Hoodlums in Russia

* My husband Jeff and I just returned from Moscow, and Carol J. Williams' article, "Russian Crime Soars; Faith in Police Plunges" (May 29), could have been co-authored by us.

The evening before we were to return to Los Angeles, Jeff was attacked by two men with a knife in the elevator of the building where we were staying with a Russian friend. It was still light out at 9:30 p.m. Many neighbors were sitting on nearby benches in this pleasant Moscow suburb where visitors marvel at the statuary and golden fountains of the park on Prospekt Mira. But, I suppose, two men followed a Westerner in the hopes of getting some hard currency easily. They were wrong. Jeff refused to part company with his bag, cognizant that he wouldn't be allowed to leave Russia without his U.S. passport.

The young men had stopped the elevator between floors and jabbed their blade into his cheek. In Russian, they told him to be quiet. Then, they grabbed the bag containing all his documents, credit cards and money. He held onto the leather satchel even though the men cut his face. From his pocket he flung 50,000 rubles at them, (approximately $10 U.S.) hoping to placate the hoodlums. One managed to wrench away his credit cards and the other sprayed him with Mace at close range. While he clutched at his burning eyes, they moved the elevator to the ground floor and jumped out.

He had rung the bell signaling me to press the buzzer that opened the door into the foyer before he ever saw the tall young men who entered with him. To me, listening to the elevator's motor, it seemed like an eternity before Jeff arrived at the seventh floor. When I saw him stumble out I thought he was having a heart attack. He blurted out that he had been attacked and Maced. We flushed his eyes with cooled, boiled water but the burning sensation continued. Williams is right that the police are not interested. We would add to that statement that neither is the U.S. Embassy. First the line was busy, and then there was no response even though we let the phone ring repeatedly 20-plus times. A duty officer should have responded. Is the State Department listening?

The eye specialist who tended to my husband on the afternoon we landed at LAX says that because Jeff wears hard contact lenses, his eye was spared permanent damage by the chemicals in the Mace.

It was frightening, traumatic, inconvenient and unnecessary. As Williams says "steel doors and German shepherds" help. Maybe we need to rent a Rottweiler in Moscow--on our next trip.


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