Unique ExperienceI found my kidnapped friends in China, and am now finishing a documentary on it - AMA!
Nov 2nd 2016 by 21BenRandall • 41 Questions • 6116 Points
My name is Igor Vovkovinskiy. I am a proud Ukrainian, who lives in the US, for medical reasons. I was named the Tallest Living man in 2010 by the Guinness Book of World Records on the Dr. Oz show. And it so happens that after Leonid Stadnyk died in 2014, I became the Tallest Ukrainian. I did an AMA about 2-3 years ago, however, tons of people on Reddit are asking me the same questions, so I would like to do it again.
I know many people don't know how to Google :) so I'll tell you, my height is 7ft 8.33in and you want to know my weight? Well, my friends, it's none of your business! :) Haha
I will be posting some photos during the AMA, when I choose to do so, however, please do not request photos.
Let's do this.
Thank you all for the questions. I must go. If you wish, you can follow me on Twitter, @Igor2tall I am sorry if I didn't answer your question, or didn't answer it the way you wanted it answered. A couple quick facts. I love to watch MMA, huge UFC fan. I love my homeland, Ukraine, Слава Україні! I love fishing and reading. PC Games, I love Fallout 3 & 4, wish I could get Battlefield 1, but it's way too expensive, and I don't have an income, so that's out of the question. Have a great Sunday!
UPDATE 1 - 10/30/2016 - 11:30PM Central Time LADIES & GENTLEMEN!! I am still fairly new to Reddit, so I am not sure how to keep updating you. I think, perhaps, updating the OP is best? Your response has been overwhelming. Thank you soooo much for all the kind words, suggestions, offers of help. I can't keep track of anything. I will try to answer as many questions as I can. http://i.imgur.com/cdmKp1M.jpg
How often do you hit your head on chandeliers?
Initially, the only possibility I had (however slim) was to try and identify my friends' traffickers, and trace their path through the trafficking network. That proved to be just as impossible as I imagined it would be, but I got lucky when one of my friends was able to access a phone in China and call home. It still took several months to contact, locate and meet with her, but at least I had a starting point :)
ohhh jeez...when I go to visit someone, pretty much every time I will hit my head on one of the light fixtures
Are the medical issues mostly associated with your joints?
My background is in documentary filmmaking. When I realised how horrendous this issue is, it was the obvious thing to do
Unfortunately, I doubt the captives are found often. This story has an amazing ending for sure
What are the health concerns associated with being so tall? Do doctors estimate that your life expectancy is likely shorter than that of a man of average height?
I'm not surprised that some people are skeptical when they hear it for the first time. I could hardly believe it when I was in the middle of it :)
many health concerns, blood doesn't flow to the outer extremities very well, meaning my legs, so I have excrutiating pain in my legs and feet, as I have had 25+ surgeries on my left foot & leg. Nothing really helps me with my pain. I am on about level 7-8 out of 10 all the time
So the one friend was able to escape independently, essentially. How did you begin to find the other two? It still seems like finding two needles in a haystack.
Jesus, you poor guy. How do you even function with that much pain all the time? It must be so stressful to constantly be in agony. I'm so sorry :(
The first friend ran away and was recovered by an NGO that brought her home. As I mentioned above, one of the others was able to call home. She had no idea where she was and it was a painstaking process to try and determine her location, from what clues she was able to give me. You can see it right now in the first 40min of the film if you're interested, it's available for $1 on our fundraising page (to raise the money to finish it!): http://www.sistersforsale.com
I don't function, that's the problem. Also, my doctors will not give me enough meds, but I do not want to be on these frikin pills, they kill so many people. But in Minnesota I have no other choices.
Did you face any physical danger or threats on your journey to find your friends? Congrats btw! :)
Tallest man typical meal and portion?
Thank you. Much of the trafficking is done by multinational organised crime networks, and there was certainly an element of danger involved. It was the kind of situation where we (my cameraman and I) would have been killed, or nothing would happen. We came through without any problems, but will never know how dangerous it really was for us. The only death threat I received, bizarrely, was from the family of one of the girls, who didn't want her home.
Well. for breakfast, usually a bowl of cereal or 3 eggo waffles with some jelly, and 2 cups of coffee.
