Breaking Rules with a Smile

1999 > Ukraine

Don’t forget that all-important registration when you get to Ukraine!

Are the rooms round too?

The odd Salute Hotel

I like Men in red!

Firemen never check doc’s

another day in the slammer

Thankfully no jail time

Kyiv feels so relaxed, so mellow, that sometimes I forget
that I am still in the CIS. Take my Ukrainian registration for example.

My first night in Ukraine I stayed at a hotel, and I was expecting the
receptionist to take my passport to the local OVIR to register it. See, CIS
visas are issued by the respective Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but after
you enter the country, you have to register within three days, with the local
Ministry of the Interior office (OVIR). It is a holdover from the days of
the USSR, when the movement of foreigners was very restricted. Today, this
system remains, but just as an administrative hassle.

Well, I was quite surprised when the receptionist said I didn’t need to be
registered. That the whole process was not needed in Kyiv, unlike Moscow,
where enforcement is brutal. I was understandably happy, I hate giving my
passport to anyone! I was not so happy a few days later.

Thursday evening, my host John and I were standing outside a metro station,
looking at a map and speaking English, when a young policeman walked up.
He asked John and I for our documents, and I expected the usual song and
dance. They usually look at my photo, all my stamps, and my visa, handing
back the passport without delay. Now imagine my surprise when he asked me
where my registration was!

“What registration?” was my reply, explaining what the receptionist said
about it. The policeman laughed and asked me why I would believe her and
not a police officer. Good point. He then called his boss, who called his
boss, who set down the long path we were about to follow.

Just before he radioed his boss, I was about to ask what the fine was for
such an offence, the usual beginning of a transaction that would resolve
this issue without anyone else knowing there was a problem. In Moscow, such
an infraction carries a $3-5 “fine” payable to the officer finding the flaw
in the papers, and you go on your merry way in a few moments. This officer
looked a little too young, and a little to straight, to be open to such an
idea though. I could see he was so happy to have caught a foreigner in the
wrong, that he was dying to brag about his catch to his superiors. It was
the beginning of a long night for me.

First, they took us to a little room behind kiosk, where all the beat cops
took turns looking at my documents and chatting with me about America and
all the places I’d been. My friend John is from Cyprus and half the force
had been there. I was the go between as they peppered him with questions
and comments in Russian and he tried to answer in English. The scene was
pleasant enough, with us sharing jokes and laughs about all those thing men
can find funny, like the one officer who didn’t know how to spell telephone!
John wasn’t so relaxed though, having never gone through the routine before.

If you’ve ever looked at the bottom of my Journal page, you’ll find an entry
without a link, “No we are not spies.” One of these days ‘m gonna write about
a night I spent in the slammer with two of my Peace Corps pals, Matt and
Jacquie. That was a night to remember, where the knowledge of obscure American
sitcom theme songs saved our asses.

Then, when I was first with PwC, and they were registering my passport, I
was picked up for taking a photograph of a Coke sign (it showed the -30 temp
of that cold December night). I only had a piece of paper from the OVIR saying
they had my passport for registration. Unfortunately, I had the copy, not
the original, so off to the slammer I went again. You’d think I would have
learned my lesson by then!

Anyway, there John and I were in that little room, sitting in old theatre
seats, the center of the show for the evening. After an hour or so, we were
taken to the precinct headquarters by a very slow van filled with three heavily
armed men. Its not uncommon for street police to have a few AK 47’s among
their weapons. It’s always kinda odd to see them though, especially when
the guns are so casually thrown over their shoulders.

At the police station, I sat in more theatre seats as the commander and I
talked. He was a relaxed guy, politely asking me why I didn’t have a
registration, and what I was going to do about it. I assured him that I had
no intention of breaking any Ukrainian laws, and I would get registered first
thing in the morning. I trust he believed me, because after filling out four
copies of everything (no copiers in that office!), he gave me the lowest
fine he could, 85 Ukrainian Grevner ($21). I graciously signed all eight
pieces of paper, paid him the cash, and met up with John who was waiting
outside the whole time.

Interestingly enough, John was more stressed by the four hour event than
I was. I guess I’m getting a little too adjusted to the fun of the former
Soviet Union!