Friday, 8 March 2013

The Ukrainian Visa Saga, by Benjamin Andrew Crowley.

         It was decided at some point over the course of our overland odyssey that after spending New Year’s Eve in Prague, everyone’s favourite 4guysinacar would venture further east, backtracking to Romania, Moldova and Ukraine. I’m sure any Germans reading this would be red with fury, “this is not efficient!” I can hear them saying, but nevertheless we thought it an experience to venture out to this part of the world with trusty Trev’. Out of the four of us, two (traitors) are lucky enough to have British Passports, while two of us have only our Australian passports. Ukraine does not require a visa for any EU citizens as well as numerous other countries, but unfortunately Australia is not one of them, so it was decided that in Belgrade, Serbia we would attempt to apply for them.

Embassy Visit Number 1: Belgrade, Serbia

After arriving too late at the embassy on our day of arrival we ventured there the next morning to be informed that the embassy would require as part of the application, copies of our passports, travel insurance certificates and an appropriate hotel booking, but that it would take 15 days to be approved, 5 days if we payed double. With Christmas less than a week away this would be an impossible solution given we were expected in Budapest for Christmas Eve celebrations.

Embassy Visit Numbers 2 – 3 – 4: Budapest, Hungary

After agreeing to make some phone calls for us, we received a text message from Tom Unkles’ cousin on the morning of the 24th December saying that the Ukrainian embassy would be open today. We frantically drove down there and after waiting at the front gate for 15 minutes we were told to come back in an hour. We gathered our thoughts (ate KFC) and returned an hour later and were ushered into the usual consular waiting room where a man behind a glass window took our passports. “Success” we thought, he’s going to have a look at our passports and then return explaining the process. We waited 15 minutes and of course were told that they could not begin the application process as there were no banks open that day to make the appropriate payments to. Embassies never really make much sense and having our passports taken for 15 minutes only to be told that we couldn’t apply had become all too common. Trying to find out the date we could return on was like trying to draw blood from a stone, but eventually we were told the 27th.

After a satisfying Christmas we returned to the task at hand and once again made our way to the Ukrainian Embassy. With all that was required we handed over our applications to this time the lady behind the glass, and sat down to wait as she studied our applications. After no doubt updating her facebook status and making a cup of hot brown liquid she came back and told Tom that his application would be fine and would take 10 days, but that I wouldn’t be allowed to apply for a visa as my passport was too full, having only one whole page free. This of course is enough space in which to place a one page visa, but the powers to be in their divine wisdom demanded I have three completely blank pages. We brainstormed and decided we would try our luck at their Viennese mission, hoping they would be more flexible.

Embassy Visit Number 5 and our brief return to Australia: Vienna, Austria

It was slowly becoming ritual to arrive in a city and make our first destination an embassy, and beautiful Vienna was no different. We drove straight to the diplomatic quarter and made our appearance. This time we were informed that they only receive applications from citizens and permanent residents of Austria, of which we were neither. This concerned us, and if that was then also the case in Prague we would really be up the creek without a visa. This prompted us to return home and make our way to the confines of Australia’s embassy to Austria and consider the option of getting a new passport. This of course was an impossible task, taking too long and demanding too large a payment with the chances of success not necessarily increasing that much.

Embassy Visit Number 6 – 7 – 8: Prague

                This was our last roll of the dice, and once again we arrived at the wrong time and were told to come back three days later after, in the New Year.

Our Pakistan visa which took up two pages, and those of you who have followed the trip would know that we never had the chance to use, was becoming annoying as the cheap glue used to stick it in had worn off and the visa was constantly falling out. We had all re-stuck it several times for sentimental purposes but in this instance I decided that allowing it to fall out wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

We came back, I now having two spare pages, and were told that upon payment, which included an express fee of roughly $220 as well as hotel bookings for the entire stay, copies of bank statements (so as to prove that we won’t attempt to claim Ukraine’s most generous welfare), travel/health insurance (I understand that those individuals taking advantage of their amazing health care system is becoming a huge problem, thus making these rules unavoidable). Three days later we were anxious as we went to collect our visas, and this was not unfounded as we were told on arrival it couldn’t be approved without some further documentation. Driving like how I imagine an alcoholic would to the site of a crashed beer truck, we burnt home, printed off what was required and then returned. SUCCESS, but of course, not completely so, we still then had to wait one more hour before we returned to our accommodation triumphant.

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