Thursday, October 21, 2010

When's the Last Time You Heard the Words "No Problem" in a Government Office in Ukraine?

I heard these words today from the lawyer at the local ZHEK office where my wife has to get some documents for her post-work permit registration. After much experience visiting various Ukrainian government offices, I have to admit I was stunned to hear this from the mouth of a Ukrainian bureaucrat. After 4 previous visits to the ZHEK for a precious stamp, I had been dreading this visit and envisioning a list of additional requirements whose fulfillment would be close to impossible by our document deadline.

Far more typical is a long, tense silence while the officer scours your documents looking for problems, then presents you a list of reasons why they can't do what you need them to do.

- "What is this here? How do you expect us to accept a form that's been copied upside-down on the reverse side?"

- "The rental contract has to have the ZHEK's round stamp and the director's signature. This rectangular stamp won't do."

- "Where's the xerox of the passport page with the most recent entry stamp?"

- "How am I supposed to know how to spell your name in Ukrainian? There should be an official translation with your passport."

- "How can I be sure that the foreigner really wants to be registered if she isn't even here?"

- "This tax statement is only valid for 30 days. It was issued 35 days ago."

- "I need you to write a statement (zayava or zayavlenie) stating what you're asking us to do."

3 out of 4 Ukrainian bureaucrats scowl, look depressed or angry, and just want you to leave them alone as soon as possible. 1 in 4 is serious, but friendly and not interested in asserting power over you, the visitor.

Who benefits from the Ukrainian bureaucratic machine?

The dizzying paperwork required for just about any legal activity in Ukraine creates a situation that favors two types of business activity:

  1. Big business with budgets large enough to hire lawyers to solve all their legal issues using "all available means."
  2. Individuals who work completely under the table
Everything in between these two extremes is punished in the Ukrainian legal machine. Small business development is weak because of the great obstacles to managing a business legally without lawyers and extensive government contacts. Potential entrepreneurs choose instead to join existing organizations and work for a salary because it's easier and safer than trying to build a business alone. Or they go completely underground and pretend to be jobless, but are then unable to grow their business and hire employees.

I think this legal system is a holdover from communism, where individual activity was made extremely difficult, and only large, government sanctioned organizations were able to legally get things done.


  1. Sounds a bit like the DMV in the U.S.

  2. bingo, ты нас раскусил :) на самом деле, бюрократы just want you to leave them alone as soon as possible просто потому, что не хотят работать. они просто хотят пить кофе, разговаривать друг с другом и получать зарплату.