As a foreigner living and working legally in Ukraine, it is to be expected that the bureaucratic mountain will be ever on the horizon. The document which creates all of this work is a small booklet, 15 cm x 10 cm. My identity is filled in by hand, and a photograph is placed in one corner. The booklet is plastered with a variety of different stamps, the purpose and function of which is mystery to all but the initiated of the Soviet bureaucratic system which lives on in the die-hard CIS nations. For the uninitiated, there is an excessive amount of different coloured, intelligible arcane symbols in faded ink. Everyone was surprised when it turned out I’d been living in Ukraine illegally for the previous year. I was less surprised than most.
Despite the amount of hands that this little, seemingly unimportant booklet had gone through, no one had at any point noticed over the previous 12 months that things were not in order. The problem was a stamp. This was not just any stamp, it was the biggest and reddest stamp that occupied a full third of the last page, and it wasn’t there! Having gone to renew the residency permit, the head of the school was informed that not only was I an illegal immigrant, but the school had for this reason been harbouring illegal immigrants. There would be consequences.
We received a summons to visit the judge surprisingly quickly. There was banter being thrown around that fines would need to be paid as a consequence for having flaunted the law – despite the apparent innocence of the situation this was a serious matter. Nevertheless, having gone before the judge we were pleased to discover that we would be let off with a slap on the wrist and we were told not to do it again. Everyone was relieved, it seemed that disaster had been averted and we could return to normality. The residency permit had been submitted for extension, all that we had to do was pick it up again. What could be simpler?
My expectations of a simple happy ending had been somewhat misplaced, as is all too often the case in Ukraine. How could I have thought for a moment that everything would be OK? Such naivety flies in the face of experience. Having discovered that the residency permit was waiting to be collected, I took my time not hurrying to the passport office for a couple of weeks, before eventually deciding to go and fulfil my duty. I waited in two queues before discovering that my residency doesn’t exist! Not only had it been misplaced, but there was no record of it ever having been anywhere in the first place. Thinking that it should be easy to find me on the system, I realised with horror that such a thing as a computer had likely never entered the premises and that everything is filed away in random piles. How they keep track I don’t know. Eventually, it was determined that my residency does exist, but it was not available since the lady responsible was on holiday and didn’t tell anyone else where to find it. When she returned from holiday I at long last ceased to be a criminal.