Never, Ever, Ever Lose Your Passport in Ukraine

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To the Ukrainian man who wouldn’t give me my passport and tried to shove me into his car…Just what in the hell were you planning to do with me?!

After almost a decade worth of worldwide travels, with rarely an issue when it came to muggers and crooked strangers, my lucky streak came to an end in Ukraine. And it’s my own fault. Fair warning, this is a relatively lengthy post, lacking in photos. I was perturbed.

Let me start from the beginning.

Day 1 – “No one here speaks English”

Upon crossing the Ukrainian border from Slovakia, I unknowingly entered a world where the English language just doesn’t work. In Uzhhorod, NOTHING is in English or even uses the English alphabet for that matter. Nor, did I come across anyone who spoke even a sliver of it. I needed to get to the nearest train station and board the earliest journey to Lviv, one of Ukraine’s major cities. Luckily, there was a train station just a short walk away from where the bus dropped me off.

I kid you not, it took me an hour to figure out how to get a ticket. I’m not exaggerating when I say English was nonexistent there. Though, I managed to get a ticket using a combination of hand gesturing, finger-pointing, and charades. I was surprised by how cheap the ticket was. I stuck the ticket in my passport.

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It was detective work trying to figure things out there.

I waited for four hours until my train would depart. Meanwhile, I filled up on some food just outside of the station, in a ma and pa joint just across the street. What did I order? No clue, but it did the trick, whatever it was. A big piece of brown bread with some kind of gray meat tucked inside.

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I went to my train terminal, or what I thought was my terminal. I would have missed my train if it weren’t for one of the nearby conductors wondering why I was sitting on the ground. He motioned to see my ticket and pointed me to another terminal. I didn’t realize that my terminal number has changed. Whew! That would have sucked. I would have been sitting there wondering why my train didn’t come on time.

The train itself was quite all right. I had a whole cabin to myself. It would be about six hours until the train arrived in Lviv, so I found this to be the perfect opportunity to sprawl out and sleep, since I barely got a wink on the bus earlier. I set an alarm on my phone just to be safe.

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About a half hour, before I was scheduled to arrive, a cabin attendant woke me up and asked me something in Ukrainian. I couldn’t understand, but handed him my ticket which was folded inside of my passport. He glanced over it and said something along the lines of, “Thirty minutes until Lviv”. He handed me back my ticket and I stuck it back inside my passport and went back to sleep. I didn’t realize how tired I was. This train reached Lviv in no time.

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The main central train station in Lviv.

Upon arrival, I grabbed my bags and headed out into the station and into the city of Lviv. I was happy to be here because I never thought I would EVER be in Ukraine, especially from all the bad press it’s been getting lately. Besides my bizarre layover in Slovakia, the journey to Lviv was relatively smooth. I was ready to experience this country that I knew absolutely nothing about! My friend, Maria, would arrive the next day which meant I had the night free to settle in and relax. I reserved a hostel, just a few kilometers away from the train station, just on the cusp of the city area. I hailed a taxi that took me straight there. He didn’t know exactly where it was, but thanks to a map I downloaded from Google earlier, he was able to drop me off within walking distance.

I walked about five minutes in the dark to my hostel and went to the front desk. The woman there spoke a bit of English. I told her I had a reservation and then she asked for my passport. I patted my pockets. They were empty. I looked in the usual spot in my small backpack. Nothing there. I checked all inside my small backpack. Still nothing. I began to internally freak out as the woman sat there waiting patiently. I checked my pockets again. Still as empty as before.

The woman saw my plight and let me use an alternate form of identification, like my driver’s license, to check in. She showed me to my room and I set my things. I dumped out my bag just to triple check. Still no passport.

Think, Daniel. Think. Where could it possibly be? I’m usually so careful with it! I sat on my bed and thought it out.

I concluded that it’s either still on the train, in the cabin that I had (this is the last place I remembered having it) or it could be on the taxi that I took to get here or it could have fell out of my pocket on the brief walk from where the taxi dropped me off to get here.

