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Larissa sits alone at the bar of the Intourist Hotel. She is 20, with long chestnut hair and the face of a Ukrainian madonna. She is also a hard-currency prostitute who sells her body to strangers for valuta --dollars, deutschemarks, lira and yen.
Lighting up her first cigarette of the evening, Larissa smiles sweetly and explains why she dons her leopard-print mini-dress and black boots several nights a week and makes her way to this chilly hotel lounge to dangle her long legs over a bar stool.
It is not enough to live. Unlike the beautiful call girls of the Cold War era, Larissa and thousands of young women like her are not working under direct orders of the KGB--their prime motivation is economic. The proliferation in most Soviet cities of sleek, pricey prostitutes with a Western clientele illustrates the depth of the economic and moral collapse in this onetime superpower. When American broadcaster Ted Koppel visited Moscow last year to film a special television report on sex in the Soviet Union, he found a study in which women ranked prostitution 8th among the top 20 preferred professions.
Many of the young women haunting hotel bars today have attended college and speak English. Across the Soviet Union, police charged 5, women with prostitution in , according to Interior Ministry statistics. Petersburg, where he has found a construction job. So about a year ago, without telling her husband, Larissa started moonlighting. Already, she has been able to buy a Lada car, a brown leather jacket and a five-room flat, an unspeakable luxury in this land of chronic housing shortages.
But like any red-blooded capitalist, Larissa is also thinking long-run. Unlike some of the more seedy Moscow hotels, the Kiev Intourist prides itself on running a clean ship, and there are no obvious on-the-make ladies lounging in the hotel lobby or knocking on doors at midnight wearing a big smile and not much else.