ABOUT MY WHISPERS OF HORRORWomen search for happiness no matter where they live. They want to build a life, family, career in order to insure a wholesome future. But in much of the world the patriarchal cultures women are born into simply nip at a woman's potential and brutally guards the slave-like position that women occupy. Women struggle as they are bought and sold as property. Their inheritance of an unequal and corrupt system that works against them. All while being enforced by domestic violence which women must deal with alone. These issues, and so much more, are addressed by the voices of real women in ex-USSR nations. We included anonymous letters that will touch and terrify you on a personal level, while learning what women still have to deal with today.
The screams of many women around the world are often forced into nearly silent whispers. But if one listens closely enough, one can hear the horrors these whispers behold. Many women are screaming through these hushed voices every single day, often due to the bloodied hands of their own husband, or even father.
This is an extremely significant issue that continuously pervades all around us today. It is within our neighbor’s home, potentially a family member’s residence, and everywhere else all around the world. It is still a significant problem within western society, but it is nothing compared to the rest of the world. If we want our women to be safe and not live under oppression, then we are required to combat it everywhere. Not only here, but in other parts of the world as well.
This book is about her, my, and even your “personal problems.” Or perhaps, they are not so personal? Interesting, because women need to realize this is an issue for them as a whole, and men must take notice that it is something rotten within society. Today it is your neighbor, but tomorrow it may end up being your daughter. So maybe it is time to turn back, see what is wrong, and find the right path for women.
This book is about something that everybody knows about, and yet some of us appear to still be in some kind of blissful denial. Something many of us see on a daily basis, but would prefer to be ignorant about. In the ex-USSR countries, the issue has such deep roots that to dig it out will take a long time and a substantial amount of effort. This issue is so significant and prevalent that when brought to the surface the resulting shock will knock you over. But of course you must keep quiet about it, or else…
Only, we don’t want to keep quiet. Sorry, but we won’t shut up. Not today, and not ever. We still have our sympathy and our compassion, along with what is vitally important: our understanding that this is not right.
In Eastern countries, the word woman has so often been associated with a lack of rights, with oppression and abuse as if intertwined with cultural traditions. But what kind of decent culture oppresses women with traditions such as these?
The unequal beliefs that a woman shouldn’t receive adequate support from the government, where a husband can abuse her emotionally, fiscally, and physically while controlling her every move and decision! Basically, she lives a life of everlasting work, abuse, experiencing slut-shaming, having him decide everything about her body in regards to abortion or anything else. Welcome back, knitting needles and coat hangers! But of course if she were to protest, then he can easily shut her mouth thanks to the male privileges society bestows upon him.
It is the Slavic nations where men believe they have found the answer to the eternal question ‘What is the purpose of her life?’ The answer: it must be to serve men, raise children, and restrict her spiritual growth within the kitchen. Women must be domesticated and preserved, as if they are nothing more than trained mutts. Equality, respect, and equal opportunities? Forget about it.
As you will read within the letters of this book, this reality has gradually stifled many women’s spirits. It is for this reason we contacted women from a part of the world that we understand well—the ex-Soviet region. We have family that still live in Russia and Ukraine, which provides us with a certain understanding of all these women encaged within their own private little hell.
So we collected a series of letters from women from across both countries, in which they express the problems that they face every day. Anything from employment issues to domestic problems, although of course the majority of the focus is on the abuse the women receive day to day. Employment issues, while important, are not the focus of this book, rather the book focusses on issues such as human trafficking, domestic violence, rape, and child abuse.
What do we aim to do with all of this? Of course to raise awareness, but also to raise funds for non-profit organizations that help with human rights abuses around the world. With this book, we are particularly hoping to raise funds for a specific organization within Cherkassy, Ukraine called the “Young Cherkassy Region Coalition,” an organization that helps women battered down by the society and culture around them. We have looked into the Coalition and are certain they are doing well in regards to their help of women, which is why we are pleased to partner with them.
