These days, Ukraine doesn't seem like the place to go looking for love.
But Odessa, Ukraine, is just one of many places some men go to chase it.
Journalist Shaun Walker, reporting for The Guardian, spent a lot of time in Odessa, with both western men and their potential brides. But those relationships rarely seem to go past potential. Walker's new e-book, "Odessa Dreams: The Dark Heart of Ukraine's Online Marriage Industry" explores these dating trials.
“It’s really quite a huge business,” Walker says. “The company that I went with had revenues last year of $140 million.”
Last year, Walker booked a trip to Odessa through the dating company AnastasiaDate, which claims to mediate “international romance.”
The reality, however, isn’t so rosy. Walker describes an “extraordinary industry of very sophisticated scams, semi-scams, sort of quarter-scams” in Odessa.
Men dole out thousands of dollars, chatting with women online, even before they arrive in Ukraine. When they do shell out the money for a plane ticket, they must pay for dates, translators, transportation and, in some cases, even a ring.
“A lot of the times, these men are talking to a woman who doesn’t actually want to get married to them. Sometimes they might even be married,” Walker says.
At the end of the day, it’s a rather trying situation for all parties involved.
The men, Walker says, are desperate to find love and companionship. The women are looking for ways to support impoverished families.
“By the end of the week, I had no idea whether I was supposed to despise everybody or pity everybody,” Walker says. “It really messed with my head.”
Even with the current unrest, men aren’t deterred. Walker says trips are still on track and the men are still coming, maybe even with higher hopes than before.
“One of the things that attracts people to Ukraine is that this sort of idea of a fantasy bride. The idea that you’re taking them somewhere that’s better than where they’ve come from.”