It’s unlikely in the taxi. I never went into my bags or pockets in the car.

I doubt it fell out of my pocket during the walk. I retraced my steps just to check.

It HAD to be in my cabin on the train. That train associate came to me and handed me my ticket letting me know that my stop will arrive soon. I remember placing the ticket into my passport and not into my bag. It’s still on the train!

I hightailed it back to the train station, hoping the train would still be there, but it was loooong gone. Maybe someone turned my passport in?

I looked around for…I don’t know, an office or something, but everything was in Ukrainian and no one could understand me when I asked around for help. Eventually, I came to the train station’s police office. I went inside and walked right up to the desk window.

“Do you speak English?” I asked the officer sitting at the window.

He shook his head ‘no’.

That’s what I figured. I took out a color-copy of my passport I printed off before I left on this trip and held it up to the window.

“My passport,” I said while pointing to the picture. I then pointed in the direction of the train. “I left it on the train.”

He still didn’t understand and called for some assistance. An officer came from the backroom, who spoke some English, came up to me and explained that he will give my hostel a call by 3pm tomorrow. If he didn’t call, then come back to the station. Okay.

Back at the hostel, I went online to make an appointment with the US embassy in Kiev. I highly doubted the police would find my passport overnight, so just in case, I wanted to reserve an appointment to get a new one if need be. The only slot available was four days from now, so I had no other choice but to reserve it. It stated that I needed a police report for stolen passports. But my passport wasn’t stolen, just lost. Do I still need a police report? I sent an email to the US embassy asking if it was still necessary. Of course, there was no response.

The reason I am even here in the first place is to join Maria and her friend. I met her back in Peru in 2011. We’ve been friends since, visiting each other in Toronto and Detroit on several occasions. She now lives in Warsaw and is coming to Ukraine with a friend for leisure. She invited me to meet up with her and join. I arrived a day earlier than she did.

Now here’s why losing my passport at this particular time is the most horrible time when I could lose my passport during this worldly trip.

I’m not staying in Ukraine long. Just about five or six more days. We planned on taking a train to Kiev in a couple days and then fly into Warsaw, Poland. I would hang out there for three days and then fly to England and then Paris to meet a friend there.

But I can’t do ANY of that without my passport. My ticket to the world! Worst case scenario is that if I apply to replace my lost passport at the US embassy in Kiev, it would be about a week or two, meaning I would have to forfeit all of my flights and stay in Kiev. And then book a new flight straight to England and rush down to Paris. That’s the worst-case scenario.

Day 2 – “I need a police report, please.”

I waited patiently at my surprisingly comfortable hostel until around 3pm. “Did anyone call for me?” I asked the front desk. “No, I’m sorry.” I went back to the train station to find a whole new group of officers who had no idea what I was talking about. “Check your folder,” I said pointing to the yellow folder I saw them put my files into yesterday. There it was, my scanned passport copy and train ticket. “I just need to make a police report, please.”

“It’s not possible to make a police report here,” said the only officer who spoke any English. “You have to go to the local police station. I can take you there.” By the way, their English was not that perfect. No one I met while in Ukraine can speak adequately in those regards. But for the sake of your own understanding (you as the reader), I’ll save you the trouble.

The officer escorted me outside and I followed him about ten minutes to the most desolate police building I’ve ever seen. We went inside, he made small talk with the other officers there, and I followed him upstairs to an office to a man who was prepared to write my police report…except there was one stupid problem.

“He can’t write your report today,” said the officer that escorted me here. “He can’t write in English and we will need a translator.”

“Well, when can we get a translator?” I asked.

“In three days.”

“I don’t have three days…umm, can he just write it in Ukrainian or Russian or whatever and then I’m sure someone at the US embassy can translate it.”

“They can’t translate it there,” he said.

That doesn’t make any sense but whatever you say man. I sighed.