There was a strong desire to focus on the troubling issue of gender inequality within Russia and Ukraine. While this isn’t exactly the most positive of books, it is our belief that it is vital that awareness is raised concerning what women go through. Naturally, these are not positive stories, highlighting just how many of the world’s women are persecuted, both within and outside ex-USSR countries. Not exactly rosy pictures.
Women are often equated to being nothing better than child bearers and housewives, and that there is nothing more important for them to aspire to in their lives. Women are told to be subservient to their men, instead of being a partner in life. None of this is right.
It is our hope that you walk away from reading these letters with a better understanding of the problems that Russian and Ukrainian women face. And it is our hope that more can be done once enough people know about what these women face.
To help provide more facts on the issue, we have also included our own letters at the beginning of this book. Please keep this information in mind while reading the letters, as it will help in understanding why a woman cannot just pick up everything and leave. Unfortunately it isn’t so simple.
Across much of the world, there is this strange way of thinking that in cases of domestic abuse and women’s issues it is best to keep quiet. Well, we refuse to keep quiet. We are, in fact, choosing to shout from the rooftops about as many issues as we can. Hopefully, many ears will hear us join these women’s screams. Then we can finally do something to save our wives, mothers, daughters, and all of the other forgotten and beaten down women.
My name is Valentina. I have three children and am currently living safely in Germany. While waiting for my next interview with the government, my hope is that luck will finally smile upon me so that I can receive permanent residency.
I would like to tell you the story about my life. Possibly it will help you in figuring out what to do in your own. Perhaps it will help you figure out how to change these strange sexist stereotypes. Or maybe it will at least help you to change the habits or fears in which we live and with which we struggle that make a terrifying hell out of a woman’s life.
The most disgusting part is that we are nurturing children into this despicable life. We educate them so that they will share the same future while duplicating our fears, similar misunderstandings, and the same indoctrinated values. So as a result, we will end up raising even more victims that are, of course, mostly women and children. But this is about my own story not theirs. And my own life story begins in the central part of Ukraine.
I was brought up by my father, who was a construction worker, and by my mother who was a milkmaid. They raised three girls along with our older brother. My father, despite being a hard worker, was an alcoholic. Honestly, in the beginning he didn’t drink a lot, but eventually he was drinking all the time. Drinking a ton of alcohol appeared to be a tradition for Ukrainian men, although I have no idea why it is this way. To be an old man in Ukraine it was expected to drink, and to live in a smaller village it was thought that they needed to drink a significant amount of liquor. It is a very strange way of thinking.
He was often jealous of my mother over nearly everybody and everything. It wouldn’t take much to set him off and the result was always the same. My mom was often walking around covered with bruises, her head held low, a depressed-like state in her eyes.
But in truth, the real horror didn’t introduce itself until my brother had moved away to study in another city. This left us without anyone in the role of our bodyguard. By then I had reached the age of seventeen, with my youngest sister only nine.
A horrific event occurred on the fateful day my sisters and I returned home from our Easter holiday. We had left to exchange presents with our relatives as is our cultural tradition. Upon our return home, we were greeted with only silence at our front door. We knocked and called out for our parents. Yet nobody came to greet us. All that was heard was the sound of our fists against the door and our cries on the front steps. Otherwise, there was nothing.
For a long time we had sat near those stairs to our home while waiting for our mother. We thought maybe Mom was hiding somewhere from our drunk father; we had a nice home in the village with a large garden where we could have easily missed her. We all agreed to wait for her. But we sat there until the sun began to set. So then afterward, out of concern over the situation, we decided to ask our neighbors for assistance. We asked for help to maybe break down the door, or at the very least break a window, so that then finally we could be home and find out what was going on. But the neighbors understood my father’s temper, including how he was the very opposite definition of calm. They said no. Nobody would help us. So with no idea what we should do, we cried.
