The Belly Button Window Details

About Belly Button Window

The Semi-Regular Newsletter


Ukraine, May 17, 1999

Breaking Rules with a Smile

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!

Enter your email for Belly Button Window updates: