Everyday Maya Cherkova walks to her small Grodno office where she has paired Belorussian women with foreign men for 15 years. She claims that 95 % of the men who come to Grodno through her agency finds a wife and has tallied some 400 marriages to men from Western Europe and recently, North America. She employs a psychologist to train her staff and takes personal responsibility to screen each woman for her catalog. In fact, she operates more like a traditional matchmaker than a broker and even introduced her only son to his wife - a former client who had been determined to find a French husband. Her agency, Gimeney, is not a quintessential meat market where repugnant westerners purchase young slavic beauties for trophy wives. Maya’s female clients are of all ages and professions and have as much authority over their choices as the men do. Natalia, a 31 year-old personal trainer, convinced her French fiance, Filip, to lose 24 kilograms and encouraged him to adopt a more contemporary sense of fashion. I photographed their wedding in July. City of Women is a story about 12 women from Grodno, a city in northwest Belarus where women officially outnumber men 1.4 to 1, although locals claim the ratio is much higher and in the certain age groups could be as high as high as 7 to 1.
These women are Maya’s clients. Their stories dispel many conceptions of marriage agencies and reveal the deeper social conditions particular to both this specific region and Belarus as a whole, where men are spoiled by an inherent myriad of beautiful women, the western concept of feminism is relative to Belorussian reality, and even young people are finding it increasingly difficult to find time to court their partners traditionally. For these women, Maya’s agency opens doors to new possibilities in a place where choices are limited.