Oct 272010

The train from Kiev to Lviv was the first proper sleeper I’d been on during this entire trip: an individual room with four separate bunks.

Unfortunately it was also the first time I had to share my berth with a family of three, the youngest of whom didn’t seem to understand the concept of “inside voice.”

Both Peder and I slept fantastically until around 5am when the little motormouth opened his eyes. I swear he must’ve had a ten second memory, because he’d yell something at the top of his lungs (to one of his sleeping parents about 2 inches away), they’d shush him, everyone would doze off, then ten seconds later he’d do it again. This continued for hours, so I didn’t get a wink of sleep until our arrival around 10am.

Four hours of sleep…just what I needed. Thanks a lot, kid 😡

The first order of business in Lviv was finding a place to stay, so while Peder went to inquire about transport into town I sat with the bags and popped open our trusty Ukraine guidebook. Within moments of his return, two men in army uniforms approached to demand our documents. They thumbed through the passports, looked at each other, said something about “big problem,” and beckoned us out of the room.

Jesus, you have got to be kidding me. Here we go again.

This was now our eighth police shakedown since entering the former Soviet Union, all but two of which occurred in Ukraine. If you’re thinking my count is off, let me jog your memory:
#1 was on the way into Transdniestr;
#2 was on the way out.
#3 was near our hotel in Odesa;
#4 was later that night in Arcadia.
#5 was two days later, when they tried to blame us for an empty beer can on the ground.
#6 was down on the beach that same night.
#7 I’d forgotten to mention: during our walk home from Patipa some officers overheard us talking and demanded our passports as usual. Luckily, when everything was in order they let us go without too much flak.

This was officially Police Hassle #8.

So with our passports and entry cards in-hand and not a drop of alcohol in sight, what could they possibly be accusing us of now?

Are you ready for this?

Our entry cards said “Odesa” for the Destination, yet we were not in Odesa – we were in Lviv. Note that the space was only large enough to write one city, and it was obviously asking for a “port of arrival” rather than a “complete list of stops throughout your entire trip.”

Cheeky bastards. When nothing’s wrong, might as well invent something – any excuse to demand a little handout.

Strangely enough, something we said seemed to convince them otherwise. Perhaps our countless faceoffs with corrupt officials had finally taught us to reliably dissuade them. Our tactics usually involve the following:

  • First and foremost, keep only a very small amount of money in your wallet. If you only (seem to) have a few bucks on hand they’re unlikely to bother escorting you to an ATM, but if you let them catch a glimpse of a 500 euro bill, you can be pretty sure you’ll be leaving something behind.
  • Keep a student ID readily visible and mention frequently that you’re a poor budget backpacker, peppering in phrases like “cheap hostel” or “public bus.” This helps to reinforce the illusion that you’re not a moneypot and thus not worth their time.
  • When they request some information that’s likely to cause you problems, just pretend you don’t understand their English. Usually they give up and move on.
  • It often helps if you mention – not rudely, but in a genuinely confused-seeming way – that whatever you’re being accused of had been specifically approved by a previous officer. Tell them something about how another officer helped you fill out the form, or maybe that you had to you pay them for a similar mistake. This is precisely what influenced the cop from shakedown #4 to back off – it almost seemed like an instance of saving face, where gently communicating that we’d already been ripped off once today embarrassed him enough to leave us alone.

Anyway, we dilly-dallied for nearly half an hour as they whispered back and forth in Russian before finally telling us to write “Lviv” on our forms and wandering off – without even quoting a price.

Really strange, that they would’ve spent so long on all their “big problem” theatrics without even getting to the most important part. Peder guessed that since we told them we were heading to Krakow the following day, they might be waiting for us to extort some money then, when we’d be rushing for a train without time to negotiate. I guess only time will tell.

  3 Responses to “Hassle Number Eight”

  1. Ha! I remember clearly what theory we had for being let off the hook. Of course, all this is pure speculation, but seconds prior to our exit, a fearstruck and poor Japanese girl with tears in her eyes was being escorted up by another officer. I had talked to her earlier in the main hall while you were doing email. They probably saw us as a time consuption and hassle for their money-extracting charades, and her as a wounded animal that they could toy and play with. Poor thing, she probably coughed up her life savings…

  2. @P: Oh yeah, I totally forgot about that Japanese girl! Poor little thing…kinda surprising she would’ve ventured that far into Eastern Europe all on her own though. Kudos to her for the courage 🙂

    @Andy: Seriously…dicks, for the 8th time 😛

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