MOSCOW — The rich were out on the streets of Moscow on Wednesday night, gliding along Kutuzovsky Prospekt in their black Cadillac Escalades and Mercedeses, chase cars full of armed guards at the ready. It did not strain the imagination to think of fugitive Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych hidden behind the darkened glass.
So when the reliable RBK newspaper reported that the luxury-loving Yanukovych had been spotted at the Hotel Ukraina here — right across Kutuzovsky from the Washington Post Bureau — what to do but put on some lipstick, grab a notebook and an accomplice, and check it out?
It was a dangerous mission. Three men in camouflage stood outside the sushi restaurant down the block, cradling scary looking semiautomatic-rifle-type weaponry, guarding their boss inside. We dared not look too hard at them or their guns, so don’t hold us to the description. We strode quickly by, fearful of being caught in mobster crossfire, and made it to the underpass, where we walked under the busy street, past a woman busker singing with keyboard accompaniment.
The hotel is a glittery, overdone Stalin-era skyscraper, full of muscular men and gaudy women wearing backless dresses under their fur coats. Just the place to attract a man of extravagant taste. Of course it has a presidential suite — with bullet-proof glass.
Four or five security guards stood near the door but didn’t stop us. We looked in the bar. No sign of him. At the front desk, we asked in English: “Is it true Yanukovych was here last night?” The clerk look unsurprised. “Do you live here?” he asked, meaning were we hotel guests. “No, we live across the street.”
He said he would call the manager. Another man emerged. They spoke in Russian: “What should we tell her?” the first one said. “Tell her we can’t give out that kind of information.” He repeated that in English. We thanked him, wandered around the enormous lobby until guards started giving us the fish eye, and walked out past a couple of police cars parked outside, which usually are not there. Perhaps RBK was right: The newspaper reported that Viktor Pshonka, the former Ukrainian prosecutor general, had been seen at the hotel that day.
We walked past the hotel’s Rolls-Royce dealership and crossed Kutuzovsky. The men in camouflage were gone. Our steps lightened, and took us home.