My journey began on the 16th June 2010 when I received a letter from “Kristina Smirnova” via the “international marriage agency” website, Jump4Love. Kristina was a very attractive girl and only 23 years old, therefore I sent her a polite letter of dismissal. However, she persisted and we ended up corresponding several times per day by letter. After a week or so, frustrated by the lack of immediacy and limited dialogue we agreed, at Kristina’s suggestion, to communicate via chat and Videochat offered by the Jump4Love website.

Within a few days, we were spending hours in chat or Video chat, often until the early hours of the morning as we got to know each other, discussed our dreams, aspirations and everyday lives. I was struck and impressed with Kristina’s mature outlook and mischievous sense of fun. During this period, I asked for, and Kristina sent, ‘everyday’, non-posed photos which included pictures of her in a shopping mall, with her mother and at parties etc. All appeared perfectly normal.

Kristina was keen to meet and it was suggested that we wait for around 6 weeks because she “worked as a receptionist in a beauty salon in Nikolaev” and this required her to work 6 days a week, for 6 weeks and then she would receive 2 weeks holiday. Meanwhile, keen to ensure that our blossoming friendship did not flounder, we agreed to chat every night. I also asked to speak with Kristina, given she claimed to speak English, however, in spite of the fact that I used several different communications carriers, mobile phone, landline and international carriers, I always received a recorded message stating that the call could not be connected, even though Kristina could receive SMS messages. Quite how this was achieved was always a mystery to me.

After a few weeks, I suggested to Kristina that we try and utilise an alternative method for our regular communications given that chat at $0.40 per minute and Videochat at $0.80 per minute was an inordinately expensive way for communicating now that the website had achieved its objective and introduced us. I suggested that we use Skype, but when Kristina tried to load this onto her laptop, if “crashed” the laptop and caused a “virus”. Kristina suggested that this was because it was an “old laptop”. After a period of discussion, it was agreed that I would send Kristina $700 to buy a new Netbook. By this time, we had spent many hours communicating every night and had built up a good rapport and mutual trust. Added to which, at the time, without the benefit of hindsight, it seemed like a good idea, given it was possible to spend this amount of money in chat over a period of 7-10 days. In addition, the webcam on Kristina’s old laptop was of such poor quality, that it was hard to see her, therefore we agreed that this would resolve everything.

Once Kristina had purchased the Netbook, our communications problems appeared to multiple rather than improve. Over a period of weeks, perhaps months, she had a series of problems. First she claimed the webcam didn’t work and that the store refused to exchange the Netbook, but would repair it, although this could take up to 6 weeks. Then she couldn’t load Skype. After a series of technical problems, I agreed to pay $220 for a “master” to come and resolve the problems. Needless to say, he was unreliable and we had to continue using Jump4Love chat facilities. Eventually he came and couldn’t fix the technical issues, even with a new and separate webcam.

After a few weeks, Kristina managed to get Skype to load and we were able to chat. However, this could not be with a webcam, because the Netbook webcam didn’t work and her old laptop, of course, wouldn’t run with Skype active. Added to this, whenever we did manage to use Skype, the chats were always short, because “Skype was useless and unreliable”. I admit, at the time I was suspicious, because I had never had problems with Skype, but eventually I put much of this down to the fact that Kristina was not technically literate and she would often get upset and frustrated when she couldn’t resolve these problems. We tried other chat programmes as well, but the story was always similar…therefore, inevitably we always ended up having to revert to the chat and Videochat facilities provided by Jump4Love.

As the time of the first meeting approached, Kristina told me that she was being “sexually harassed” by her boss at the salon and that she was scared for her safety. She also told me the story of how a work colleague had been raped, whilst drunk by her boss, but the girl was too scared to do anything about it in case she lost her job. Kristina told me that she needed to work, but that she was genuinely in fear of her safety, she went on to say that she would look for another job, but this of course would delay our planned meeting. Over a period of days or weeks, Kristina would tell me of her fears and concerns until eventually I agreed that I would “help” her. But this time, Kristina had managed to make me feel guilty and somewhat emasculated as a result of me not being able to do anything to resolve this situation. I had offered to go and visit her boss, but she felt this would be ill-advised given she would not get a reference and would probably not be paid.

I agreed that I would help Kristina by sending her the equivalent of her monthly salary until she found a new job; this would allow her to leave immediately and avoid the risk to her safety. I knew that the average salary in Ukraine as around $250 – $300 a month, therefore I was not unduly concerned. Foolishly, I agreed to help Kristina before I enquired as to what her monthly salary was. When I subsequently asked the question she told me that it was $500 per month. I was quite shocked, but she explained that all of the girls were on a profit share and bonus system as well as a salary and that the salon was very successful, hence the higher than average salary. A combination of carefully calculated emotional blackmail and the obligation I felt toward the promise I had made (in ignorance), I agreed to stand by my commitment and send Kristina $500 per month until she found a new job. Kristina said that she would not do anything rash and this would be used as a safety net, I felt comfortable with scenario, given she was going to try and persevere. However, a few days later, after an “incident” at the salon, Kristina left suddenly and I agreed that I would commence payments as I had promised.

