June 3, 2023•749 words
A short recount about traveling to Ukraine during 2021 between Covid-19 and Russian alert.
The flight was on time and thanks to Omicron everyone had their own seat which made it feel like more of an executive flight than a commercial flight.
The flight being a red-eye flight was pleasant. The lights were turned off so people could sleep and the plane was flying low enough so I could see all the lights of Cyprus, Turkey, and every town and city that I never knew existed as I've never been here before.
Once over the Black Sea at 3 AM I counted six fighter jets in two squadrons flying around my plane with their fast flashing lights making them seem like drones from some kind of alien invasion movie. I wouldn't say scary, but it was clear that they were either protecting us or checking us out. I had this momentary thought that being blown out of the sky by a "rogue" Russian missile on such a beautiful night would actually be a great romantic exit for me.
But alas, a couple of hours later I'm landing at 5 AM in Kharkiv's deserted, wet airport where the clouds are just about touching the runway. We're the only flight and two buses ferry us to the terminal.
Inside the terminal there are four police officers at passport control. I go to the queue where the police officer is a young, friendly looking woman but slow as hell. Next to her is a strict looking, pride-of-the-police-academy officer who raises each passport up to the light as he asks the suspect to remove their hats, glasses and whatever he finds to be obstructing a clear view of who the "suspect" is. So I think to myself if I want to get out of here fast I need to go to his queue but if there's an issue he will find it. So I decide to switch queues anyway and then the family of four before me runs into an issue and the queue slows down. Apparently the Ukrainians before me didn't have Covid-19 insurance so they won't be letting that family in until they sort it out. At which point I think if they don't let their own countrymen in over that, what's going to be with this earring wearing, ponytailed, dark-skinned guy(everyone around me being so pink)?
I switch back to the queue with the young, friendly, slow-as-hell policewoman, and she smiles at me and says
"Covid-19 vaccination certificate, please?"
"I'm not vaccinated', I respond.
"Are you sure?" She asks surprised.
"Yes, I'm sure." I respond.
"One minute, please". As she steps out of the booth.
Now I'm fucked. Best case scenario back on the plane, worst case Ukrainian Gulag. These were honestly the two thoughts in my head. And then I thought "Bribe time" and I sighed in relief when I realized I had no cash on me.
Two minutes later a high ranking police officer joins the young friendly one and a Ukrainian soldier flanks me on my left.
"You not vaccinated???" asks the high ranking police officer more surprised than anything.
"I'm not. I have a negative PCR-Test". As I slide him the document, which he pretends to look at but is actually looking at my Israeli passport.
"Are you really sure?" He asks again.
"Yes, I'm really sure" again.
"OK, you have cellphone? Download tracking app, let me do it for you, it's in Russian".
So there I hand over my digital life to this Ukrainian police officer as he downloads this Covid-19 tracking app onto my phone. And then it happens, the app won't work. Now I'm really fucked, I'll be here all day troubleshooting an iPhone app with these guys.
We keep trying. First the high ranking officer, then the friendly policewoman, then the soldier, then I myself. No luck.
"Why are you here?" Asks the high ranking police officer looking me in the eye. I guess potential spy is next on the list.
"What do you mean?" I ask, staring back.
"Are you a tourist?" He asks curiously.
"Yes, I'm a tourist". Feeling embarrassed by the term used to describe photo-taking, souvenir-shop raiding, happy, naive individuals, something I'm definitely not and will not be doing.
He gives me a smirk and then barks something at the police woman, she barks back, pulls out the stamp, stamps my passport and they both smile at me.
"App not work. Welcome to Ukraine!"
I love this country.