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A True Story of Love, Survival and Freedom

Chapter 12

Under Attack

Meg Stone in Kiev, Ukraine.

Meg takes a picture of Elena taking a picture of Meg.

Mama's eyes darted between me -- standing there, like an idiot, cajoling diners to call the police -- and Elena. Papa had her immobilized, but didn't look like he could hold her much longer. Knowing the crowd was on her side, Mama opted for a quick lunge and bear hug to relieve Papa. He still didn't let go. Until, that is, a new player joined the game.

Turns out, domestic assault and kidnapping -- or Puss-n-boots piddling in the petunias -- are trivialities beneath official intervention. Threatening the furnishings, however, is not! A pissed off security guard stood there, appraising the toppled furniture, and glaring accusingly at Papa.

"She, there! That woman!" Papa gestured wildly. "That woman is a foreigner, a criminal! Our family, my poor wife, my daughter, we are in such danger." Then, for good measure, "Such a good thing you are here!"

The guard wasn't moved. All those stairs he had to climb. I'm guessing that any disturbance requiring his attention, was a disturbance that had gone on long enough. He asked the Russian family to kindly leave the premises.

That totally didn't go over well. Mama and Papa lost it simultaneously. Competing for decibels, they went at it non-stop, about bagging a big-time criminal. To illustrate the gravity of the situation, and highlight their dire need for protection, Papa whipped out his grainy, ink-jet printed portrait of me, grinning away with my beloved Nautica, half liter, coffee mug. "See, here is the proof!"

Mama: "That is your criminal!"

Papa: "Get her before she hurts others!"

Security guard: cringing. Saying nothing.

Mama: "Can not you see, we are the victims?"

Papa: "Comrade, we are kind, decent, hardworking people, protecting our child."

The vocal duo had each other whipped into a frenzied, incoherent, sonic shockwave of snorting-growling-screeching-barking-squawking-screaming-hooting-cawing-bellowing and oinking, that had most within earshot, cringing, laughing, or simply, awed into wordless astonishment.

Could be, the rent-a-cop was nursing a migraine... or hangover. He turned away from the cacophony and approached. The guy was probably hurting more than me. "You okay?" He asked.

I cocked an eyebrow. "Call the police."

Turning his back on those so heroically defending the honor of Russia? How dare he! The caterwauling went weapons-grade.

The guard dug out his cellphone, bent closer to me. Probably counted on my Paleolithic, mastodon-hide coat absorbing some of the sonic energy. Plugging his other ear, he made the call.

Flag Kiev at the European Table on Kreschatic

Sunday afternoon on Kreschatic, Kiev's main downtown street. Closed to vehicles on Sunday, the area becomes a massive, public gathering place. The huge flag being paraded up and down Kreschatic proclaims, Kiev -- at the European table. That was 2006, both Ukrainians, and Elena and Meg, had no idea what was coming.

With the snarling fistula of Russians outside, the sanctity of McDonalds was restored. Sort of: the second floor feeding area had become an indoor viewing platform, like one of those luxury boxes at a stadium. The crowd pressed up against the windows to enjoy the bout; happily indoors, given the nasty weather.

At high-noon, it was darker than it had been when Elena and I emerged from the subway that morning. One hell of a lot colder too. An erratic, blustery wind scraped up dry snow and sand-blasted it into anything in its path. That included the not-so-happy guard, me, Mama and Papa, and the destroyed twenty-seven year old clamped between them. Elena, however, could have been hit by an avalanche, for how aware she was of the weather. The fact of the matter was that since Papa slammed three tickets onto the table, and then, his fist into her beloved's face, Elena wasn't aware of much of anything.

I stood away from the weird group. Elena was trapped between Mama and Papa, she appeared to be on the edge of collapse: a losing prizefighter awaiting the final blow. The security guard hung close by the group, ready to intervene if they made to reenter the burger joint.

If Elena passed out: broken, snapped, they'd have won. I stepped toward her. "Can you hear me?" Nothing. Zero response. "Come on! Stay with me." I got closer, still. "The cops are coming... Elena! Come-on, c'mon, c'mon! Don't give up."

Papa broke from the clot, spun toward me.

That time, I ducked.

