During the peak of socialism in the 1980s, 27-year old Kostik Voloshyn dreams of escaping abroad. Not willing to “build the socialist society”, Kostik lives a double life; his job as a scientist at a research institute is merely a front for his card game hustling at which he is an expert. However, when Kostik wins a large sum from under the nose of Goga, a tough card player, he returns to Odessa to avoid reprisals. Hoping to ‘earn’ enough money to leave the Soviet Union for good, Kostik successfully swindles all his opponents with the help of his uncle, 45-year old Balaban, a leading gangster in Odessa. Kostik is unaware that it was Balaban who committed a serious crime twenty years ago for which his brother, Kostik’s father, was arrested. Balaban helped Kostik’s father to escape over the border, but the latter had no other choice but to leave his wife and little son to their fate in the USSR.
And now Balaban intends to make Odessa too hot for Kostik because he doesn’t wish to share with him Maya, the woman he loves, who is developing a whirling romance with Kostik. Kostik’s uncle pulls the plug on Kostik by forbidding him cardsharping in Odessa. Nevertheless, Kostik does not stop because he badly needs money and fake passports to leave the country with his mother for abroad where their divided family might reunite.