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.

1 comment:

  1. sorry, I just started reading your blog, so I don't know if you have older posts that talk about land borders. I've only been living in Ukraine for about 16 months (all spent in Donetsk, my "home away from home"), and I've had some problems getting long-term visas in the past. I've finally gotten one, and I don't want to go into details about it, but I wanted to speak about my knowledge of land borders. I was in a dicey position a few months ago, and some American friends recommended passing through western land borders. I took their advice. The first time was the border in Uzhgorod (Slovakia). This was by far the easiest border I've ever crossed. You need to cross in a vehicle, but marshrutkas constantly run between Uzhgorod and Sobrance, SVK, so it's not really a problem. I ended up hitchhiking, and it took awhile to find a willing driver, but we got it, and got across with ZERO questions asked, and given my situation, I was sincerely surprised and happy (the guy who drove us seemed like some kind of "businessman," also *wink*). The second time was at Chop (Hungary), which has a great commuter train that runs from Chop to Zahony, HUN every two or three hours between 8am and 7pm. Customs took 15 minutes for all passengers to be checked. Same situation, few questions, and unusually, some smiles from customs agents. The train cost 25 griven. My point is, I seriously recommend these two borders for anyone who is nervous about paying bribes or worried about being questioned. However, you seem like a Ukraine "veteran," so I'm sure you know about this stuff already. Cheers! - Paul