Wednesday, 27 March 2013
Day 300 – Friends with the EU Babysitters. (Border crossing Transnistria to Ukraine)
Exiting Transnistria was disturbingly simple. We’d been expecting all sorts of questions, searches and requests for bribes, but all we got was a quick passport check and a surly farewell wave. The Ukrainian side of the crossing was a bit more serious though. It was quite clean and the buildings were modern and functional. When we arrived, there were about a dozen vehicles lined up in queues waiting to cross, and a female officer was working her way through the cars looking inside the boots and backseats and taking paperwork from the drivers to one of the booths up ahead. As we watched and waited we noticed a burly stern-looking bald fellow in a navy uniform who seemed to be overseeing the operations, casually but purposefully meandering around the cars, subtly observing from a polite distance. When he turned away from us we saw that the back of his jacket had the EU logo on it and we made the assumption that he was probably part of some anti-corruption supervision project.
He didn’t pay any attention to us until it was our turn to be processed and we were directed to drive up to the front of the queue, at which point he focused his attentions on us. As it turns out he was German and we were correct about what he was doing there. He was surprised to hear that we’d had no problems leaving Transnistria as that’s usually a pretty lawless border post and he’s heard some horrific stories from other Western Europeans making the crossing. His Polish colleague and an EU appointed Russian translator joined him to find out what this group of funny foreigners in their eccentric vehicle was up to. We found out a bit about what their jobs entailed and they were very interested in our trip, asking loads of questions about various aspects of it, specifically but not limited to other borders. The Polish guy advised us about the crossings between Ukraine and Poland: the main one near Lviv is apparently horribly busy and often involves hours and hours of waiting in queues, but there’s a much smaller one close by that’s usually much quicker and simpler. This was great advice which we took on board, even though when it came time to do that crossing we didn’t actually follow his advice. I’ll explain that when we get to it.
We stood around the car chatting to these EU officials while our paperwork (passports, Carnet, insurance etc) was being handled by the Ukrainians. They didn’t interfere at all with the process but just the EU presence was obviously enough to keep them in order, whether legitimately so or not. We weren’t asked for anything unseemly, or anything at all in fact, and even though they were really confused by us our documents were moved through promptly. I’m fairly certain that we weren’t actually processed; they just moved us through as quickly as possible so as not to cause problems for us – the friends of the EU babysitters. That in itself doesn’t feel like it’s in keeping with the nature of an anti-corruption project, but we weren’t about to kick up a stink and get up on our moral high horse about how it’s unfair that we got special treatment. Being different has worked against us in many situations, but every now and then it acts as a blessing.
The odd thing about the way we planned our route, going through Moldova to Transnistria and then Ukraine, is that according to our passports we never left Moldova; we have stamps for entering Moldova, and then stamps for entering Ukraine, but as Transnistria didn’t stamp us in or out there is no record of anything in between.