Finally, though, we had found a phone so we could at least call the police. It took a few hours but they responded to our request for help, breaking down the door to our home. And then this was our moment of terror!
Lying in her own blood was our mother. Above her, was our alcoholic father dangling with a noose around his neck. The police explained to us that he had kicked her until her liver, spleen, and many other organs gave out. Then he decided to take his own life in reaction. So this is the story how, during the Easter holidays, we became orphans.
Mind you, one of the worst parts of all of this was what the police themselves were saying. “Why didn’t she just leave him? He probably was a schizophrenic. It is almost as if she was asking for this!” These words angered me as I knew very well it wasn’t true. She had tried to save us from him many, many times. But it didn’t matter who we went to, be it neighbors or friends. Nobody wanted to help us, so as a result we were always left with returning home. Everyone was afraid that out father would take revenge, and to them our situation was normal. Also, many witnesses to the violence toward his wife and children told our mother crazy things, like:
“You must stand it because you are a woman.”
“It is your destiny!”
“If he is hitting you at all, it means that he loves you.”
“Who else will take care of a woman with four children?”
“You will die of hunger alone.”
“Nobody needs you.”
“Nobody could be interested in you as a woman.”
When I was nineteen, I finally got married. He was a very quiet boy with absolutely no self-confidence. It was noticed right away that there was something wrong with him. Even so, I was happy that he appeared to be the complete opposite of what I had seen in my father while growing up. Plus, on hearing about my history he had promised he would never touch me, not even with a single finger.
Then I gave birth to our daughter. While I was still in the hospital he was drinking a boatload of alcohol during the week I was away. And he didn’t stop. He was confident that I couldn’t run anywhere as we now had a small child. So this drunken boat never had a cork put in it. He also told me at last that before me he always drank like this. That is, he was drinking until he finally realized he needed a family, which forced him to only sober up until he had the protection of a young child.
But it wasn’t enough protection for him. I went to court and applied for a divorce. So then all of my neighbors were looking at me like I was the devil, as it was strange thought that one should leave her husband. We had a small baby, we were only married very recently; so then no matter what, there was the expectation to stay with this man. I became the outcast of the village. Not him—me.
Lesbianism is a crime in itself in traditional Russian village life. To be somebody’s perfectly eligible, family pride-inheriting daughter who identifies as a lesbian is considered to be like Satan’s right-hand lover. And if I am his lover, Satan took the form of a girl named Marina. Yes, I succumbed to Satan: “he” happened to be my one true love, and my entire world. And I must be quite addicted to this senseless evil I am carrying out while living in a world of hellfire and devil’s horns, because I can’t possibly imagine living without this woman. What would rouse the most shock and horror from others is stating that it actually isn’t all that different from a man and woman being in love. Imagine that!
At thirty-two, I live in Moscow now. Though it seems that the world of Satan would be miserable (at least to the outside world), it’s actually quite magnificent. It’s invigorating, romantic, satisfying—that’s just what Marina and I have when we’re together. And the only real trail of pain in this satanic world of mine only lies behind my hometown we left behind. Our sin was too great to bear for them, the only real hellish aspect of my evil world. Memories of old, smiling faces become twisted in disgust and damnation, tainted with consequence and the connotations of what I’d sacrificed. Yet, my sacrifice and Marina’s sacrifice was simply for the ones we love—each other.
My life would be a fleeting and beautifully simple normalcy had Marina been granted male anatomy—why is that? Regardless of my private actions, I would be considered healthy, one to carry integrity and dignity, and pure with a man by my side. Heaven would be easily in sight! But Marina is not a man, therefore I’m automatically tossed into the flaming pits of hell, and I am a symbol of shame, regret, and failure for my parents. Worse—I no longer exist. My value as a woman is dependent on a man’s love; therefore I am faceless, valueless…dead.