For lunch, a sandwich or two. for example: european or Ukrainian bread, little butter, 2-3 pieces of ham or beef or salami and a piece of cheese (Havarti or Provolone or whatever we have, I'm not picky). Or if I have some Borcht or other soup, I'll eat a bowl of that. Or we'll make some fried potatoes with a pork chop or a steak. For dinner, I may make some rice & chicken in the oven or potatoes & chicken in the oven. I don't have any money to eat fancy. I haven't even ever tried fresh lobster or crab. When my fridge is empty I will eat a couple ramen soups.
You are fighting the good fight, OP, while most of us just sit behind keyboards and bitch really loudly about everything. What were the most physically dangerous situations you faced during the making of this documentary?
We can have a battle royale to determine your sidekick.
The most dangerous situations were the initial meetings I arranged with the girls in China. The men who bought them were aware of the meetings, and were known to still be in contact with the trafficking networks. If they had realised I was there to try and help my friends get out of China, anything could have happened.
YES!!!!!!!!!! Can someone make a wrestling ring to fit 1,500 people? You all can battle, it will be the sweetest Battle Royale ever!
True Fact: No Liam Neeson film is complete without him calling someone a moron in a scruffy voice.
Can you touch your toes?
There are a few people he could call 'moron' (or worse) in this one :)
Brad Pitt has connections to Vietnam. I can't see how he could turn you down....
How tall were you in high school?
Seems like Brad Pitt's got other things going on at the moment...
I was reaching 7ft 2in in 12th grade
What are the local authorities in Vietnam doing about this practice or custom of kidnapping brides and kidnapping women in general?
Oh my god. How did the 9th graders (or 10th graders some high schools are like that) react when they first saw you?
The custom of marriage by abduction is particular to Hmong society. Sapa district has a Hmong-majority population and the local authorities tend to turn a blind eye towards it. The tradition helps facilitate abductions of girls to be trafficked and sold in China. With the border so close, and so porous, there's often little the authorities can do about these abductions.
well...in my city the papers published about me so many times since I came to the US for treatment, that pretty much everyone knew me, but some kids were real assholes.
Is this similar to the Bride kidnapping seen in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in terms of tradition?
Do you get sick of people asking if you play basketball?
To my understanding (from a VICE documentary on the issue), it is remarkably similar.
yes! The most annoying this is that 99% of people think that they are the first person to think of that question.
Did your other 2 friends that you found in china return safely, or are they still there?
So... do you?
Since the girls had both had Chinese-born children by the time I found them, and they themselves had no legal status there, there was extremely little chance of their bringing their children home legally. So they ended up facing the choice between their kids and their own freedom. Initially, both were prepared to leave their children to return to their homes and families in Vietnam, and one actually did. The other found she couldn't leave her child and is still in China.
I used to, in grade school and middle school.
So the Chinese authorities do not have precedent where they assist in repatriating trafficked individuals to the countries they were kidnapped from?
Man, and here I am thinking nobody in their right mind would FIGHT this...
Well, you've done something amazing for not just your friends, but the rest of the world. You have my awe, and gratitude for helping your fellow human beings.
Fucking hell. Were you bullied as a kid? Kids are mean little shits and will poke fun at anything different, and you're sure as shit different. But at the same time I can't imagine anyone, even kids, being dumb enough to make fun of someone so much bigger than them.
Thank you very much. I've been working with an organisation which has contacts at the Viet-Chinese border, and are able to organise the paperwork to bring trafficked girls home. Otherwise I don't know of it being done.
I hated high school. Never had a single friend. Every football player made sure my life was shit
Is there no way for your friend to get her child back?
No way for your other friend to leave with her child?
How big is your bed? Also (sorry if your uncomfortable with this) how does the sex work?
These girls are from small, highly traditional communities. Ultimately, both girls decided that if they were to return home, it would in fact be much more difficult to do so with a child. They saw it as harming their chances of being accepted, finding work and finding new husbands.
my bed is about 9ft by 6ft. Well... I read a book about sex, I can send you an amazon link if you want. :)
Damn, I feel sorry for the kid. They were just born into all this madness and their mother leaves them. I know the mother's been through a lot of shit and all but still. Poor kid.
What does a 7ft 8 inch man do for a career and how has your height helped/hindered your work life?
