From Russia to Ukraine and back (migrant’s notes)

I moved to Russia from Kazakhstan and prepared all the documents to apply for Russian citizenship. I got registered in the migration office with the help of a mediator company (there are plenty of them now). The company Imperiya Prava (Empire of Law) registered me in the hotel “Oka.” Why did I use their help? The thing is that I lived in a newly built house, where we had bought a flat, but I could not be registered there: the house was approved for occupancy, but not yet officially registered.

It was time to submit the documents for citizenship. At 4 a.m. I queued up and was accepted by noon. The inspector of the Federal migration service (FMS) told me that documents for  registration in a hotel are not accepted and that I have to be registered in a house or a flat. It actually meant that the company tricked me. It was clear that such companies did not care about either their reputation or real help to their clients. Their only goal is to earn money at any cost.

As my temporary registration was about to expire, I had to leave the territory of the country and return. How can a migrant with limited finance do it? The answer was given by another mediator company “Inostranets” (Foreigner). They suggested to leave Russia via the closest border checkpoint Gomel (Belarus) or to give my passport to them and they would “organise everything.” I rejected the second possibility at once as I heard that migrants who used it had problems with the FMS later. Their migration cards turned out to be fake. I could not take any risk. I was planning to receive Russian citizenship, so I knew that my documents would be analysed by the FMS more closely. That is why I decided to cross the border on my own. The company offered a special service to “renew migration cards.” A minibus with a driver and an attendant (i.e. a guard) went from St Petersburg to the border between Belarus and Ukraine. The service cost 4,000 roubles. It was much cheaper than a trip to Kazakhstan, Georgia or Armenia.

On the 28th of December we started out from the metro station “Elektrosila.” There were 10 of us, “sufferers” – two citizens of Armenia, 4 – of Georgia and three of Tajikistan. For a few of them such “pilgrimage” was not for the first time. They had lived in St Petersburg for a long time and every 90 days got new migration cards in such a way.

We spent 4 days together in this minibus, got to know one another and listened to each others’ life stories. All my fellow travellers were well-educated and professionals in demand: doctor, logistician, trade representative, shoemaker (he ran his own business), foreman. I will not talk about how difficult it was to travel in non-heated bus with seats inappropriate for long-distance trips; that the driver and the guard looked down on us, made tactless and offensive jokes because we were “non-whites”, regardless of the fact that we were educated and running our own businesses.

For 30 hours with a few stops to stretch our legs, snack and use the bathroom we drove to the checkpoint. About 10 p.m. on December 29 we approached the checkpoint.

Our aim was to pass this checkpoint, leave our old migration cards in Belarus, cross the border with Ukraine.

We passed the Belarusian checkpoint “Gomel” at 22.45 without any problems: there are many people like us here, and the border guards know our aim. To leave the country was one thing, but to come back was quite another.

Absolute uncertainty was waiting for us. We heard so many rumours from other migrants about this Ukrainian checkpoint: extortion of money for letting the migrants in and out (1000 – 3000 roubles), selling of migration cards (500 roubles – according to the law they are free) and so on.

Everyone was worried about one more thing: whether they would be let into the Belarusian territory, or the border guards would send them back to their countries.

Guessing what was going to happen at the Ukrainian checkpoint, we decided to wait till after midnight on the neutral territory and return to the Belarusian checkpoint in the morning of December 30.

For about an hour and a half we were waiting at the roadside between the two countries – Belarus and Ukraine, counting every minute of that frosty night and remembering our relatives who were worried about us.

At 1 a.m. we decided to go back to the Belarusian border. We approached the border, the first of us showed his documents and … came back – they did not let him in to Belarus. The same happened to each of us.

We were taken aback and scared. We had no money in a foreign unknown territory between the two countries. What should we do? Bide our time and try to cross the Belarusian border again or to go to Ukraine?

After half an hour the border guard was still looking at us, as if to say that we should not even approach him as he knows our all suspicious plans. Nobody tried to come up to him. Should we wait for a change of personnel in the morning? And what happens if this officer tells the new shift about us and we will just stay in this “no man’s land” for longer?

Then I came up with an idea. I did not tell anyone as I did not want to give them hope until this plan worked out. I approached   the officer. He looked at me suspiciously, as if saying I can send you back at any moment. Everything depended on  me finding the right words to say.

I do not remember everything I said to him. Only that the words were about difficulties in our countries which made us to emigrate, about brotherhood of officers and mutual assistance. Something in his look had changed; his eyes were full of understanding and sympathy.

He took my documents, stamped them and gave a migration card to fill in. I asked if my fellow travellers could also get the stamp, he nodded. I waved to them showing they could come.

They moved firstly with distrust and suspicious, them almost running. One by one but still nervously (“what if he changes his mind?”) my new acquaintances gave their documents, got stamps in them and migration cards.

Then it was easier. After the migration cards were filled out, they got stamped. In half an hour we left the checkpoint and came to the minibus. Neither the driver, nor the guard learned what difficulties we had had.

Psychologically it was much easier to come back – we were legal migrants and coming back to our families. We arrived in St Petersburg on the evening of December 31, just a few hours before the New Year. We all felt the same way: now it will be different!

After I became a Russian citizen, I realised how meaningless and cruel this migration cards system is. How many troubles it causes for those who want to get legal status and how many ways for corruption it gives to another side. It would be much better if re-registration of those whose temporary residence permission (for 90 days) are about to expire could be done in Russia. It would save money, time and nerves of migrants and their relatives!

Dmitry Poltavsky

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