Four months: the longest relationship I’d ever had with a man, as of five years ago. Four measly months—you can imagine it hadn’t worked out very well. Four months of emptiness; what the two of us had (or lack thereof!) felt like a farce, a soulless front. I pranced with a plastered-on smile throughout life, fulfilling the ignorance and conformity that is “normalcy.” During those four measly months and in other involvements with men, this “normalcy” didn’t cause me to swoon with dreamy images of marriage and happiness. Who did swoon with these images of grandeur, however, was my mother.
“She’s finally found her future husband!” she’d say of that four-month farce. By this time, she’d told everyone including our neighbors! He was tall, dark, and handsome; muscular, handy around the house, and had an amazing job—the ideal recipe for a financially and socially comfortable life for the perfect, obedient, successful wife and daughter. Blah, blah, blah! None of that talk ever considered what I wanted. She didn’t care. It’s possible that she’d internally acknowledged my unusual attractions, that dark hole in my soul void of “normalcy.” Maybe she was excited that I could end up with a man after all. Maybe she was excited that I could be saved.
In my experience, feeling normal apparently doesn’t equate to fulfilling what the world expects of you to be considered “normal.” I’ll tell you why—of all things, that relationship was the most abnormal feeling I’d ever had! Even walking beside him, I felt uncomfortable. Walking in front of him or behind him had connotations of inequality; what kind of couple were we? And we did try to make it work, but it was like fitting puzzle pieces together that did not belong. It felt wrong, unnatural! My balance of being, my sense of fitting into place…it was corrupted, and I often cried myself to sleep. Yet, there was no option for me but to try. In our country, it’s almost entirely considered unnatural to be a homosexual. And if such tendencies were out in the open, this type of love could very well receive responses that are disheartening, dehumanizing, dangerous…perhaps even deadly.
And then, it happened. Satan had come to sweep me away from the dark world! Or rather, a woman named Marina; the very opposite of the devil, in fact. A vision of perfection, true beauty! Upon getting to know her, for once I felt at peace; my love felt natural. And just as in heterosexual relationships, it didn’t take long for the chemistry to take wing—I quickly learned she felt the same way I felt about her. My world was spun in the right direction, and I had found my true happiness. My everything! My soul mate, whose essence could put me to sleep without sobbing and made me feel as though all was right in the world.
Just like my four-month relationship being a farce, keeping the relationship between Marina and I quiet felt like a farce as well. Though we’d initially decided to remain silent, living a lie and not being able to freely express our love was a hindrance. At this point, I’d already ended the relationship with my old boyfriend. My poor mother was downright devastated—it was as though he was her own son! Like she’d loved him more, or at least the peace of mind he brought.
We decided to approach my parents first. How did it go? Well, to say “it didn’t go well,” would be like saying the genocide in Rwanda “didn’t go well.” An odd comparison, but on an emotional level for me, it was unimaginably traumatizing and destructive. The explosions, the lines immediately drawn between and against the family. How quickly and unforgivingly relationships, memories, and commitments were broken—it was as though a vacuum had sucked it all away from my body. My entire soul, scared out of its wits and having succumbed into the swirling void of hatred and ignorance.
Throughout my young life, I never really wanted much—I’ve always liked it simple. There were three things at that point I desired in earnest: One, I wanted to marry Marina and live the rest of my life by her side. Two, I wanted to raise three beautiful adopted children. And three, I wanted to remain in close contact with my parents, carrying out a continued inclusive and “normal” relationship. I’d never done drugs, never hurt anyone, nor taken advantage of them—I was never greedy or malicious. However, for my parents finding out they now had a “hell-raising” lesbian daughter on their hands was hardly comforting for such traditional minds. Even so, I hoped they’d wish for me to just be happy. My dream life wasn’t ideally “normal,” but it wasn’t harmful. Why couldn’t I just be happy?