Especially since the kid's a girl, and the man who bought her mother has shown so little respect for women. My other friend, who ultimately chose not to come home, gave this as her reason: 'I don't want my baby to be apart from her mother the same way that I'm apart from my mother'. That just about broke my heart.
I haven't been able to have a normal work life, I haven't worked in a traditional setting since 2005, mostly because I had to have so many surgeries, but also because I have excrutiating pain in my legs and feet.
You worked at Sam's Club in Rochester, MN didn't you? I remember meeting you when I was about 11 or 12 years old and shaking your hand!
The girls say they were initially drugged in Vietnam. One says she lost consciousness and woke up in China. The other says she lost control of her actions. Once in China they were coerced by threats of murder and sale into prostitution. When they were sold as brides they were raped and forced to bear unwanted children.
Were your friends Vietnamese or in that country for some other reason when they were kidnapped? Were they your friends before the kidnapping or did you become a human rights activist after it happened? (the experience prompted you)
Growing up in Austin, Minnesota I remember seeing TV reports about you. I was happy that you immigrated to this country so you could receive medical treatment.
Since I have to ask a question, what is your favorite NFL team?
They were local girls I'd known previously, from living in Vietnam. They were from villages near Sapa, a hill station close to the Chinese border. They would identify as being part of the Hmong minority, rather than Vietnamese.
Hello!! Well... if I say anything else, my house will be egged, so Minnesota Vikings!! No, but really, I like the Vikes.
Just want to say that what you've done and continue to do should be applauded. Good luck with everything and whatever future plans you have.
I haven't watched the 40min doc yet but I plan to later tonight so apologies if this is already in there but, during your time documenting and searching, did one thing/situation stand out more than the others in terms of opening your eyes to the severity of it all?
Why do you have 5 inch soles under your shoes?
Thank you, ibru. During most of my time in Vietnam and China, I kept my work secret from even my closest friends in Vietnam. After one of the girls returned home, however, it became public knowledge that I'd played a part in finding her and helping her home. In the days and weeks that followed, I was constantly being approached in the streets of Sapa with requests to help find missing sisters and daughters. I knew of course that the problem was an enormous one, but that really brought it home.
not my choice, it's what I had to have at the time to heal my feet
Hey OP. Great post and hope all is going well with documentary. Two questions: 1) Are your friends Vietnamese, and from what socioeconomic background are they? 2) How were your dealing with authorities and NGOs in both countries? Which official bodies/authorities were available for you to appeal to in Vietnam and China respectively?
Have you done or have you ever been asked to do any kind of film or television work? With all the new Star Wars movies coming, I'd bet they'll need a really tall guy to play....something.
Thank you. I've answered your first question here already - they're Hmong girls from very poor, rural villages, with little or no formal education. I worked with two fantastic NGOs in Vietnam, Blue Dragon Children's Foundation and Alliance Anti-Trafic. Otherwise it was important to keep my work hidden, as there was no way of knowing how far the reach of the trafficking networks extended.
How are the girls doing now?
Thank you for sharing this and spreading the word. More people need to be educated.
How old were you when you actually stopped growing?
Thanks. My friend who came home is doing well. Recently I've had some trouble contacting the friend who remained in China (which has happened numerous times over the past 2.5 years, and isn't particularly alarming). She was fine when we last spoke.
I've often wondered around this sort of thing -- at what point and why did you start filming, and at what point (if they differ) did you realize you were making a documentary?
Do you have to special order shoes in your size?
My background is actually in documentary filmmaking. When I first began learning how devastating and widespread this issue is, I wanted to film it, so I had a cameraman with me from the beginning, and we filmed everything. I didn't realise, of course, what an incredible story we'd stumbled into.
Hi Ben, thanks so much for raising awareness for an issue that most of the western people only know from the occasional news outlet! Is there anything (besides supporting your campaign) one can do (from as far away as e. g. Europe) to actively fight against this horrendous practices?
Are you married? If you are, how tall is your wife? Do you care about the height of the women you date? How tall was the tallest women you've dated and how short was the shortest?
Also, how have you modified your living spaces to be more comfortable? I know my parents have their kitchen counters raised and it's really nice.