His haymaker passed high. He stumbled forward in the follow through. I stepped aside. The guy fought like a drunk, but managed to catch himself before doing a faceplant. Straightening up, turning to me, he pulled back his right -- pain, obviously forgotten -- ready to break every metacarpal he had on my snout. But, the guard grabbed his elbow. "What? Let go, you..." He fired a venomous, wide eyed glare at the guard, bringing up his left to plow him a good one. Then, making what was probably the most rational decision in his whole life, shook his fist instead of landing it on the guard, and instead, horked up a prize-winning loogie and spat it into my face.

I was suddenly blind, and not in that funny glasses-fogged-up kind of way, but with my eyes filled with whatever Elena's father had been fermenting up in his dark, moist places. Instant soft focus, and a warm, organic, wonderfully pathogen laced facial. Ah, lovely.

Elena Ivanova restrained by parents outside McDonalds in Kiev Ukraine

Elena is restrained by her parents outside McDonalds at the Kiev train station during the assault and kidnapping attempt. A security guard keeps the peace, while police take over an hour to arrive.

The excitement stirred Mama back into action. She launched into her air-raid-siren screeching. On and on -- incessant sonic warfare. "Go away! Go Away! Gooo Aaaawaaay!" Nobody was leaving, despite Mama's serenade. For some reason, the guard hung around in the worsening conditions. Probably to keep the crazies out of McDonalds. Maybe, to keep them from killing the girl. I wasn't sure of anything, except that it was freezing, earsplitting, embarrassing, and dragging on, endlessly.

An hour later, a squad of Ukrainian militia sauntered onto the scene. Their nonchalance left me wondering what they thought they were doing there -- a coffee break, perhaps. Maybe they just happened to wander past the disparate group -- a guard freezing to death and two crazies locked around a half dead woman -- by the entrance. The guard convinced them, however, that they were, indeed, there to deal with his wards. Then, with a look of utter relief -- hitherto only fabled to exist -- he vaulted back into the fast food joint.

"What is this disturbance you are making at McDonalds?" One of the heavily clad cops, asked.

The ensuing pyroclastic eruption had an older cop sorry he asked, and actually retreating. The two younger ones, grinning sheepishly, snickered conspiratorially. Especially when the six-legged, crazy-d'beast followed his retreat in full shuffle and sustained fortissimo.

"Enough!" The senior cop bellowed, frightening the crazy-d'beast's fore and aft sound emission orifices into silence. "Break it up. Move apart. Let her go."

"No!" Shuffle. Shuffle. Retreat.


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

"You are the ones restraining an adult against her will. It's you who is insane!" He signaled his younger colleagues to separate the group. They cleaved Papa from the scrum. It gave him the opportunity to root around for his weapon-of-mass-incrimination. 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.

Elena Ivanova photographs candles

Shrieking and hooting, militia, comical violence, Russian rubes pulling a Three Stooges act, a westerner, maybe some kind of girl-on-girl depravity; and, it's middle of the day, nothing on TV, nothing to do between trains. It was pulling in a good size crowd of spectators. The older cop wasn't impressed. It was time to take this show on the road, or a few hundred meters down the road -- as it happened, to the police station.

The group left. All of them except me. I was just an unwanted complication. The militia didn't need another problem, another victim, another statement, another report. Elena's parents certainly didn't need the stranger they'd assaulted, and were making ridiculous allegations against, standing up for herself, setting the record straight, or worst of all, out-bribing them. So, it was like I didn't exist, which was fine for everyone but Elena. "Let me go!" She twisted. Mama constricted. The cops looked embarrassed. Each shuffled-dragged-wrenched step further from me ramped up Elena's resolve to fight. "Meg, don't leave me! Don't... gaaack!" A preemptive Heimlich shut her up. The militia men didn't intervene.

"Officer, how long can she stay here, in Ukraine?" Mama, still 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 emphasized, daughter. "Is Russian."

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

They dragged Elena down a narrow, square-sided gulch. One side was defined by a high, Berlin-wall replica, and the other, a dilapidated industrial facade. We were on some kind of service road, but hard to tell, with it being buried under at least a foot of fresh snow. Eventually the gulch ended at an imposing, iron gate.

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

A plush toy, Elena gave to Meg when she arrived, sits on a cheap and nasty Formica bedside table along with various artifacts of love.

