ASSAULTED RUSSIAN TOURIST MIFFED AT CNMI OFFICIALS

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‘What if I was their daughter? Would they still ignore me?’

By Tammy Doty SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Oct. 20, 2011) – Olga Vyshikeeva chose Saipan over Bali for her vacation destination because of the island’s marketing messages that highlight sun, sand, sea and safety — but in an instant, the idyllic get-away morphed into a nightmare for the first-time visitor.

During a lengthy interview yesterday, Olga, a 35-year-old Russian energy industry executive, detailed the violent assault against her at Suicide Cliff on Oct. 11, 2011 and shared her feelings subsequent to a week of reflection.

The robbery and carjacking occurred at "hyper-speed," described Olga. Just seconds after she returned to her rental car’s driver’s seat after taking what she described as "beautiful scenic photos," a masked, male attacker slid into the passenger’s seat and thrust a screwdriver at her stomach.

"I fought the man during the first few seconds because I think I was in shock," Olga said, but her instincts screamed that the mugger was too strong for a prolonged struggle, so she made a final lunge for her bag.

At the same instant, she fell out of the driver’s side door and the jolt of hitting the ground gave the assailant a split-second to snatch the bag back before speeding off in the rental car.

Olga’s ordeal left her scratched and bruised as she lay on the ground battling to normalize her racing heart and manic thoughts.

Fortunately, she was not alone at the cliff, as a group of other tourists came to her aid quickly after their shock gave way to reality.

Although the attack cost Olga valuable property, the most significant losses are deeply personal — her peace of mind and sense of well-being — two intangibles that no insurance policy can replace and to her, it seems no Saipan official cares to acknowledge.

"I haven’t received even one call or message from any local official to see how I’m doing since the attack, only my tour operator makes sure I’m ok and helps salvage the trip," replied Olga as she blinked back tears.

When asked about her feelings of the apparent snub from the Department of Public Safety, the Marianas Visitors Association (MVA), the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands (HANMI) or any elected officials, she replied, "What if I was their daughter, would they still ignore me?"

Olga’s straightforward question was poised to various Saipan officials and the reactions ranged from great sympathy and regret to a universal wall of silence.

HANMI Chairman Nick Nishikawa, expressed extreme sadness for Olga’s experience and wanted to assure the public that the association is discussing the subject vigorously within the association.

To that end, HANMI’s Oct. 27 general meeting includes a membership vote on a resolution addressed to MVA requesting they hire immediately additional security personnel for Suicide Cliff and other high-risk tourist areas such as dive beaches.

"We stand ready to support any effort to address crime against tourists," Nishikawa, stated, "because it’s time for DPS, MVA and HANMI to work together in a serious manner to confront this growing tourism killer."

When queried about Olga’s question from a personal perspective, Nishikawa shook his head and replied, "I can only imagine how much anger I would have if my daughter was ignored after such a brutal attack … I wouldn’t rest until I was sure that those in power were working to solve the case."

But, regardless of the criminal case’s outcome, Olga’s violent experience is a cautionary tale of Saipan’s seedier side that in the last few days was picked up and splashed across the Russian web, both on general news portals such as (www.newsru.com/crime/17oct2011/screwrobruswmarian.html), and tours and travel sites.

The story posted on the heavily visited tour agent site www.tourprom.ru is creating the most significant negative publicity however, with its accompanying visual of a masked assailant that would scare off even the heartiest female vacationer (www.tourprom.ru/news/14719/).

Local tour specialists are concerned deeply about the negative press spreading around the Internet and believe the island’s lack of any official response is sending the worst possible message to Russian agents and tourists.

"It’s hard to understand why no one in power is making even a basic statement of concern or regret about this case," stated a tour agent who requested anonymity. "Agents and tourists know that bad things can happen anywhere, but people expect the authorities to be responsive and act as if they are actively trying to solve the problem."

Another travel agent who also wished to remain unidentified stated that if the authorities weren’t interested in the tragedy of Olga’s attack, "then they damn well better start to be considering the tens of millions of dollars at stake."

Considering that the Marianas Visitors Authority recently announced that the Russian tourist arrivals rose 18 percent this year, Variety asked MVA Managing Director Perry Tenorio for a response on Olga’s case and he responded via email, "Within a span of a week, two crimes against our visitors have been reported. The Marianas Visitors Authority is deeply disturbed by these incidents."

"One of the single most important considerations a tourist makes is whether the place they are considering visiting is safe. The Northern Mariana Islands are considered safe destinations, but incidents of this kind could threaten this very important designation," he said.

"As tourism is the sole driver of our island economy, the NMI cannot afford to allow these crimes to continue unchecked. A crime against our visitors is a crime against our community and our livelihood. We call on the general public to assist the authorities in putting an end to these criminal acts," he added.

The other incident Tenorio is referring to is a more recent robbery involving two elderly Japanese tourists who were robbed of their belongings while playing golf at Mariana Resort & Spa in Marpi last Monday.

The case is also pending investigation.

Gov. Benigno R. Fitial also answered via email from Beijing, China. "I am deeply saddened that Ms. Vyshikeeva was subjected to the vicious act of criminals. To our visitors from Russia and all the other countries, our humble apologies come with a pledge to seek resolution and to ensure that the safety of all our visitors is upheld to the fullest extent possible."

For Olga, these statements are a week-late and ring hollow with regard to their sincerity.

"No one wanted to say anything until your newspaper asked them…. I appreciate the thoughts, but it would have been nice to get them a week ago," Olga replied, after learning of MVA’s and governor’s response to the Variety’s queries for comment.

Variety also learned that her stolen rental car was recovered by DPS and returned to the leasing company, but for some unknown reason the vehicle was not dusted for fingerprints.

Messages were left at DPS Commissioner Ray Mafnas’ office for both a general comment on Olga’s case as well as the allegation that the victim’s rental car was never dusted for fingerprints.

At press time however, no response from the commissioner’s office was received nor did the DPS website provide any information.

Most crime victims crave news of leads or an arrest in their case, but Olga holds faint hope that DPS will capture the masked attacker who turned her vacation in paradise into a nightmare. "The police don’t really seem to care," she stated, "and they’re hoping people will forget."

For Olga, the luxury of forgetting is a far-off unknown place in the future.

In the meantime, she’s determined to create something decent from an indecent and frightening vacation ordeal.

When asked from where she drew the strength to detail her frightening encounter with a violent attacker, Olga paused after a long gaze, "I’ve told you my story and maybe some action will be taken so another person, a woman especially, doesn’t have to be a victim of terrible violence too."

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