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“It is truly shocking to see how much they've been brainwashed”: confessions of sex workers who cater to Russian soldiers

Among those who have an intimate understanding of the emotional state and thought patterns of Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine are sex workers, who are privy to their innermost secrets. In an interview with The Insider, these women revealed how the war has profoundly affected the soldiers' mental well-being, leading to a crisis in the sex industry while simultaneously seeing a surge in demand for dominatrix services.

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  • Sex worker D.: “They say the front line is hell, but still they return there”

  • Sex worker K.: “They go to war brainwashed, just like ISIS”

  • Dominatrix Yu.: “My job is to embrace trauma”

Sex worker D.: “They say the front line is hell, but still they return there”

Since the beginning of the war, nobody understood how it would impact the sex work industry. Before the mobilization was announced, everything was normal, but afterward, there was a mass exodus of men going abroad. These were the men who had the means to pay for sex services and were active consumers. The second wave of departures included those who were conscripted, numbering in the hundreds of thousands. They left, and we lost our clients and our income.

This led to significant risks for sex workers. For instance, they started accepting clients they wouldn't have taken before. Not all of them used to work with immigrants from Central Asia, but now they do because there are no other clients. Immigrants don't have as much money, so many girls are forced to lower their rates and increase their volume of work. Sometimes they take clients who are drunk or in a state of drug-induced intoxication. They used to refuse such clients, but now they are compelled to accept them. No men means no work, and no work means no money. And there are no men due to the war.

The community of sex workers is highly diverse, and their attitudes towards the ongoing events also vary. There are those who are vehemently against the war and wish for Ukraine's victory, while others side with Russia. And then there are those who remain indifferent, for whom the most important thing is their work. Some even use the war for marketing purposes. For instance, I have come across advertisements in Moscow and St. Petersburg offering discounts to participants in the military actions. I have seen salons promoting services where clients can come and punish “bad Ukrainians” or, in other words, “do a Ukrainian girl.” Men themselves have started requesting discounts on dating websites or calling in response to ads, saying things like, “I fought, I defended my homeland, and you owe me either free services or a lower price.”

Clients themselves started requesting discounts: “I fought, I defended my homeland, and you owe me a lower price”

In Novosibirsk, there is a sex worker named Angela who operates on the roadside. She has chosen locations near mobilization points and military registration offices as her work spots. These places attract a large number of men who seek stress relief. When men exit the military offices and spot Angela with her car, they approach her to get their stress relieved. She has become somewhat of a local attraction. For her, the war serves as a means to find a concentration of potential clients. In one online community, I read that one of the shells intended for Ukraine had “For Angela” written on it.

Some pimps have relocated their brothels closer to areas where conscripts undergo training. The men there are without partners but have sufficient money since they receive paychecks. This has even led to fights among pimps. It is nearly impossible for independent sex workers to establish themselves in those areas, but brothels can. Of course, all of this is done with the permission of local police officers, as such matters cannot be resolved without their involvement.

Another consequence of the war, in addition to the loss of clients, is the fear for personal safety and the necessity to work with potentially dangerous clients. The behavior of clients who have fought in the war and returned varies greatly. If a person was rational during peacetime, they generally remain so, but if they were aggressive or foolish before, they may be even worse now. In St. Petersburg, there was a case where a whole group of seven or eight men, who were on leave from their military service, caused a disturbance. One of them had a grenade and threatened to detonate it, causing fear and panic among the sex workers. It was later revealed that the grenade was not real, but the girls didn't know that at the time. While such foolish individuals certainly exist during times of peace, it is especially scary now due to the abundance of weapons.

Foolish individuals certainly exist during times of peace, but it is particularly scary now due to the abundance of weapons

Girls sometimes share stories of clients who tell them that they have fought in the war and that although they are supposed to go back, they don't want to because it's a nightmare and hell there; yet they don't see any other way out for themselves. However, these clients behave reasonably.

Russian soldiers also order virtual services and engage in self-pleasure in trenches, bunkers, and shelters right at the front lines. Many sex workers provide both real and virtual services. The price for virtual services is usually much lower, starting from 500 rubles ($5.5) for 10 minutes but can reach up to 3,000 rubles ($33.2), depending on the request. Therefore, it serves more as an additional source of income. Most girls are willing to offer virtual services for an extra fee, whether it's showing something or engaging in sexual conversations. Some do it with their faces visible, while others keep their faces hidden. It can simply involve talking about sexual topics. The man can choose to turn on his camera or not. Many girls request that the camera be turned on to ensure that there isn't a group of drunk minors on the other end.

One acquaintance shared a story about a client who would call directly from the trenches, paying 1,000 rubles ($11) for 10 minutes and sharing his fantasies. The communication would often get interrupted due to battery drainage, and he would have to remove his pants in the bushes. I asked her recently, “Well, does this gentleman still call you?” She replied that he stopped, perhaps finding someone else or, possibly, he was killed.