Then an idea sprung in my head.

“Can he speak Russian or Polish?”

“Yes.”

“Because I have a friend coming today that will be able to translate if that’s possible.”

“Yes, that will work. When will your friend come?”

“Later today. So if it’s okay, I can come back with her early tomorrow?”

“Yes, that is okay.”

Later that day, Maria and her friend Janka arrived to meet me at the accommodation we all booked (which was a pain in the ass to find, but that’s another story in itself). I explained my predicament to them and thankfully they were willing to do anything they could to help me with my passport situation.

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Our accommodation in Lviv.

Day 3  “Seatbelt? No need, because “This is Ukraine”.

Maria, Janka, and I went first thing back to the police station. Janka’s Russian really came in handy when we had to explain why we were there.

“They can’t do your police report today” Janka said. “The guy who does it isn’t here.”

You’re kidding me.

One of the officers said to her that there was another police station around that we could do it at today and he’s offering to drive us.

The man took us to his cop car as I tried to buckle myself in the front seat, struggling to find the belt buckle. He then put his arm up to me.

“No need,” he said. “This is Ukraine.” Suddenly he blasted on weird techno electro thunder music and started flying through the streets of Lviv! I looked behind me and saw the girls clenched to each other for dear life. I think this guy is trying to impress the ladies.

At this other, more communist-looking police station, we stood there for about an hour in a room with dirty old bums as Janka tried to explain why we were there and that all I needed was a police report saying my passport was lost. Just a piece of paper.

“They are saying they cannot write a police report because the chief is not here,” said Janka. “He’ll be here tomorrow.”

“No, we are going to Kiev tomorrow.”

The officer eventually wrote a receipt of some sort explaining that I did try to get a police statement. All of this stupid work for a stupid piece of paper.

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Maria and Janka. I’m glad they were here to help!

To get my mind off of the situation, Maria took us to a restaurant/bar where they served famously served all sorts of shots in chemistry test tube cylinders. I went to use the restroom and when I came back to the table, I saw they ordered 40 different shots. I couldn’t believe my eyes! How are we supposed to finish these without dying?

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“This should make you feel better!” said Maria with a cheeky smile.

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She ordered so much but we managed to finish it and I finally had a great night. For the first time in Ukraine, I was able to enjoy myself. Whatever happens, happens.

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Also, the traditional foods I’ve had here have been excellent!

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Day 4 – The Russian version of Facebook?

We spent the morning sightseeing, but I couldn’t focus properly when I came to the realization that I would be stuck in the Ukraine for up to two extra weeks waiting for a new passport, meaning I would miss my flights to Poland and England. All that wasted money.

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We took a blablacar to Kiev, the capital of Ukraine over the span of about eight hours. We checked into our hotel and went to get food down the street. Originally, we had all planned on visiting Chernobyl, the site of one of the world’s most notorious nuclear disasters, the next day but I had to back out because of my scheduled appointment with the US embassy there. Trust me, I was bummed about it. I didn’t want to sulk in it. I just wanted to get to the embassy, apply for my new passport, hope this stupid piece of paper would be enough, and get the heck out of the Ukraine.

Once we returned to our hotel, we called it a night and went to sleep. At some time an hour later, I woke up for no reason and saw a notification of a friend request on Facebook. From an Olya Stolichnaya (not her real surname, but similar). I don’t know any Olya, but my gut told me to accept the request. I normally don’t accept friends I don’t know.

Maria and Janka were fas asleep. Fifteen minutes later, I received another notification. This time, a message directly from Olya.