Although theoretically the fact that Kristina was no longer employed removed the practical issues relating to us meeting, this was not to be the case. First Kristina said she had mixed feelings about meeting so soon (after about 7 weeks) and so we agreed to delay the meeting for a few more weeks. Even though I had said I was quite happy to meet without any form of intimacy, she was the one that felt she could not control herself. Over the coming weeks there was a series of 3 suggested meetings, always 4 or 5 weeks hence, but for various reasons, the meetings were always postponed.

Eventually I was due to work 2 weeks overseas. In the weeks leading up to this, Kristina had explained that her father had a real issue with the age difference and that he had forbidden her to meet with me. Over the course of a few weeks, she variously described meetings with him, argument and highlighted the emotional stress. I agreed that, in the circumstances, I would not put pressure on her and we would allow things to settle down. Of course, throughout this time, we were chatting every night on chat and Videochat.

Immediately prior to my business trip, Kristina had discussed the situation and she said that she was not prepared to accept her father’s ultimatum and she wanted us to meet. She had never been overseas and wanted it to be romantic. Eventually I found a stunning hotel in Southern Turkey and although t was incredibly expensive, it seemed entirely appropriate for our first meeting especially given we had been incredibly patient in terms of the delays and obstacles. It was agreed that the venue was perfect and we set a provisional date. Kristina promised to confirm the final date immediately on my return from my business trip. It was agreed that I would pay a deposit to secure the room of $1500 for a vacation in September. A few days after my return, Kristina had still not had her meeting with her father where she was going to tell him that she was going to meet with me because, as she said “I have never lied to my father”, but she said she was not going to change her mind and we would go on our “dream vacation”. In the interim, I was contacted by the hotel and I needed to make a decision, lose my deposit or confirm the booking and pay the balance of $3500. In view Of Kristina’s assurances, I decided on the latter.

I told Kristina what had happened and whilst she seemed uncomfortable with this, she insisted that the vacation would go ahead as planned as soon as she had seen her father. Kristina subsequently met with her father and on her return, she told me that she “could not go against my father’s wishes” and he had threatened to excommunicate her if she met with me. She also said that she would continue to work with him and try ad persuade him, I agreed to try and postpone the date of the vacation and although I managed to achieve this, over the coming weeks, after several meetings with her father, Kristina felt that she could not go against him and I lost the payment I had made.

Our communications continued and I received regular updates on Kristina’s situation with her father. Finally, she told me that her father was due to go to a “family wedding” on the 7th November and that this would be a perfect time to meet. We agreed on this date and that we would spend 12 days or so in Odessa. This was a few weeks away and we would regularly discussed it, given I was keen to ensure that I did not lose more money as a consequence of a cancelled trip. Always Kristina provided me with the necessary assurances. Meanwhile, of course, we were chatting to each other every night and, of course, I was paying Kristina $500 per month. Of course, she could not look for a job during this intervening period, because we were unsure of the exact date we were going to meet. And, conveniently with hindsight, each time we agree a ‘new’ date, it was always 4 or 5 weeks hence.

Anyway, nothing was going to go wrong this time, the final obstacle, Kristina’s father, was resolved with his intention to go to Russia for this wedding and, we had agreed, that if everything was ‘perfect’ between us, we would speak to him together. Wonderful, after 5 months, more than 600 letters and many hundreds of hours in Chat and Videochat, we were finally going to meet. We regularly talked about our mutual frustration with the obstacles we had to overcome to reach this point, but we now knew that nothing could stand in our way and I agreed to book the flights and hotel. Before I did this, I chatted to Kristina once more and gave her the opportunity to change her mind, given I knew that once booked, I would not be able to cancel or achieve a refund. We both agreed this is what we wanted and I should confirm the booking.

On the 3rd November Kristina went out for a meal with friends and a “house guest” and we were due to chat at midnight. In the event, she did come to chat which was unusual. I did, however, receive a message, which looked as if it had been written whilst she was drunk. The following afternoon I chatted with Kristina. She told me that she was full of remorse because she had got drunk and had sex with a guy she knew by sight, but did not know well. She told me she was sick and this acquaintance had decided to book a hotel room so she could “rest” and they ended up having sex. She said once she realised what had happened, she was really angry with him and slapped his face. Later in the conversation, Kristina said that she could not understand why she had become so drunk when she had only had “one or two glasses of wine”.

