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Goodbye Lenin – Part I

Lee Reaney
15 June 2018

Post-Soviet Bureaucracy
Anyone who’s lived in Ukraine long enough is familiar with the phrase “this is Ukraine”. You might have uttered it upon seeing someone smoking next to a no-smoking sign. Or when you try to fasten your seatbelt before noticing it’s been manually removed. Or when you’re next in line to buy a train ticket and the cashier closes the window because it’s her break. It’s expressed knowingly as an inside joke; an understanding between friends of how things ‘really’ work in Ukraine. But as Ukraine waves goodbye to its post-Soviet past, these experiences are becoming far less frequent. And while we’re all happy to see Ukraine on the road to Europe, there’s a certain nostalgic charm for some ‘this is Ukraine’-type experiences that will be lost along the way.
Take, for example, post-Soviet bureaucracy.
Ukraine is a lovely place to live. Until you need to deal with the authorities to get a resident permit
All of your documents in order? Great! Do they all have that famous Ukrainian stamp of approval (pechatka)? Dammit.
Do you have your medical form? Go to the doctor. You’ll get checked by whichever doctor has a free moment on your arrival. I, for example, as a strapping young lad was happy to hear nothing was growing in my stomach after an ultrasound.
The drug and alcohol exam? “Do you take drugs?” “No.” “Here’s your form.”
Documents? Check. Pechatkas? Check. Medical forms. Check. Time to submit.
Not all government offices have been moved into modern efficient European-like spaces just yet. So, if you’re lucky enough to get a post-Soviet office, savour the experience. You’ll know where you’re headed when you see a large group of people clamouring around a door. Push your way through. Keep your elbows up – babushkas take no prisoners.
Make your way to the door / window where everyone is standing. Look for a piece of paper and a pencil. If it’s not on the door, ask around – someone has it. Put your name at the bottom of the list. Remember your number. Be sure to ask every two minutes what number is being served. And be ready to tell people your number.
Now it’s time to relax. You’ll have half a day before it’s your turn. Read a book. Play a game on your phone. Write an article. Just poke your head up every few minutes to tell people your number.
It’s time! You’re next! It’s only been two and a half hours. You’re in. Four minutes later – you’re done.
Well, that was easy…

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