Friday, May 27, 2011

Registration Checks at Ukrainian Border Crossings

I would like to tell about my two most recent border crossing experiences, both of which involved a careful check of my duration of stay in the country and whether or not I had registered with the OVIR.

1. Borypsil Airport, August 2010

I had a new visa from the Krakow Ukrainian Consulate on the heels of a [in hindsight rather pointless] 3-month visa. After asking around online and talking to the Kiev central OVIR, I had concluded that the new visa would probably allow me to have 90 days in the country before being required to register. At the border checkpoint at the airport I was told that this was not the case and that the new visa had no bearing on the 90/180 rule. In essence, this means that under their interpretation if you stay in Ukraine 80-90 days without a visa and leave to get a visa, after reentering the country on visa you will have to register promptly before being allowed to leave the country without paying a fine, even if you only spent 0-10 days in the country with your new visa. However, the central city OVIR may have a different interpretation and may decline to register you until closer to 90 days have passed since your most recent entrance to Ukraine.

Basically, the border guard told me I was in violation and had his boss come out to talk to me. The boss say I would have to pay a fine, emphasizing that the procedure took several hours to write up properly and that I could "take a later flight." I was already almost late to my flight because of issues with my carry-on baggage, which included some metal backpacking gear, and the guard new this because he had requested my ticket along with my passport. I told them there was no "later flight" and that I would not take my trip after all, but would remain in Kiev. At this point I honestly thought my chances of leaving the country were about nil, and I didn't care anymore because of all the problems and the fact that I hadn't slept at all the previous night.

After some hemming and hawing back and forth between the guards, the boss muttered something and left. The guard gave me back my passport and told me I was "incredibly lucky." I couldn't believe it.

I have never paid a bribe in over 8 years of living in Ukraine, and I'm happy that I didn't break with that tradition. I am almost certain that the border guards were setting me up to bribe them in the back room in order to make my flight.

2. Zhuliany airport, May 2011

WizzAir now flies out of Zhuliany, not Boryspil. This is good news, because Zhuliany is actually within city boundaries. I got there by bus for 2.50 UAH (31 US cents). At the border crossing, the guard entered my information into the computer and looked carefully at my visas, stamps, and registration. The registration covered my current stay in Ukraine beyond my exit date, so there was no problem there. But he noticed that there was a problem before the registration -- the same "problem" that the previous border guards had noticed. He spent several minutes talking to his colleague in the booth about the situation, then went out into the back room to talk to the boss. As he was returning down the hall, I heard (in Russian) -- "if he's got that mark [i.e. OVIR registration], that means he's already paid [a fine]." I gathered that the border guard was inquiring about the possibility of fining me for a past infringement. Finally, he came back, apologized for the delay, smiled, and gave me my passport.

Moral of the story: airport border guards are looking at your residency information very carefully these days.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

May in Ukraine: Beware of Ticks!

It's May in Ukraine — arguably the prettiest time of year for travel, sightseeing, and enjoying the outdoors. The weather is mild, the trees are covered in unbelievably bright green leaves, and flowering plants are in bloom. Flies are just beginning to appear, but there are few, if any, mosquitos.

This is the time to visit botanical gardens (there are two in Kyiv — a small one next to Universitetska metro station and a large one near Arsenalna station), begin sunbathing, travel to Crimea (not in the summer when it's often intolerably hot), and take road trips to all those obscure destinations you've always wanted to see around Ukraine.

One of the few things you'll need to worry about during this blissful but brief period is ticks ("клещи"). May seems to be their busiest month, and they tend to taper off through the summer. Ticks around Ukraine have been known to carry encephalitis, though cases seem to be very rare.

After spending time outside (on the grass, at botanical gardens, in the forest, etc.), you should check your body over for ticks. They can be a bit hard to see, and prefer areas where the skin is soft — behind the knees, around the tops of thighs and in the groin area, around the armpits, etc. It usually takes them quite a while to crawl up to a good spot, so you often have a good half hour or so to nab them.

Ticks can be removed with tweezers (taking care to grab it as close to the skin as possible), by applying oil and gently rolling the tick over and over with a circular motion (may take 5 seconds to 5 minutes), or by using special "tick tweezers" which one can find in the U.K. and some other places.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Old Soviet Film Festival at Zhovten Cinema in Kiev

Many people in the former USSR have a soft spot for Soviet movies. You can find out why every Wednesday at 10 am at the "Zhovten" (October) movie theater in Kiev (Podil district), just a 5 minute walk from m. Kontraktova Ploscha.

A schedule of the movies can be found on the theater's website. The festival started last week with a showing of Белорусский вокзал and will continue till the end of August. Admission is free! Be prepared for an elderly audience, though, and there are no subtitles, so you'll need to know some Russian to enjoy the movies.

On the first day of the festival there were some addresses by the people who run the cinema and by a well-known singer and performer. All the old people were given flowers, and there was a small TV crew there that filmed parts of the pre-film presentation, focusing in on some of the whitest heads and most stooping backs. I was one of a small handful of young people.

Soviet cinema is a sentimental subject for these older people. It was a different era with different values and different social institutions. Many of them still feel lost in today's society. For these people, the Soviet times were a period with some sacrifices and difficulties, but all in all it was a kinder society with much more solidarity and security. Soviet-era films are like a glimpse into that bygone world. I usually find these movies refreshing and starkly different from modern, high-tech cinema. Белорусский вокзал (Belorussian Train Station), for instance, is a very minimalist, but moving film about the bonds of friendship and how they can be rekindled many years later.

Finding a Gym in Ukraine

Gyms are all over the place in Ukraine, usually a short walk from nearly any residential neighborhood. In my experience, Ukrainian gyms can be divided into three categories:
  1. Inexpensive, Soviet-era "proletariat" gyms with old equipment, and semi-commercial gyms at local schools. A single visit may cost up to $2, and monthly passes may or may not exist. Classes like aerobics, shaping, yoga, and martial arts may or may not be available. Usually no Internet presence.
  2. Middle-to-upper-class gyms with prices from $30 to $80/mo. (Kiev) depending on how often you intend. Good, modern equipment, ventilation, music, protein drinks, lockers, shower, etc. Some have fitness rooms for aerobics, pilates, yoga, etc. etc. Easy to find online.
  3. Upper-crust fitness clubs with high prices and a wide variety of fitness and wellness activities. Not hard to find online.
My experience is with categories #1 and #2. Currently I visit Stimul Gym in Podol. It has a lot of equipment, in places a bit too tightly packed. The TVs in the rooms show fashion models, and the music is usually electronic and energetic, but not masculine enough. This is a bit annoying.

To find gyms in your city, do a search on "спортзал" ("gym") and the name of the city in Ukrainian or Russian. The registration procedure is very straightforward, and you do not have to commit to months at a time. You can come in, register, and immediately do a workout. Most gyms expect you to bring a second pair of shoes for wearing in the gym.