Sex worker K.: “They go to war brainwashed, just like ISIS”

Due to the war, there is less work available. Some of my clients live abroad. They are Russian-speaking but don't come here. Some are in America, some in China, and others elsewhere. The same thing happened when the first sanctions were imposed in 2014. I worked in a salon, and there were no clients at all. One girl in the entire salon would work only one hour a week, and we all had to make a living from that. Then things slowly started to pick up, but it was sporadic. And now, again, there are three days with work and four days of idling.

I had an encounter with a client who had voluntarily joined the army. He received a bonus from Putin and decided to spend it on prostitutes. He gave it all to us. He took off his new shirt and gave it to me. He was happy and talked about how lucky he was with us. He would constantly drink whiskey and listen to propaganda songs about war on YouTube, by artists like Basta or some other popular singers. He said he would go back again, that he had to defend his homeland. He wasn't crazy, but he was clearly brainwashed. It's like those people in ISIS who are prepared to become suicide bombers - that's what he was like. Words cannot express the shock of seeing a person in such a state. And he was young and not stupid. Why did he rush into that situation?

It seems to me that they simply don't realize the fact that they will have to kill other people. Wives don't understand what their husbands will have to go through. What does the word “war” mean to them? Their husbands go to war and bring back money, but they don't want to think about what's behind it. Many of them are bloodthirsty. For example, he is a drunk, and she may even think, “Good, they'll kill him. I'll get a bonus, and he'll get what he deserves. He's been beating the shit out of me for two years, and now I can finally live happily.” I don't know what else to make out of it. It's very perplexing.

Their wives don't understand what a war is. Their husbands go to war and bring back money, but they don't want to think about what's behind it

Due to the war, many girls have also resorted to working abroad because there are no job opportunities in Moscow. One acquaintance went to China and is currently imprisoned there. She had intended to go to Macau to work in a casino but ended up in a twenty-story brothel. Each room in that establishment is occupied by a prostitute. Clients come in for quick encounters, referred to as “shots” - a swift transaction before departing. Acquaintances who have been there would bring back two to three million rubles in just a month, but it's like a conveyor belt. You go there for a month and earn enough for an apartment or a car.

Another friend of mine recently faced threats from a client. He had lost a leg in the war, and we joked about it, saying, “You never know where you'll find it or where you'll lose it.” She used to take her car to him for maintenance, but he wanted to deceive her. He claimed, “Your car is pretty rusty; it needs a lot of money to fix. Let us handle it all for you.” So, we dealt with him accordingly. In response, he started making threatening phone calls from different numbers, saying, “I'll tear your head off. I'll track you down through the cameras, and you're done for.” Of course, it's unpleasant to hear such things, but on the other hand, if you don't act like a scoundrel, people won't treat you that way.

There was another client from the upper-middle class, educated and well-off. When the mobilization was announced, he argued that it's a man's duty to defend the homeland, and one should go. He is the same age as me. Many of my peers believe that if they are drafted, they must go. However, there are men who believe that all of this is for the benefit of the people in power, driven by their personal gain.

Dominatrix Yu.: “My job is to embrace trauma”

I can't say that there has been a significant increase in clients, but there has been a surge. When people realize they may soon be dead. As a dominatrix, my expertise lies in fulfilling the fantasies that many men secretly desire. However, acknowledging these desires within themselves is an achievement, making the initial contact is an even greater feat, and actually following through by showing up is an act of true heroism. Moreover, during periods of heightened political tension, the progression from contemplation to action accelerates, propelling men towards that third step even more rapidly.

Facing the abyss of the unknown, people want to become more intimately acquainted with their bodies

I've hosted clients who arrived on leave from the SMO, but I didn't observe them behaving any more recklessly. This is likely due to my role as a dominatrix who incorporates elements of violence within a playful context, always followed by gentle caresses. For instance, I may blow on a wound, serve them tea or coffee, or pour them a drink. On the contrary, they seek in me a nurturing presence, akin to a maternal figure, allowing them to indulge in a sense of care and comfort.

People come to me to distract themselves. What's the point of reliving the same events they will soon immerse themselves in again, perhaps in just a few days? That's why our entire encounter is essentially dedicated to a psychological dialogue. We engage in extensive conversations, often about very personal and intimate matters. Sometimes, we reminisce about school crushes, first sexual experiences—these are secrets they wouldn't share with anyone else. We do not discuss politics. When a man returns from war, his primary desire is to talk about himself and his first love, that first girl who either didn't kiss him or, on the contrary, compelled him to kiss her. And now he asks: “Make me kiss you.” It's always a deeply personal experience.

Essentially, my work boils down to embracing trauma. And he realizes: «She doesn't judge me, she understands me because back when I was 15, I was terrified to kiss a girl at a disco. And this woman accepts me for who I am.» But the fact that men want to be understood and seek a temporary refuge for their emotions, even if just for a brief moment, is always beyond politics—it is purely personal and intimate.

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