Crossing the border

I’m going to preface this post with a couple quick facts.  Yes, I told my parents everything.  Yes, Russian bureaucracy is how the movies portray it.  Yes, I made it out in one piece without getting mugged or anything.  Yes, I was praying the whole time. Yes, I have no idea how I made it out either.

So after finally conquering the metro, I arrived at the train depot to depart Moscow.  I’ve never been on a sleeper car but it was a blast.  I shared the cabin with a guy who was from Moscow but lived in Ukraine and two older ladies.  They brought in tea in real fancy lord of the rings style silver mugs.  After a little bit of conversation and drinking the tea we decided to head to sleep.  I’m really glad we went to bed early because I was able to get about 4 hours of sleep.  Next thing I know we are getting woken up because we are at the border and the Russian border guards are checking the cars.  The time close to 1 am.  After waiting a little bit of time they finally get to our car then finally our room and then at last to me.  I’d say at the beginning of the ride God was looking out for me because the Ukrainian in my cabin spoke English very well.  After handing the border guard my passport and her extensive looking over she starts to motion for me to come down speaking Russian.  My Ukrainian friend was nice enough to translate.  My visa was expired by 2 hours, now I don’t know if she couldn’t speak English but could understand it but I told her, “Well maybe if y’all didn’t take an hour plus to get to me we’d be fine.”  She yelled down the hallway and a couple more guards appeared.  My Ukrainian friend recommended that I comply and go outside with them, I agreed.  I gathered my belongings and headed out with a new entourage of 4 guards in front and behind me.  I met the commander who spoke decent English and said I had to answer a couple questions before I could get on the train.  I guess there was some miscommunication because after being led to a room and waiting for 4 hours I was finally able to answer those questions.  After answering the basic round of who are you, who do you work for, why are you here, why were you in Moscow.  Honestly, it took everything in me not to give a smartass answer to why are you here because you took me off the train that’s why.

After the first round of questions, they lead me back to my Russian guards who I bribed to let me outside for cigarettes, on the bright side I got to see the sunrise again.  After our smoke, I got to talking with my new found friends, and by talking I mean we had google translate typing to each other.  It was like if I was texting one of my friends but instead of sending it just showing them on the phone.  Then we progressed to showing pictures of our dogs, fishing and hunting trips.  My guard’s names were Maximus and Alexey.  Turns out they were about my age, 24 and 26 who lived in the village I was at.  They both agreed it was pretty stupid with everything going on and we ended up making the best of it, we’re friends now on VK! (East Europe version of Facebook.  I was on it prior to my trip.)  I actually had a pretty good time with them.  Then some old guys came in and rearrange the benches to play cards.  I was about to join but I was called in for round 2 of questions.  This was with all of the officers and I didn’t laugh or joke at all this time.  They sat me in a room asking me about my trip start to finish.  They questioned why I wanted to go to Moscow, why I was going to Kiev, what Texas was like and every time I’m answering the questions this guy is writing them down word for word on paper in a folder.  The also ran thru my phone looking at my picture I took.  Pretty sure I have a record now with Russia. Also, I don’t think I’ll ever be nervous about a job interview again.  After about an hour of questioning/interrogation, they brought me back to my room.  At this point it was my room, I was making it home I mean I had been in there for close to 8 hours.  My new guard was no fun, didn’t tell me his name and anytime I grabbed something out of my bag, read my book.  He looked at me like I was about to try and escape.  I decided to take my grandfather’s advice ‘of sleep when you can cause you don’t know when the next time will be.’  My 3rd guard, who I named Boris in my head, woke me and same officers entered.  Great I thought they a ran check and something stupid like me saying I had a summer job didn’t match.  Luckily they said everything checks out and all I would need to do is pay a fine then I could leave.  Awesome here’s the cash where’s the border, is what I’m thinking.  But no, this is Russia where bureaucracy is god.  We had to go to the bank first for some proof of me paying the fine.  Well, at least I get to go outside.  After a brief walk to the other side of the town we arrived at the bank, I paid the fine and asked for my passport, nope too easy.  We had to walk back to the outpost aka where the guards and I were staying to fill out more paperwork.  Filled out the paperwork they read off what I could and couldn’t do like I could leave or I could stay here for another 3 days (yeah right!).  Finally, paperwork filled out and I was given two options, option 1, wait for the train which would come at 11 pm or take a car to the border, cross and then take a bus to Kiev.  Of course, I took option 2 whatever I could do to get out of Russia.  At this point, I was detained for about 10 hours give or take.  I said goodbye to Maximus and Alexey (also gave them the last pack of my cigartees) and hopped in the car to the border.  After driving for close to 100kms we arrived at the border where I was told to get out and walk.  For those unfamiliar with the Russia/Ukraine border, it consisted of 4 checkpoints, 2 for each side.  Made it thru the first checkpoint, great luck is back on my side again.  The second checkpoint I get stopped, the officers at the last place messed up my visa extension and so I couldn’t leave.  At this point I honestly thought of just running for it, I was only a 100 meters away from Ukraine.  Luckily this commander was the shit, I swear he looks at me says fuck it right, stamps my passport and tells me to leave.  That dude was the man.  I was finally out of Russia, I honestly want to go back but I will give myself a couple days on the visa next time.

The 100-meter walk to Ukraine was pretty creepy, even though it was one O’clock local time in the afternoon.  Crows were everywhere, cars pushed off the side of the road with had been looted/burned, and multiple bunkers for heavy machine gun ports.  I don’t get scared easily but honestly, I heard a couple helicopters flying and thought great Russia’s invading the whole country now right, just whenever I left.  Luckily that didn’t happen so I made it to the Ukrainian side got thru no problem, was treated like royalty and arrived at my ‘bus’.   Now when I say bus what it really was a van, with no middle row.  Just two front seats and a back row.  In the middle is where we put our luggage.

When I got thru the other side I was directed by some soldiers to these guys smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee.  These fine gentlemen resembled straight up Russian mafia, one was fat, bald hair, missing a tooth in the front wearing Adidas jumpsuit whose name was Sergi.  I wish I was joking but I have pictures, this was real.  The other guy who I name Tim Allen cause his mannerisms reminded me of Tim Allen, he looked like every bad Russian guy in the movies but maybe 5 foot tall.  So it was Sergi, Tim, and this other guy and myself got in this white van and started driving.  Now, before everyone here has a heart attack hear me out.  I told them I only had 500 rubles to pay once we get to my spot in Kiev.  I sat in the back near the door with one foot ready to kick me off the bench and the other on my bag.  I also stayed awake checking the signs to make sure we were indeed heading to Kiev.  Again God was looking out for me big time, I do realize how stupid this all sounds, but again I was in a tight spot.  Also, shout out to my small group who were praying for me while all of this was going on.  Luckily these guys were very nice I had a lot of fun with them on the ride joking and all.

About 5 O’clock locate time I arrive in Kiev only a little delayed.  After a quick metro ride (After the Moscow Metro, this was a cake walk) I made it to my hostel in one piece with everything I owned.  I took a quick shower to wash the last of Russia off of me then walked to the cafe/bar next door for one of the most well-deserved beers ever.  I then spent the remainder of the evening at the hostel hanging out at the bar with my new Swiss, French, New Zealander and Ukrainian friends.  We had a grand time, then for the first time since flying over I got 8 hours of sleep.  I’ve done a lot and gotten myself in some pretty sticking situations, but that day without a doubt is now top of the list.

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