For an eternity, my heart longed to journey to Vlöre, Albania, to visit Agnesa. She, the compassionate protector, had extended a helping hand to Angel and countless other girls when they bravely escaped from the clutches of a sordid brothel, hidden away in a wretched, lightless basement in the mountains outside the city.
Simultaneously, Lenora, her heart ablaze with determination, felt the pull of destiny leading her to Ukraine. Amidst the chilling whispers of grim rumors, she was compelled to unearth the sinister truth behind sham foster homes, disguising themselves as sanctuaries for innocence but concealing the darkest depths of a worldwide pedophilic industry. The mere thought of the innocent children ensnared within its web stirred a tempest of emotions within her, urging her to unveil the hidden horrors and be a beacon of hope in their lives.
And of course, Angel and I were behind her all the way.
In the aftermath of the devastating war that ravaged Ukraine, cities lay in ruins, their very essence scarred by the relentless conflict. But within this bleak, war-torn landscape, an even more heart-wrenching tragedy unfolded. The shadows of war concealed a multitude of homeless children, their lives forever altered. These young souls, robbed of the security of their families, either orphaned by the merciless hand of war or cruelly torn apart in the chaos, now faced a world fraught with uncertainty and loneliness.
We left Santa Monica on October 20, 2022, and landed at Kyiv International Airport the same day. We had compiled a list of cities we wanted to visit. Mauriupol, Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Bakhmut, Lysychansk and Kyiv.
And the timing was perfect.
These days, a grim and sombre scene unfolded as a relentless storm of missiles and bombs descended from the ashen, clouded sky. Russia’s unrelenting assault had dealt a crippling blow to Ukraine’s electrical infrastructure, plunging vast regions into a heart-rending chaos of darkness and despair. The days ahead promised a grim tally of suffering, as thousands of people would grapple with the unforgiving challenges of hunger, bitter cold, and the looming threat of disease.
Because of the city’s strategic importance, it had become a focal point for numerous Russian attacks. While these relentless offensives had razed many residential houses and apartments to the ground, a bittersweet resilience prevailed, and the toll of human lives lost remained surprisingly low, a faint glimmer of hope amidst the devastation.
This very turmoil provides the perfect breeding ground for unscrupulous traffickers to prey upon.
The following day, Wee journeyed to Zaporizhzhia, embarking on a solemn exploration of the city’s battered streets. For hours on end, we bore witness to the haunting ruins that stood as a testament to the ravages of war.
Amidst the rubble, our hearts quickened as we stumbled upon a school, its facade marred by the scars of conflict. Upon its gate, a homemade sign, bearing the words “дитячий будинок,” which translates to “Children’s Home,” beckoned to us.
This was exactly what we were looking for!
However, the harsh light of day rendered our covert mission perilous, making it too risky to break into the school and explore.
Undaunted, we returned to our hotel, resolute in our mission. We had brought with us an array of tactical gear, well-prepared for the task at hand, except for any weapons.
In the stillness of the night, at the stroke of 0200 hours, we found ourselves back at the school, ready to delve into the mystery it held. In this part of town, alarms posed no threat, for the relentless darkness had claimed the electricity. However, the looming presence of guards kept us on edge.
Surreptitiously, we passed through the gate, its rusty hinges silent, and commenced our exploration of the buildings. Each door was securely locked, but they proved no match for my nimble fingers and trusty lock picks. With a quiet determination, we slipped inside, our hearts racing in the cloak of night.
Within the apparently silent school, we stumbled upon a multitude of empty classrooms, echoing the haunting absence of laughter and learning.
But amidst the stillness, our ears caught faint sounds, luring us toward the unknown. Carefully, I stole a glance through an ajar door. In the dim light, a dozen to fifteen children lay sprawled on mattresses, their innocent dreams sheltered within the confines of the room. The same heartening sight greeted us in the next five classrooms, each a sanctuary for these young souls.
Realizing we needed answers, we proceeded to the main building, where we discovered two men and a woman in the teacher’s room. They were awake, engrossed in conversation. One of the men spoke fluent American English, a glimmer of hope in our quest for communication. The woman and the other man, by their accents, appeared to be locals, yet they conversed in English, which was fortunate for us.
Their hushed discourse revealed insights into the logistics of a larger operation, suggesting that this was no ordinary endeavor. The prospect of meeting the puppeteers behind this intricate web drove us to rethink our strategy. It was clear we couldn’t merely barge in; we needed to engage with the masterminds orchestrating this enigmatic scheme. And so, we retreated, vanishing into the night, our mission far from over.
Not a tank expert, but I believe this is the remains of a Russian T54 tank. Found it outside the city and it seems it has been there for several years. It was way too rusty to only have been there from when the war officially started.