Here is an excerpt of our conversation:

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I was floored. I called the number, but to no response. It was 1:30am, so no surprise. I will call her back first thing in the morning. However, I was sure to follow up on the hyperlink that Olya sent me. That link led me to an app called VK, which I’ve never heard of and didn’t have downloaded onto my phone. Olya gave me the link to that woman’s profile. This woman who Olya claimed to have my passport in their possession. And so, I downloaded the app and found it to be some weird Russian version of Facebook. I created a quick profile for myself and was able to access the mystery woman’s profile. Her name was Mariya Provost (again, not her real surname but close enough). It was 1:26am, but I sent her a message anyway. She responded almost ten minutes later, but didn’t respond again until the morning hours. She went to sleep presumedly. She spoke no English but instead responded in Russian, in which I Google translated our entire conversation that continued the next morning.

Here it is:

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Day 5 – Buzz me in please!

I informed Maria and Janka of what happened while they slept, and asked them for their assistance speaking to this woman on the phone. She didn’t understand English, so maybe she would understand Russian or Polish.

Janka called the number, but it was no woman who answered. It was the voice of a man who indeed had my passport. I’m not sure how he got it but he claimed to have it. “Tell him I’ll meet him where ever he is!”

Janka wrote down his address. He’s back in Lviv.

“Tell him I am taking the earliest train there and will be there tonight.”

I took a risk skipping my scheduled appointment. If this was all a sham, it would mean I would have to wait in Ukraine even longer. I was willing to meet the mystery stranger who had my passport. I just gotta go all the way back to Lviv while the other two go to Chernobyl. If I get my passport in time, I can be back tomorrow in time for our flight to Poland!

I bought a ticket for the earliest train back to Lviv, an almost ten-hour journey. I had the address of the man saved to my phone. The address was outside of the city somewhere according to Google. I hopped on a taxi and directed him to the location. Once I arrived in the sketchiest part of town, I found that the address to the building he gave me was actually the address to an apartment complex. I didn’t have the apartment number. “How am I supposed to figure out which number belongs to the mystery man?” I can’t call him, my phone doesn’t have any data and there’s no wifi signals around.

I stood around for a moment pondering. You know what? I’ll just press every button until someone let’s me in. I’ll look like a fool, but at least a fool with a passport.

There were twelve numbers on the door, so I started with #1.

“{Inaudible Ukrainian} Hello?”

“Hello! Do you have Daniel’s passport?”

“{inaudible Ukrainian} ##%$%@^”

Click.

The person hung up on me. He obviously had no idea what I was talking about. I figured the mystery man would recognize me if I said my name and I was looking for my passport. I’d just look like an idiot eleven more times. Worth it to get my precious back. On to number 2.

“{Inaudible Ukrainian} Hello?”

“Hello! Do you have Daniel’s passport?”

“{inaudible Ukrainian} ##%$%@^”

Click.

Number 3 was the same and no one answered for number 4. However, on number 5 when I pressed the button, no one answered but who ever lived there just buzzed me right in without asking who I was.

Now that I was inside the complex, now what? I figured I would start at the top floor at apartment #12, knock on the door, and find the mystery man. This was going to be a very confusing and embarrassing situation, but necessary to find my passport and to get the heck outta here.

As I made my way up the stairs, a gentlemen walked down and noticed me holding my old expired passport in my hand. He stopped and started speaking to me in Ukrainian.

I’m not exactly sure what he said but from what I got, I think he told me that he knew about my passport and that the office downstairs has it but they aren’t open until tomorrow. That’s what I think he was trying to tell me.

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I carry around my old, expired passport as extra proof in “what-if” scenarios like these.

I went back downstairs and saw the office door and saw that it would open again at 7am tomorrow, meaning I would have to spend the night somewhere in this shit hole part of town.

Luckily, I found a hotel about 5 minutes walk down the road, one of the sketchier hotels I’ve stayed in but I wasn’t looking for luxury. First thing tomorrow morning, I’m going to that office, getting my passport and getting the hell out of here.

Day 6 – The dodgy, old man in the trench coat.

I had a crappy dinner last night: a pre-made sandwich from a corner store. I couldn’t find anything else. I felt it in the morning from that, coupled with a restless night, I was up and already out of the door at 7am sharp and walked back to the apartment. The office had a separate door adjacent to the main apartment, so I didn’t have to play the guessing game again. I entered the office and saw a lady there sorting and filing snail mail.