Thanks for listening :) I've just answered a very similar question, I'll cut and paste: "Trafficking is a very real issue everywhere, including the US, and it's getting worse. It takes various forms, particularly sex and labour trafficking, and exists in places you might least expect it. The best thing to do is educate yourself on the issue, understand which systems you're supporting or starving each time you spend your money, and support organisations fighting trafficking in any ways you can. Victims are very real people, like you or I. They need help." ... And of course, if you're able to support my work, it would be much appreciated and make a real difference: http://www.sistersforsale.com
I am not married. Most women I've dated have been above 6ft, some taller than 6ft 6in.
We built our home with some things modified, our doors are tall, I have a large shower, and our ceilings are tall. I have a specially made bed, about 9ft long and 6ft wide
Hi OP, Vietnamese here. I'm currently living and studying in the U.S., and I find what you're doing is Amazing. What can the Vietnamese communities in the U.S and other countries do to help?
What's your favorite kind of music?
Thank you. Awareness of this issue is critical, as is getting more attention and resources allocated to those most at risk - particularly the minority groups along the borders.
70's 80's 90's Rock. Tom Petty, Clapton, Eagles, John Mellencamp, Doors, Nirvana, stuff like that
Hello Ben, saw your 40 minutes of documentary and was impacted by the story.
What efforts are being done in the area to prevent more women from being trafficked?
And if they are trafficked, are they taught anything that could help them get rescued? For example - one of the issues from the movie was the women didn't know how to use international dial codes to call home.
Thanks for taking the time to check out the story. We're currently raising funds to both finish the documentary, and to launch a human trafficking prevention program for vulnerable girls in 13 high-risk villages around Sapa. Similar educational programs in Vietnam have been highly successful at reducing trafficking rates, and we'll be taking that work further. The prevention program will cover a wide range of issues - before, during and after trafficking - including the one you've mentioned, and will also work to change community perceptions towards trafficked girls. For those of you who haven't seen the film or fundraising campaign, you can check it out here: http://www.sistersforsale.com
Almost none - I can say 'watermelon', 'bad egg', and count to maybe 5 :)
haha I hope you learned that "bad egg" has a different meaning than its direct translation!
My Chinese teacher used it to insult me for my complete inability to learn Chinese :)
Great work. With all the investigating you did i am sure you managed to find out how much the brides were purchased for ?
Purchase price varies from girl to girl, but it seems they can be bought for as little as 3 or 4 thousand US dollars.
So the sort of people who might get a mail-order bride, basically?
There's also an industry catering to men who holiday to Vietnam, Myanmar, etc and buy a bride there. In that case the bride goes willingly with the man, though often doesn't realise what she's in for
Are the kidnappers facing criminal charges from the local justice?
Is there any possibility of the government of your country do something about it?
The initial kidnappers are often quite difficult to catch - many of them are young men from other towns or villages, who disappear after the abduction and are never seen again. I'm an Australian, my government isn't involved :)
How bad is trafficking in the United States, and what can an average person do to help?
Trafficking is a very real issue everywhere, including the US, and it's getting worse. It takes various forms, particularly sex and labour trafficking, and exists in places you might least expect it. The best thing to do is educate yourself on the issue, understand which systems you're supporting or starving each time you spend your money, and support organisations fighting trafficking in any ways you can. Victims are very real people, like you or I. They need help.
I imagine you experienced periods of doubt and feelings of hopeless defeat before your miraculous discovery. Can you open up about the mental battles/conversations you may have had with yourself in order to keep pushing through? I love practicing mind-over-matter and exercising my mental fortitude, but putting myself in your shoes I can only imagine you had to have overcome some serious adversity within yourself.
Thanks for sharing and spreading goodness into the world! Stories like this are what motivate some of us to keep our integrity intact and follow our moral compass, even when the going gets tough and the odds are stacked (severely in your case) against you.
Thank you, and you're right - it was a very challenging time personally. For me, the hardest part was when my friends were facing the decision to leave their babies to go home, or essentially give up on their own lives to stay with them in China. These decisions were going to forever affect lives on both sides of the border. Of course I wanted the see the girls back in Vietnam - but of course I could never advise them to leave their children. That decision was theirs alone to make, and it was very hard to see them struggling through it while remaining impartial.
How does it feel to be a "best friend" in the truest sense of the term, perhaps ever?
Hahaha I don't see myself that way. I would hope that if the same thing happened to me, somebody would come looking for me. That's the kind of society I'd like to live in, so it would be hypocritical to act any other way, wouldn't it? :)