Leads me to believe the war has been going on for several years before the Russian invasion started.
Back in the hotel room, I dialled Dave’s number, his voice groggy with sleep as he answered.
– Hi, he mumbled.
“Sorry to wake you,” I began, “but I need you and a few of the guys here ASAP. We’re setting up a sting operation, and you, my friend, are going to be our bait.”
Dave let out a weary chuckle, the prospect of being at the centre of danger apparently not fazing him.
– Oh, nice. Love being in the crosshair. Coach and Psycho?
– That would be perfect.
– See you tomorrow!
Twenty-four hours later, we were all assembled in our hotel room, an air of tension palpable in the space.
I turned to Dave.
– I need you to play the part of a paedophile, but we’ve got to find a very convincing reason to initiate contact.
Dave pondered for a moment.
-What about cash? Money is always persuasive.
– True, I agreed, but can we trace someone they might know and get a recommendation?
Psycho chimed in.
– We also need to install a microphone in that room and perhaps tail them around the city. I’ll set up the microphone tonight. It’s a bit more complex this time as we’ll need to go through satellite transmission.
So, Len, Angel, and I will rent some cars and position them near the gate.
The following morning, we were poised and prepared for action. Psycho remained in the hotel room, equipped to eavesdrop on their conversations, as we ventured into the unknown.
To cut a long story short, I trailed one of their associates to a bar located in a distant part of the city. There, he rendezvoused with another man, a person I felt compelled to shadow instead. With every step I took, my anticipation and apprehension grew.
Following him led me to a grand residence on the outskirts of Zaporizhzhia. I took careful note of the address, my intuition suggesting that he might be one of the masterminds orchestrating this complex operation.
Once I had the vital information, I got in touch with Psycho. He worked his magic, tracked down the man’s number, and later that evening, Dave placed a call. Meanwhile, Psycho had managed to secure a small mansion within the city and obtained the keys. It’s amazing what determination and a bit of cash can accomplish when the stakes are high.
The conversation was nothing short of intriguing, each word laden with the weight of possibility.
“One of my acquaintances overheard you share some fascinating insights at a local bar earlier today,” Dave began, his voice laced with intrigue. “I’d like to extend an invitation to you, and if you’d like, feel free to bring along some of your friends, to join us at my place for a business discussion. You see, I’m in the process of setting up a luxurious resort in Mexico, catering to celebrities, and I’m interested in procuring a substantial amount of your merchandise on a regular basis. This way, we can ensure our customers are consistently treated to fresh and exciting offerings.”
He paused briefly, a sense of earnestness in his tone. “Of course, I understand the need to establish trust in such dealings. That’s precisely why I’m reaching out to you and offering this invitation. Is this something that piques your interest?”
In that modest mansion, the air was electric with tension and anticipation, although unbeknownst to the unsuspecting guests, the entire place was rigged with discreetly placed cameras, courtesy of Psycho’s meticulous preparations.
At the party, Dave orchestrated a carefully scripted introduction, portraying Coach as his indispensable right-hand man in the realm of international affairs. He laid out an enticing vision for Anatoly, showcasing a plethora of images featuring boys and girls and picturesque scenes from what appeared to be a sun-kissed beach resort in Mexico. With a shrewd tone, he outlined the expansive network of “candy” distribution, emphasizing its undeniable profitability, even amidst sporadic police raids. Dave assured that they, as the orchestrators, were never personally present at these locations, rendering them immune to danger.
Anatoly, flanked by three members of his staff, including a woman, unknowingly found himself ensnared in this intricate web of deceit. Yet, our ultimate goal was to expose the school’s dark secrets.
We stood poised, ready to intervene at the precise moment Psycho obtained the damning evidence. Psycho, true to his name, lived up to his reputation. When he deemed the time right, he stormed into the midst of their unsuspecting gathering, leaving them momentarily paralyzed with shock. Dave acted swiftly, knocking Anatoly to the ground.
A remaining member of Anatoly’s entourage reached for a firearm, but Psycho’s lightning-fast back-spinning roundhouse kick struck him in the neck, incapacitating him instantly. Dave swiftly subdued the fourth member.
With swift precision, we handcuffed them to radiators, relieved them of their phones and wallets, and then proceeded to the school, where we confronted two more individuals. The result was 52 homeless children who were no longer under the traffickers’ control.
Surrounded by the silence of an area with no phone service, I retraced my steps to the hotel, urgently contacting Goldie. Armed with the credit card information we had obtained from the traffickers, Goldie quickly drained their accounts. It was our way of ensuring they couldn’t afford a skilled lawyer or mount any retaliation against us. Our mission was to cripple them in every possible way.
We made the call to the police, provided them with the necessary information, and then discreetly departed, leaving behind the darkness we had uncovered.