Warsaw has a trio of main railway stations, none of which can claim any awards for grace and beauty. Wschodnia is the easternmost of the three. It is set in a grey wasteland of apartment blocks on the wrong side of the River Wisla. Wschodnia means east. And this is the East. The wind from Siberia cuts across the steppes, sweeps over eastern Poland and bites into the huddled bodies that wait patiently at the tram stops outside the railway station. The trains from Berlin to Russia stop at this forlorn outpost in a part of Warsaw to which few tourists ever venture. Passengers in the know have a dozen minutes to gauge the melancholy awfulness of Wschodnia.
Oleg spends the better part of every day on a staircase overlooking the main foyer of Wschodnia station. He shuffles into the station sometime after seven, usually just as the multilingual departure announcements for the morning train to Berlin echo round the station foyer. There is the fatty smell of last night's pizza laced with a whiff of cheap disinfectant. Oleg knows every corner of Wschodnia, but the staircase is his favoured spot.
In late 1998, Oleg was living on a pittance in one of Tallinn's gritty eastern suburbs when a woman from Tartu approached him with a lucrative proposition.