I’ll save you the stress and start with the ending: the Ukrainian authorities came through for me at the 11th hour.
You see, I didn’t know if I would be able to leave for Christmas. And being able to leave rested on permission to stay. In order for me to stay in Ukraine over 90 days, I need to have a temporary residence permit. This requires originals of letters of permission from departments and ministries, passport-sized photos (unsmiling, in a matte finish), translations of my passport and insurance, money, patience, a colleague named Marina to faithfully accompany me to various offices, and an uncle named Bogdan. Okay, yeah, I’m making the last one up. My counterpart Olga said to me when I first began the process: “You thought getting here was a major process? Getting here was the easy part.”
When all had been submitted and processed and I finally went to pick my permit up in October, I discovered while cheerfully leaving the building that it was only good until December 30. An about-face back into the office was accompanied by an about-face in mood as I learned this was due to the Fulbright registration in Ukraine expiring at that time; I would have to wait for their registration to be renewed at the beginning of December before undertaking the entire process again. Entirely. More letters, more translation copies. More unsmiling matte photos. All was submitted, and then the wait began for the extension. The rub was that I had a ticket to fly to England on the 18th and return on the 1st of January, but without said extension, I would be prohibited from re-entering Ukraine for 90 days. Not good.
We asked the permit office for expedited service, and followed the necessary steps, but my confidence was less than buoyed by their response that they “thought” they would be able to do it. It can be very unsettling to feel subject to the whims of those in power, and I have found this can be the case here. I’ve heard stories of cakes or wine being submitted along with paperwork, and I can sense flexibility, unsteadiness, in standard protocol. Sure, Ukraine wants to align itself with the Western world, but what does it take for societal norms to shift? How can expectations and behaviors change on a large scale?
That said, the bureaucrats here did in fact come through for me on Tuesday afternoon, which is a mighty good thing since I was leaving Cherkasy on Wednesday morning. I was trying not to be anxious about it, and think I did a pretty good job, but still! I can handle quite a bit (like, say, getting stuck in a pitch-black elevator with a woman yelling at me in Ukrainian over the intercom on my second day in a foreign apartment), but nobody better mess with my Christmas plans with family. I draw the line there.
I left from the smaller city airport in Kyiv, Zhulyany Airport. My flight on Wizz Air (a Hungarian low-cost airline) left at 4:30 p.m. and was the last flight listed for the day. Things were pretty quiet there, and I found it very peaceful looking out at the planes sitting silently in the thick fog on the tarmac.
So now I am in Cambridge, England, where my parents are currently living in a cute little flat at St. Edmund’s College. It is an easy walk into the town center (centre), and so nice to be able to communicate with everyone (British curiosities notwithstanding)!
A most merry Christmas to all of you: to my family, my friends in Ukraine and back home, and other blogreaders…and to those fine Ukrainian authorities, a very merry Christmas indeed!