They populate Odessa's numerous terrace cafés, stroll in hordes through its parks, and fill the plush velvet seats of its 19thcentury opera house.
A foreign man, usually though not always over 60 and American, sits with a Ukrainian girl, probably in her twenties and strikingly attractive.
Habitually, they are joined by another young woman, the translator, who facilitates the dialogue."She says she likes a strong man who knows his mind." "Tell her I love the idea of two cultures coming together in a relationship." "She says she thinks you could be her soulmate."Hundreds of dating agencies operate in Odessa, luring the foreign dollar into the laidback Black Sea port city with a suggestion of the nubile young model living a life so impoverished that she will be ready to fly away with the first slack-skinned foreign pensioner who offers her a way out.
Other cities in Ukraine, and other countries in Eastern Europe and Asia, also have well-developed bride industries, but Odessa is a global hub for men looking for love.
I was with a girl who just stole ,500 from me and disappeared, changed her phone number. They have no values." It is a complaint I will hear from almost all the men during my week in Odessa.For one of them, I find out later, it is not only his first trip outside the US, but also the first time he has ever been to a nightclub."I'm very conservative, so I never go to bars or clubs," says 47-year-old Joe, a hay farmer from Pennsylvania with an awkward manner.Affable but shy, Joe has trouble meeting women at home, and has had little contact with women since his wife died of cancer five years ago.They then have a week to go on dates with the women they encounter at the socials, meet up with those they have met online previously, and perhaps end their tour with a proposal.With their clipboards and information packs, the men listen attentively to the induction speech in our hotel's conference room, given by tour leader John Carlton, who speaks in a Tennessee drawl.