I soon found that the happiness I wanted would come with a price. I’d not only lose my parents’ acceptance, love, and support but also apparently rot in the flaming pits of hell with “that” satanic woman. My mother first attempted to calmly sit me down. She scolded me, bartered with me, and assured me—I was a child all over again. “If you don’t find an ideal partner by your age…when you are nearing your thirties…it doesn’t mean that you like girls. You know, I know a few friends that have single sons. Good boys too. They don’t drink too much either. I can show you that this is just a temporary hobby of yours. Don’t worry, you can find a man! You will not be an old maid.”
What did it mean that I was thirty and hadn’t found a partner? And why would I be an old maid? I had plans! Marina and I were now conceptualizing a life together. My relationship with her wasn’t a fleeting, useless fling to cope with my failure with men, but a commitment! I just wanted nothing more but to share that with my parents. And to my greatest hopes and dreams, the plans to finally settle down and revel in my greatest salvation of love…They laughed.
And when they stopped laughing, they told me it was an illness. “You must be sick!” they said, and vaguely that they could find me some place through the church that could cure me of this habit. But even if I were sick, I didn’t want the cure—I didn’t wish to be with a man. What I was doing felt right for me; it felt important.
Realizing their failure, my parents snapped. My father especially—he called me a “dirty whore,” selfish, that I blamed my issues on my family with no self-responsibility. And since lesbianism wasn’t a natural human tendency, I must have chosen to do it because I was spoilt too much. He should have beaten me when I was younger, he said.
I want to first thank you for providing this outlet for us women to speak. In my part of the world it is often complicated when a woman reaches out for any kind of help. When we, as women, reach out toward those around us after going through the kind of thing I did, often there is only silence. But of course, when men see these women, it is perfectly okay to still welcome them in! But for the women to be even forced into anything apparently sinful, then they are damned to hell.
Even the court system will often not provide any kind of justice for a woman. Even though my situation was one of the greatest horrors that a woman can face, they didn’t help me a whole lot either. And yet, it is a real problem here in Russia, but my own government care neither about my plight nor that of any other woman that experience the same.
Little do many men seem to understand: when you buy a prostitute you’re not actually paying her. You’re paying the pimp to bring in more slaves for his sexual prison called “prostitution.” Many women are not there by choice. Whether they were being tricked through a promising career option overseas, or through being sold by a friend of your family, they are often forced into it under threat of death—either theirs or their family’s back home. They’re also often beaten and tortured into such a submissive state that many of these rapist purchasers of women do not know that they are in fact participating in perpetual rape. For those that do know what they are doing though, well, it makes their act of payment that much more despicable. The money they pay to these women is never kept by the women; it’s handed to the pimp either under threat or the suggestion that they have an endless debt for repayment.
I was one of these unfortunate sexually enslaved victims.
My life started out not being so bad, though I was growing into the typical victim, even if I didn’t know it. My childhood was rather happy, though. Even in my adulthood my life was that of a young beautiful housewife with a newly born baby girl, whose father seemed a decent man. A good man is difficult to find in my part of the world and even harder in our village. We understood this, seeing the men enjoying drinking significant amounts of liquor, before then beating their wives.
So, I counted myself fortunate that he chose to resolve differences with discussion rather than fists, and treat his depression with comfort from me rather than vodka. And best of all, he always tried to be an active part of our child’s life, despite his endless work hours. That is, endless work hours until he lost his job with no explanation provided.
My husband was having very little luck finding work. I ended up noticing an advertisement in the paper for a job that was available though. It was out of the country for a year of touristic work, and was for the level of pay a westerner usually receives. For a young Russian family out of work, it sounded like an amazing opportunity. But this touristic job was specifically looking for young hard-working women. So after much discussion with my husband, along with comfort for his inability to provide at the time, we decided that I would apply.
The interview seemed mostly typical and standard. They asked me about my experience in the service sector, which included jobs waitressing and volunteering at the local museum. They had asked me questions on how I’d handle various difficult situations. I did find it a bit odd, though, that they also asked me some rather personal questions about my marriage and child, thrown in here and there. But they appeared, at the time, to be minor, and I had thought nothing of it during this interview. Perhaps I was naive or stupid.