Later, in what turned out to be a long ‘chat’, and I can’t remember who suggested it, but it was speculated that she had possibly been given a date rape drug and would therefore have been an unwilling participant. I will be honest and say that whilst I didn’t believe this for a minute, by convincing myself that she was an unwilling partner, I was able to come to terms with what had happened. I told her, that in the circumstances, she could not have controlled what had happened and therefore, it did not affect our 5 month relationship. However, Kristina said that she could not “look me in the eye without shame” and said she wanted to “postpone” my visit. I explained to Kristina that everything had been booked and paid for and, whilst I could fully accept that intimacy was inappropriate so soon after the event, I believed we should go ahead and spend time together. However, Kristina insisted that the meeting was postponed, even going so far as to dismiss my suggestion that I would go as planned, but we would meet for a few hours for a coffee or lunch in Nikolaev, her home city. Later, I would understand exactly why the meeting was postponed, but at the time is was just disappointment and some sadness. I mention this rape now, only because I don’t believe it ever happened and it was just a story concocted to justify the cancellation of a meeting that had been 6 weeks in the planning, as well as booked and paid for.

Over the coming weeks, we often discussed what happened, with Kristina constantly chastising herself and me providing her with assurances that it did not affect our relationship. Having convinced myself that she was not at fault, I can honestly say, even now, that I did not consider what happened as detrimental to our relationship, and only considered the event insofar as it was negatively affecting Kristina’s opinion of herself. Or at least that was how it appeared. I told Kristina that I would not put pressure on her for another meeting and it was for her to decide when she was ready, but also, having know each other for 6 months, I was not prepared to wait forever, given we had already cancelled 3 informal dates for meeting and two fixed arrangements.

After a few weeks, Kristina told me that she wanted to meet with men again and this time “nothing and no-one was going to stop her”. After some debate, we agreed that we would meet on the 7th January, Christmas Day using the Russian Orthodox Calendar. I was a little disappointed because I wanted us to spend New Year’s Eve together, but Kristina insisted that this was traditionally a time when close family were expected to be together. Whilst I did not want to intrude, I was not ecstatic, but Kristina persuaded me the 7th January was a better celebration and a good time to spend together.

Because of my previous experiences and disappointments, I told Kristina that if this meeting was cancelled for any reason, then I would end the relationship given, in spite of 5 previous attempts over a period of 7 months, something always came up that prevented the meeting. This time, I was also wary of booking the hotel and flights too soon, given I had already had my fingers burned over the cancelled trip on the 7th November. With this in mind I spoke to Kristina on the 27th December and told her I was about to confirm and pay for my flights, parking and the hotel. In no uncertain terms, I explained to Kristina that I would be very unhappy if there was another cancellation after I had book and paid for everything. I told her that if she wanted to cancel “now”, I would not be upset and would accept this without question. Kristina was indignant and quite angry that I would have any doubts. With this in mind, I was convinced of her sincerity and intentions and booked immediately.

As part of our “compromise” towards setting the date for the 7th January, Kristina and I agreed that we would meet online at midnight UK time, which would allow her to fulfil her family obligations. In the event, Kristina failed to do this and, in fact, I did not hear from her until the afternoon of the 1st January. This time, she told me that although she had intended to meet with me after watching some fireworks, she had been persuaded to go to a nightclub. And, whilst there, she had met with a former boyfriend and, after getting drunk, she had sex with him, first in his car and then at his parents’ home. I will be honest, I didn’t believe this story, because, like the rape story, it was just too convenient that this should happen, once again, just a few days before our intended meeting and lead to it being cancelled.

Finally, I started to realise that the postponements and cancellations over a period of 7 months were too much of a coincidence. Whatever was happening, for some reason, Kristina didn’t want to meet with me. What didn’t make sense was why she would spend every night for 7 months speaking to me, only to cancel each planned meeting. Furthermore, for Kristina, and for that matter, any girl to end up having ‘unplanned sex’ twice in the space of just 2 months in similar circumstance really started stretch the bounds of credibility and imagination. Nothing seemed to make sense! I resolved to find the truth through my own research and by employing private detectives in Nikolaev.

Soon, I was to be genuinely shocked to discover that the girl I have been chatting to every night for 7 months was not Kristina Smirnova. She was in fact, a girl called Natalia Granchenko, who also had her own profile on Jump4Love. In fact, Natalia Granchenko had taken the photographs of another girl, developed a false identity and donned a wig and new persona to confirm her disguise. All of a sudden, I realised that the poor visual images in Videochat were more by design, than accident. For 7 months I had accepted that the only reason I couldn’t see a clear image of “Kristina” was because of poor lighting and a bad quality camera and/or connection. In fact, I had been completely duped, deceived, cheated, ripped off…by a virtual stranger. Finally I realised that “Kristina” could never meet with me, even though she had allowed me to, without an ounce of remorse or regret, to lose more than $10,000 in ‘meeting expenses’, because the charade would have been self-evident the moment we met.

So, what did this cost in financial terms? Well…Kristina Smirnova, aka Natalia Granchenko had received $4102 in Western Union transfers, I had spent in excess of $31,000 on letters, chat and Videochat and I had lost a further $10,000 as a consequence of unrecoverable expenses through cancelled meetings. From an emotional perspective, it was incalculable! I will explain more about the unveiling of Natalia Granchenko aka Kristina Smirnova and the connivance of the Director of her local Marriage Agency, Margarita Naumenko in my next posting.