The Real Mafia in Ukraine

 Snowy street in Kyiv, Ukraine

Ukraine has a serious mafia problem, especially since the 90s. Locals have lived closely with this mafia; I think they’re somewhat blind to it.   But, as an outsider, I noticed this mafia from day one. It’s the mafia that watches us while we sleep, knows whom we’re with at all times, controls the entryways of apartment buildings, public transportation, the metros….

Word has it that this mafia even keeps young lovers at universities from taking their romantic relationships to the next level by denying couples from entering dormitory rooms late-night.   While this mafia isn’t frightening in the traditional sense, it’s powerful, well organized, and pervades all sectors of Ukrainian society. Nobody will—or can—outmuscle this dominant force.

This mafia is the Babooshka Mafiosa.

This vigilant group is a collection of older women, roughly between ages 58 and 72. While they are all considered “old” in this part of the world, their senses are sharp and acute. Where vision might fail, and hearing is potentially clapped out, intuition and extraverted sensing make up the loss, helping them hone in on social activity like omnipresent deities.

Too old for the FSB or CIA, members of the babooshka mafiosa take their skills to the streets of Ukraine in an overt and covert fashion. Overt, because you know they’re always watching, and covert, since they might know things about you that you don’t even know about yourself.

 Peter Santenello and old granny in Kyiv, Ukraine

Despite her advanced age, a babooshka’s memory is exceptional. They know things before anybody else; in a way, they are on the frontlines of social knowledge; much more advanced at collecting data than Facebook. They know every person in a building, every friend of that person, every romantic relationship, every pet, every purchase, every problem…. They know everything. They can predict—with precision—if a marriage will succeed or fail, if a child will get into trouble as they mature, or if somebody will be a success in this life. They are futurists.

These women set off metal detectors like the most hardened criminals, but instead of loaded weapons, it’s reservoirs of gold and silver teeth that sound the alarm. They don’t need to attack their subjects physically; they only control minds using perceptive knowledge—getting into the thoughts of their victims like a sleeping gas with no smell. And after living in Kyiv for some time, I feel there is a little babooshka mafiosa inside all of us.

I’m not sure where they get their training from, but their skills lead me to believe there is formal indoctrination for this elite group. Using   hawkish and soul-penetrating gazes, and direct and hard interrogation, they get their information without aggressive techniques like solitary confinement or water boarding.

And if you get on the bad side of the babs mafiosa, they will ruin your life. I’ve seen it happen.

 Peter Santenello and old woman in Kyiv, Ukraine

Like any good mafia, they know how to get their money.   I pay my “roof” of 110 UAH ($4.42) every month for babs mafiosa-rendered services, which include cleaning the entryway of the apartment building and, more importantly, protection.

They also know how to infiltrate your emotions; their way in is through the stomach. Several of the babs mafiosa in my building have given me delicious homemade food at just that right time to keep their influence in my head.

In a brilliant display of reverse psychology, the babooshka mafiosa appears to lower her guard as the late night settles in. She rolls out her mattress, puts on a cup of tea, and watches TV.   Occasionally, she glances out the window at the night’s stars and the leaves blowing in the wind, or the snow falling from the sky, deep in thought. Babs mafiosa knows you haven’t come home yet, and she is waiting even if she might be sleeping. She’s a natural multitasker. She knows every soul who comes through that door. Don’t think for a second you’ve gone undetected.

 Peter Santenello hugs old woman in Kyiv, Ukraine

In a world where cameras monitor our every move, the babs mafiosas in my building makes things more human. And my relationships with the four babooshkas at my apartment building are strong. One of the “agents” calls me her son, and I call her my second mother. I come home to big hugs after extended periods outside of Kyiv. She gives me intelligence briefings; letting me know what information I’ve missed. She’s got my back.

Once alliances form with the babooshka mafiosa, the strength of those bonds is unbreakable… and to be valued like a room of jewels. Without this link, your life can slide into a dark information-war vortex.

I suggest one get used to this mafia, because they aren’t going anywhere, and they are impossible to avoid since they’re all connected like aspen trees. Be nice, their protection will make your life much better in Ukraine.

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