But looking back, I now know it was a warning sign. They were trying to analyze me to see if I would be the perfect little victim for their web of deceit and rape. And unfortunately, I fit into their perfect little picture. They offered me the job on the spot.
While I was reluctant to leave my newborn child alone, I knew that my husband would be a good father, so I reluctantly said yes. Work is scarce over here, after all, so we needed to do what we could to feed and provide for our family. We needed food on the table and diapers for our baby girl.
They explained that the job would be in the United States. I would be working for a touristic company in New York City that required young Russian women. While they did not go through a lot of details regarding my “duties,” they did specify that it would be touristic in nature and that I’d be interacting with many Russians, Americans, and Europeans. They explained it’d take a couple of weeks to complete the paper work for the visa, and then they could place me on a flight to my new employment for the next year. It was good that I had taken English lessons in university, I thought. That would come in use during my employment overseas.
The next couple of weeks were filled with many somber moments of tears and sadness. I didn’t really want to leave my family for a year, nor was my husband very happy to see me go. But we completely understood the opportunity of this job prospect. I would save every penny earned, and then when I returned our home, we would move to Moscow, set up a business together, and build a better way of life for our family. At least, that was the plan.
But plans change when extreme tragedy happens. And this tragedy resulted in tremendous consequences all our lives, especially my own.
Even so, during our final goodbyes, our families and my husband exchanged many kisses, hugs, and tears with me before I finally departed. They all mentioned how they loved me, would miss me, and how they respected my sacrifice for our family. Everyone was there for the goodbye: my parents, my grandparents, his parents, his grandparents, my two brothers, and his sister along with his brother. They were all there as one supportive family to show their love and care for me and their support for our family’s decision. I even received a few little gifts and many pictures to take with me, along with my favorite thing of all: a photograph of my husband holding our small baby.
All mothers I’m sure understand the kind of pain involved in leaving behind a child. They must understand how difficult that is. To leave my husband and my baby girl! It brought me to tears countless times during those weeks.
I finally arrived in the United States, the land supposedly for the free; well, maybe anyone but me. After retrieving my bags, I found my boss, an older woman of obvious Russian decent. She explained to me that she had been in the same position as me, and that if I was obedient and good at my work, much success could come my way. Believe me, I tried to find out more about my duties on the way from the airport, but all she’d do was just smile that charismatic smile and then tell me that I’d be fine and learn in good time. Plus, she explained, there was no rush. It was best to enjoy the sites on this drive as I might be too busy to see much of them for a while.
And, that I did, as it was my first time seeing any city outside of Russia. The city was beautiful and, truthfully, I was charmed by the new and different culture along with the surrounding architecture. Not even for a moment did I question what was about to happen. Who would ever think that anyone could do anything so cruel to, well, anyone else?
When the taxi dropped us off at an old apartment building, that was when I began to feel unease wave over me. This place didn’t look as charming as the rest of the town. The apartment building didn’t appear appealing at all.
And, that was when things started to go downhill. The older woman, Helga, took me into the building where there appeared to be vacant halls, though it looked like there was a lot of use not long ago.
I was brought to one of the flats, and there were two men already there. They offered me a drink, which I had at first declined, but after some pressure I reluctantly accepted their offer. One of the men, along with Helga, sat with me at the table, while the other man stood by the door as if he were some kind of security. They were discussing with me about my home and family. All seemed quite normal at first, until he finally said, “And, you better do as we say... if you care for their wellbeing.”
I stood up to try to leave, but the other man moved in the way of the door. I was also beginning to feel very odd. My drink! Drugged with some kind of substance to make me more obedient. It was then that I slipped and fell to the floor. The man at the table was quickly on his feet, only to push me down further toward the ground as I tried to get back up.
“You will learn to love this, bitch. You will love being a whore.”
And then he had proceeded to rape me.
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