Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Doing Time in Ukraine: Care for Some Sweet Corn?

So what am I doing here in Ukraine? Treading water, in a way; doing time in a way. It’s just that I need to be out of Russia 90 days to comply with new visa laws. That’s the short answer.

As you may be aware, new visas laws were recently established in Russia. Tourist visas probably were not affected one iota, so fear not if you’ve been dreaming of a visit. Most visa categories, however, face special challenges now and that includes mine, a religious activity visa.

Say, care for an hot ear of sweet corn? It's only 20 rubles - that's 80-ish cents - and it's soooo good. (Photo taken in Russia, which you already knew because that's where they use rubles. . .)

Prior to this new law, renewing my one-year visa involved getting a Letter of Invitation, issued by local Office of Visas and Immigration. Armed with that document, several others and $350 or so, I would exit the country, visit a Russian consulate (there are hundreds around the world) and make application. The procedure was fairly straightforward. The usual snag was with waiting for the Letter of Invitation to be issued and then delivered, often several weeks after my visa had expired and I had left the country.

Given the choice, I doubt that I would have chosen to exit Russia each year for visa renewal. It gobbles up time and energy not to mention funds. Besides that, there’s little choice about when the visa expires and a person must exit the country on or before that date.

On the other hand, visa renewal gives a person the chance to leave the country and go somewhere new. Over my 9-plus years in Russia, I have renewed my visa in the US most often but also in Warsaw, Prague, Vienna, Tallinn and Salzburg. And that meant spending time in those cities. Noooo complaints there!

But now with the new laws, things have changed. Now, with most visa categories, here is the choice of visa type: a) a 3-month visa (single entry) or b) a one-year visa (multi-entry) with 90 days maximum in Russia every 180 days. I requested the first type visa but ended up with the second. Drat, drat, a thousand times drat.

So, here’s how that applies: When my visa was issued 20th May, the 180-day countdown started immediately and it will end mid-November. Then the 90-day countdown began on May 24th, the day I arrived in Moscow.

Last week when I left for Ukraine, it was day #68 inside Russia, so now it’s time to spend serious weeks outside of Russia. The nice thing, a person can go anywhere – back to the US, to Antarctica or Zimbabwe: anywhere outside the country.

There's bound to be a connection between visa renewal and sweet corn on sale. . .

For me, Ukraine is the perfect choice for several reasons. For one thing, the Ukrainian border is close to Rostov and easily accessible by bus or train. Best of all, US citizens no longer need visas to enter the country. Another advantage is that there are many congregations of our fellowship in Ukraine and to me that means family: places to go and visit.

Between now and mid-November, I need to be outside of Russia 11-ish weeks. Fortunately, these weeks can be chopped up and I can be in and out of Russia, just so I don’t exceed 90 days total. So for now I’m in the Ukraine for 5 weeks, through mid-September, then back to Rostov for a week, then repeat and so on and so forth.

So you can see, this is quite an adventure. Not one I had particularly counted on but what an opportunity, eh?


Rob & Candy said...

I have wondered this for a long time... since you live in Russia now do you drink the water in Russia? Or do you buy water?

Eileen said...

Hey Candy - or Rob, Thanks for stopping by. In Rostov our water's considered safe enough to drink just need to filter it - I use a BRITA water filter. Locals use tap water, bring it to a boil for tea (as though 1.5 seconds of boiling would kill anything mischievous) and consider 'er good.

Several years back another expatriate from the US, a member of our team, took a water sample back to the US to have it tested in a lab. THe lab pronounced it okay. I do have questions about the validity of that test simply because the water needed to have been a fresh sample - that is, less than 8 hrs since the draw and of course, that's impossible in this case unless, of course, a person wants to FedEx a water sample! =) Anyhew, I choose to believe the results, valid or not. So far, so good. And that's the report about Rostov water. Cheers!