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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Visa Problem Bordering On The Absurd

When I go to Western Europe, I usually fly through Kiev. I have my reasons, but they are too convoluted to detail here.

Last time I took this little detour, going Moscow-Kiev-Vienna-Berlin, I wasted a day and $120 on procuring a tourist voucher and a Ukrainian double-entry visa. I inquired at the embassy whether I would be able to buy a Ukrainian visa at the airport, like two or three years ago, and was assured this was no longer possible. Then, when I got to Kiev, I saw U.S. citizens lining up at a window in the wall buying visas.

So last week, when I was on my way to Stockholm via Kiev, I asked a friend in Kiev to double-check the visa regulations and, assured by her that I would be able to buy a visa, set off for Ukraine.

Two hours later, on the evening of March 7, it was just me, a Colombian man arriving from Berlin to visit his Ukrainian-citizen wife and kids, an illegal immigrant of undetermined nationality, and the short, stout, polyester-clad man in the window in the wall.

"I'm not like him," the Colombian man said, pointing at the alien. "He has no wife or children." A daring assumption.

"And you both have no visa," retorted Shorty.

Visas were not for sale, at least not to those who, like the three of us, lacked a proper invitation to Ukraine.

"I should put you on the same plane back to Moscow," Shorty said to me. His suit had a definite green tinge. Three border guards, also in green, appeared out of nowhere.

"I am flying transit." I attempted to throw them off balance. Shorty demanded my ticket to Stockholm, which was with my friend in Kiev. He called her, and demanded she show up at the airport with my Stockholm ticket.

"I could have put you on that plane back to Moscow."

I nodded.

"But I did not, and I will issue you a transit visa once your friend is here."

"Thank you very much."

"Do you realize what kind of service I am providing for you?"

"Oh, yes, thank you very much." His face was turning red and I think his suit was taking on a pink glow. A mood suit.

"Now go sit down and think about it." I sat down next to the Colombian and wondered how long it would take the short extortionist to come after me. Three and a half minutes.

"So what do you do in Moscow?"

"I am a journalist."

His face fell. He seemed to think journalists did not give bribes.

"Don't your bosses respect the March 8 holiday, sending you on a komandirovka [business trip] like this?"

"It's no komandirovka it's a khalyava [roughly: a party trip to Sweden]," I clarified. "Don't you respect the March 8 holiday, though?"

That was enough to shame the most cynical extortionist. Shoulders drooping, he walked away. My transit visa was free. I saved a small fortune. Of course, I'd been so brave in the face of bureaucracy because I had a foolproof back-up plan all along.

But I can't tell you what it was.

Masha Gessen is a staff writer for Itogi.