A gatekeeper staggered from a tiny, plywood kiosk. Russian techno-pop followed him out, bopping and scratching its way onto the gusts of wind. He heaved the gate aside, and then shut, with a dramatic clang, just before I could follow the group through. The gatekeeper wave me off with the back of a hand.

I was locked out.

Elena heard the gate. Wrenched herself around to find me.

"It is done. Who is going to fight for you now?" Papa sneered.

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

The rotund gatekeeper stood his ground, staring me down. A machine gun held diagonally across his belly. The militia men and Papa came to a stop. Mama kept wrestling Elena toward the crumbling, slab building in the middle of the compound.

Elena was screaming. "Meg, don't leave! Don't leave me. The police will help us. Show them your passport. Show them you are with me and we need their help."

The tension ramped up with English getting screamed outside a Ukrainian police detachment. Suddenly, the officers were far less jovial.

"Stop! Silence! It is enough!" One of the juniors barked from inside the gate, and loud enough to stop anyone -- not already stopped -- in their tracks. He turned to me. Leveled a glare through the gate that could have melted it. "You! You are the cause of all this?" He started toward me. "Come here. Show me your papers!"

I complied, handing my passport through the bars. Junior thumbed through pages, likely interested only in my nationality, then he gestured to the gatekeeper.

Elena Ivanova in Kiev Ukraine

Elena with her tiny Nikon discovering a whole new world of freedom, the early days. Pre-attack and kidnapping, she was still working on deprogramming the whole, troweling on makeup, shtick.

The gate was opened a crack. Junior grabbed my blood spattered, faux-fur collar and yanked me into the compound.

"You wait here. You are under arrest!" He ordered.

The gatekeeper spat at my boots, and then, for a particularly dramatic flourish, disengaged the safety on his machine gun.

That got the senior militia man -- the one dealing with Mama -- involved before the inconvenience of a foreigner gunned down at his station made an already really bad day, a whole lot worse. He snatched my passport from junior.

"This visa has expired. What are you doing in Ukraine?" He demanded.

The juniors and their Russian bum friend would have shared high-fives if it wasn't such a decadently deprived, Western thing.

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

The juniors stared like they'd just been knackered. Papa looked at the senior cop hopefully. Mama had stopped breathing altogether.

"Correct. She has a right to be here." He handed me my passport, then got back to his McDonalds disturbers.

"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 cops and Russians set off for the detachment across the compound. The gatekeeper sneered at me, then waddled into his ramshackle kiosk, wired the door shut, and left me standing there, out in the compound... in a rapidly intensifying blizzard.

Ukrainian police in 2006

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

Boxing-glove-like, down-filled mitts made it close to impossible to grasp my phone, let alone flip it open and dial. I bit down on one, yanked my hand out, and dug my phone from a pocket. Roaming and time zones be damned, I hit speed dial and waited. Standing outside in a blizzard, in a post-Soviet police compound, I listened to interminable clicks and beeps, hoping for a connection to my own home phone. Bernadette was house-sitting. With luck she wouldn't be at work. It rang... and rang.

Then, "What!?" I was in luck. "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! 'Forbidden' " The gate guard's bellowing buried whatever Bernadette was trying to say. "It is forbidden to phone from the police station." He was out of his shack and stomping toward me.

"What is that? Who is yelling?"

"A cop." I hunched over the phone. Tried to disappear inside my hood. "Well, sort of a cop, actually a guard, I think."

"A guard, where are you!?"

"Kiev. Central train station. The police department."

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

"What did you do?" Bernadette demanded.

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

I had my back turned to the bellowing guard. All I could think to say was, "No speakie Rooskie!" Why not? It worked for the foreign students back home. It might buy me some time.

It didn't. He circled around, reached toward my face, and in English, veritably hollered, "Give to me, telephone. Not allowed in police station!"

"Hey Bernie, gotta go. If you don't hear from me in twenty-four, call the consulate. Miss you, bye!" I snapped the phone shut, dropped it into one of my bottomless, marsupial-pouch-like pockets, then put my hands up. My right was bare, exposed to the cold. Its mitten lay in the snow a few paces away. I gestured at it, pantomimed putting it on.

"No phone!" The guard repeated slowly, in English. "No tee-lee-phone here." He eyed me menacingly. Made sure I knew he was in charge. Then satisfied, he turned and trudged back to his shack.

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