The MFA seems to be going precious little to advertise one of the best decisions made in the last six months. That decision was to forego the $50-200 the Ukrainian Government was taking in for various kinds of visas, in favor of $100 a day per visitor—at a minimum—being pumped directly into Ukraine’s stalled economy as people from Canada, the US, the EU and Japan begin to travel freely in and out.
It may not seem like a big deal, but the numbers look very good—even if the average visitor only spends 3-5 days here. But what looks even better is the elimination of an obnoxious and off-putting bureaucratic nightmare for the ordinary traveller. Indeed, the way things were even a few years ago was enough to kill tourism in Ukraine altogether.
On Mar. 20, 2002, I got a little e-mail from a friend in Edinburgh whom I hadn’t seen in a long time. After years of talking about it, she had made up her mind to come to Ukraine to visit me.
I immediately picked the last week in May as the best of the three times she proposed. “The weather should be ideal,” I wrote back, “and it’s Kyiv Days, which is a wonderful feast here. Zillions of concerts, shows, artists, etc etc.”
March 22: “Great! I looked up a travel site and return flights are £190-585. Ouch! We’re spoiled here with flights to Venice at £30 each way. For a while, flights to Dublin were free – you only had to pay £10 in taxes. I guess Eastern Europe is ripe for Ryanair or Easyjet. Love, Rach”
March 25: “Have booked out tickets. I will now get on with visas.... Rachel”
March 30: “You shouldn’t need anything from me for a visa – they dropped the invitation requirement some time ago – but you never know.”
April 12: “Because we’re staying with you and because of our nationalities, John only needs a letter confirming he’s staying with you but as a New Zealander I need (quote) “a letter of invitation” plus confirmation that I’m staying with you. We need ‘private’ visas, but the girl on the phone couldn’t tell me what that really meant. Good news is that there’s a consulate in Edinburgh so I won’t have to pay a private courier to London and back. The Embassy won’t send visas in the post; they have to be handed direct to someone with an official receipt! I can only assume old soviet bureaucracy is still rife in all this! Rachel”
April 13: “Send me all your passport stats and then I’ll be off and running. Also, a fax number where I can send the letters.”
April 18: “Did you get the faxes I sent this morning?”
April 26: “The consulate says John’s stuff is OK, but my invitation needs to be stamped by the police in Ukraine. The consulate bloke wrote BBIP/VVIR on top. I guess you know what that means. A faxed copy will be fine (he says). They’re having some sort of a holiday (May Day, I guess) all next week. Rachel”
April 26: “I thought all those requirements were dropped long time ago. I’ve never gotten such a stamp and I’ve no idea what they’re looking for. Can you somehow find out? We’re still working Apr. 29-30, and so should the consulate.”
April 26: “The consulate and embassy only take calls between 09:30 and 12:30. I’ll try faxing today but don’t hold out much hope. Rach”
April 26: “Hurrah! I faxed them and the consul just phoned me. As an NZer, I still need a police stamp. R.”
April 29: “Am working on it.”
April 29: “They say it takes three days to process but I don’t trust them. I may get it and then they’ll say I need something else (that’s been my experience of these things). They’re open again the 7th. R.”
April 29-30, we spent much of the morning on the phone with the Central VVIR in Kyiv. Finally, we went down to talk to them directly. They refused to explain what the procedure was, or its cost, and sent us to the district VVIR where I live.
The trouble is, I’m not registered with the VVIR. I’m registered with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a journalist. So I called my contact there, but Viktoria had no idea what I was talking about.
“Call this guy at the Visa Policy Department,” and she gave me a number and name. When we called, he knew nothing about it. “We don’t deal with that kind of thing,” he said and suggested we go to the Central VVIR.
Meanwhile, the district VVIR wasn’t answering its phone. When we went there in person, we were informed the stamp would cost Hr 80 or US $15. Of course, as a foreigner, they wouldn’t give me any stamp.
We were back where we had started from. Nowhere. And six days of holidays were upon us.
On May 7, we tried the Central VVIR again, with the same results. The District VVIR was closed until Saturday.
Ernestine would have been proud of them all.
May 7: “Was wondering how things are progressing? I hear the weather’s good in Kyiv. Here it’s the usual 10-12°C (a Scottish heatwave) so I’m looking forward to some sun. Rachel”
May 7: “No luck with the VVIRs but a friend said he’ll try through someone he knows. I should know by six. The weather really is wonderful.”
May 7: “That’s good news! Rachel”
May 8: “No luck. I’m just going to fax you another version of the letter. Give it a try today if you can.”
May 8: “I phoned a travel company in Manchester who deal with these things all the time. They thought Edinburgh was more switched on than London, so this gives real food for thought. He confirmed that you won’t get a stamp because you’re a foreigner. I guess I’m going to have to opt out. R.”
May 8: “Rach! Don’t give up yet. I just talked to my MFA people again. They said to fax you my Ukrainian visa and MFA registration stamp. (Why they couldn’t have said this a week ago, Lord knows.) Anyway, they will try to get a stamp for you Friday morning (tomorrow’s another holiday) if necessary. Saturday is an official Ukrainian workday.”
May 10: “The MFA girl knows a guy at your consulate personally, Kyrylo. Is that who you’re dealing with? He should be able to do a visa in three days.”
May 10: “That’s the guy. He first he said three days was enough, then said no, it would take 10 days. He can’t seem to make up his mind. I have no choice but to opt out. Sorry about all this, but if I don’t cancel immediately, I’m £500 out of pocket. Rach”
We agreed to try again in September. •
Originally published in Eastern Economist #432, May 12, 2002