well, that's bullshit. If a man is in love and is serious about a
woman, he'll call or text no matter how busy he is.”
Natasha sighed. It was difficult to admit, but the writing was on the
wall, clear for her to see. She'd made all sorts of excuses for Sergei
but it was finally time for her to move on. She felt melancholy as she
realized this, and Hasan sensed her mood.
“Let's get some coffee,” he said. “That's the best way to end a
day of shopping.” He took her for a walk down Sovietskaya Street, past
the McDonald's and the old townhomes that had been built a century ago
during the time of the Romanovs, and found a cozy alcove in a cafe where
they could just sit and enjoy the afternoon. They talked about Sergei
and about how Ukrainian men were usually drunk and non-committal and how
frustrating it was to be a single woman in a country where there was so
little hope, and Natasha appreciated Hasan's attention to her story. He
seemed interested in every detail.
Later that evening he took her back to Stepanek's Pub for a nice steak
dinner. She wore her new black dress and high heels and Hasan couldn't
take his eyes off her. Natasha felt beautiful and special and was having
a wonderful time, but as the waitress brought them their meals, her cell
phone vibrated. She immediately felt uncomfortable because she hadn't
been expecting a call, and she knew who the caller probably was. She
glanced down at the screen and confirmed the worst. It was a text from
Sergei: Hi sweetie. How are you?
She ignored the text, placed the phone in her purse, and cut into the
juicy tenderloin in front of her. Then her phone vibrated again: I miss
you. Can we meet?
Hasan frowned and his eyes flashed in the candlelight. “Who's texting
you?” he asked. “You look upset.”
“Just a friend - my flatmate. It's nothing important. I can call her
Natasha felt guilty for lying, but she didn't want to ruin their dinner.
Her phone vibrated again and she excused herself, went to the restroom,
and texted Sergei a reply with trembling fingers: It's late now, and I
am already in bed. Let's talk tomorrow. Then she turned off the phone
and placed it deep into her purse before returning to the table.
Excerpted from "Natasha's Ukraine" by Rob Ottesen. Copyright © 2018 by Rob Ottesen. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.