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Feature Story March 3, 2003
By Jake Rudnitsky Browse author Email
Page 5 of 6
Max and Lily are remarkably well preserved, considering they've both been on the needle for about three years. They were quite pasty and Max had scabs all over his face, but otherwise... At least they both hold down steady, if low-paying, jobs, and the apartment hadn't been strip-mined. The family resemblance was striking as all three stumbled around together.

I sat in the kitchen while Max and Lily alternated washing the kid, sometimes leaving him alone, but always checking up on him. It's tough to watch junkies with kids because they're just so out of it. I don't know if the junk had anything to do with it, but I didn't hear the kid speak a single sentence the whole time I was there. Still, it was definitely a step up from how Vlad described Lily's friend Valya. Her apartment was always full of people, but everyone was too high to hear the baby crying as it wallowed in its own shit.

Max and Lily support their smack habit by acting as couriers. It's a well-developed system in Tynda: an acquaintance will stop by, hand them the money, and Max runs to Ali's in the neighboring podyezd for the goods. He shaves a bit off the top of the order at Ali's, and then asks for a bit face to face. Everyone knows that's how it works, and as long as Max doesn't get too greedy, everybody's happy. Ali sells to a familiar face, Max gets a fix, and the buyer isn't exposed to any risk at all.

The system only falls apart once the courier stops being reliable, as inevitably happens. Hardcore junkies start skimming more and more off the top until their clients stop using them. Soon they're out of work, there's no furniture and eventually they go to jail. Unless they overdose first.

A couple of Vlad's friends - the two that dumped the guy's body after he OD'd - got arrested recently, on separate charges. Both had been krutiye back in the day, but they got caught up in the first wave of junk that hit Tynda about four years ago. Back then, New Russians thought smack was hip.

Ilya was a successful Greco-Roman wrestler, which offered an excellent chance to embark on a life of crime. He made his money working as a provodnik traveling on the Tynda-Khabarovsk line and smuggling khank, an opium derivative that you swallow.

Then he got into heroin and started racking up massive debts, to the tune of 40,000 rubles, to various gangsters around town. When nobody would lend to him anymore, he began breaking into apartments, which is never a good idea in such a small town. Two years ago, his girlfriend died shooting up. His life was collapsing around him.

By last summer, all of Tynda's cops and criminals were after him. He hid out in Birobidzhan for a while, then came back to Tynda, where he was lucky that the cops grabbed him first. He's been sentenced to five years, five months.

Zhena used to be completely loaded, having been the rough equivalent of Ali, only with khimki. He had foreign cars, a 1000-ruble a day habit, and lots of gold rings no doubt. The smack caught up with him, too, and by the time his friend died on him this summer, Zhena was reduced to driving a Shestyorka.

He got married in November and one month later was arrested for organizing the robbery of his brother-in-law's apartment. "He used to be a decent guy," Vlad said. "Then he started that shit and stole from his own family." Vlad predicts he'll get a five-year term, just like everybody.

It's staggering to think that five years ago there was virtually no smack in Tynda. The first local tested HIV+ in 1999. Now there are 17-year-old junkies and AIDS is on the horizon. And the weirdest thing is that nobody seems to care.

Take Misha. If he had died on us, we would have stuffed him in a trunk and ditched him in the Taiga a la Goodfellas. Only we wouldn't have to worry if anyone found him a couple months from now. Nobody even counts the dead and missing junkies out here. I'm not trying to be callous and hardened-it's just what we would have had to do.

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