Despite the ongoing talk about visa liberalization, the process is not very liberal from the standpoint of the average person. Some embassies require travelers to their country to return in person to prove that they are back in Kyiv, like good boys or girls.
I recently returned from Italy, where I stayed for a month-long vacation. My passport with visa, my third Schengen alongside the American ones plus a Dutch residence permit, came back from the embassy with a note requiring me, upon return to Kyiv, to show up at the Italian Embassy’s visa department in Kyiv.
Aside from the humiliation, money, time and energy of fulfilling this requirement, the embassies involved seem to have forgotten that not every Ukrainian lives in Kyiv. The embassies should find modern and convenient ways of ensuring compliance. But since it is Ukraine, basic courtesies are not extended – foreigners think Ukrainians should put up with everything.
I returned to Kyiv on a Friday when the embassy was closed. Then I returned to my hometown, got sick and was not thrilled about going back to the capital to show the Italians I have returned. Searching for an alternative solution, I sent my scanned boarding pass along with my border check stamps via email. Not good enough. The answer: Come in person! And, for the Italian Embassy in Kyiv, this means standing in line behind a fence in any weather, waiting to be called in.
There is a repressive taste to all of this. It’s certainly not European and progressive.
I went to Italy to stay with friends I have made during my year in the Netherlands on the European Voluntary Service, a European Union-sponsored program aimed “to develop solidarity, mutual understanding and tolerance among young people, thus contributing to reinforcing social cohesion in the EU.”
Of course, they didn’t mean Ukrainians.
Also, it looks like somebody is cashing in on visas, forcing travelers to pay attention to the price they pay at the visa center. The exchange rate at the center’s Belgian window is 11.5 hryvnia per euro, meaning that everyone overpays 10 percent for each visa. The visa center said the embassy sets the rate, while the embassy claims the exchange rate should correspond to the one of the National Bank of Ukraine.
Is something fishy going on?
There are other problems. A trace of the Soviet approach is still felt in rude remarks often made by Ukrainians working in the embassies. They have tasted authority and do not hesitate to put people in their place. “I am not going to give you any advice. My advice is too expensive” is what one Ukrainian working in the Belgian Embassy told me. The employee had called me to clarify my dossier and, clearly annoyed by me asking him questions, eventually hung up.
At the Italian Embassy, before I received a visa, the Ukrainian interviewer scolded me about not speaking Italian and predicted that my “chances to get a visa are close to zero.”
I am not alone here. Any time you enter an embassy, the stories of exhausted Ukrainians abound. I once overheard the story of a woman who didn’t get to catch her cruise ship in Ukraine because her visa was not approved on time. Another man, who has been doing business between Italy and Ukraine for years, was asked to bring one more document on the day that his plane departed. The list goes on and on.
It doesn’t get better if you are applying though the Visa Application Center, a commercial institution that supposedly makes the process easier. The centers don’t even always accurately list the documents required by embassies. Despite such unprofessionalism, the service costs 25 euros. The only thought that justifies it is that such a center frees the applicant from having to book an appointment one month in advance.
Regardless of how many times a person proves that he or she is a law-abiding citizen, to be Ukrainian means running errands to collect papers, make copies and suffer humiliation. Then, if one is fortunate enough to be successful, Ukrainians need to save some time and grace to say hello and thank you to the embassy staff member kind enough to put that Schengen sticker in the passport.
Nataliya Horban is a former Kyiv Post staff writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org