This is a post office?

I went up to the lady and asked about a missing passport, showing her my old one as I tried to explain to her that my passport was in this office. She had no clue what I was saying and continued sorting her mail. I tried to explain again but she practically ignored me. It dawned on me that the gentlemen who told me about the office yesterday probably thought I was trying to mail something. He doesn’t know about any passport.

I rushed back to my hotel to use the wifi to contact Janka so she could call the mystery man. However, the wifi wasn’t working. As a matter of fact, the electricity to the entire building was off. Frustrated wouldn’t even begin to describe how I felt at that moment. Someone at that apartment has my passport. I had to figure out a way to get someone there to help. I went back to the post office.

The clock was ticking.

When I returned, there were, even more, women who working, busy sorting and filing postage. I pulled up the conversation I had with the Russian woman on my phone earlier and showed the lady who had no idea what I was saying previously. Along with the message, I showed her the phone number of the man and gestured for her to call it. She understood and called the number. A conversation went on for about two minutes and then she motioned for me to have a seat behind the desk. I couldn’t understand anything, but I had a good feeling that she spoke to the man who had my passport and that he was on his way!

I sat there, twiddling my thumbs, while all the women worked. It was like being in the middle of a box of feverish, chatty hens. Twenty minutes went by, and I began to feel like I was in the way of their work.

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I motioned to the head honcho and gestured if I could seat outside the office. She escorted me to another office across the hall to sit and wait. Another five minutes, ten, fifteen minutes go by. Where the heck is this guy? The door swung open and the head honcho lady escorted me outside the front door outside the building and gestured for me to wait. I guess he’s here, but I don’t see anyone.

Now this is the part where things get weird.

From the corner of my eye, I saw an older man, wearing a beige trench coat and an old-timey cap, appear from the side of the building. I looked at him and he looked at me. Without saying a word, he nodded his head at me and motioned me to come follow him as he disappeared off to the side of the building, leading into a lonely, miserable alley.

A bit weird.

“This is where I get kidnapped and sold off into human trafficking,” I thought to myself.

I followed the man a few meters into the alley and saw a yellow car at the end, with the front of the car facing us with one of the backdoors open, engine running and what appeared to be two other men in the backseat.

I suddenly stopped.

“Sir, do you have my passport?” I asked without hesitation.

He didn’t say a word. Instead, he stopped walking, reached into the inside of his coat as he gazed at me and pulled out my passport from his inside pocket. How did I know it was my passport? Because my passport had an indistinguishable cover on it that I bought when I was in Cambodia a few years ago. It was a case recycled from an old cement bag with a red elephant on it. This was 100% my passport that I have been searching for days!

“Yes, that’s it!” I said, as relieved as ever.

He continued to hold it close to him, still not saying a word. A silent figure who wouldn’t budge.

Just give me my damn passport!

Maybe he wants proof that it’s me?

I pulled out my expired passport and showed it to him.

“Look!” I said while pointing at the photo of myself. “That’s me!”

He opened my passport and compared the photos, but still he wouldn’t hand it over.

Ugh, maybe he wants a bribe?

I didn’t want to resort to this, but I was running out of options. All I had on me was about 500 Ukrainian Hryvnia’s which equaled to about $20 USD, that I pulled out of my wallet and tried to hand to him in exchange for my passport. He took the money, shoved it in his pocket and then suddenly grabbed my left arm with his right arm and began a sudden forceful pace, pulling me closer towards the open door of his car as he spoke something in a rough Ukrainian.

My instincts totally took over.

Without hesitation, I snatched my passport out of his grasp with my free right hand, shoved him at his side, broke free, and took off! I didn’t look back. I booked it back to my hotel, gathered my belongings, and basically ran to the train station. Back to Kiev.

What the f**& was that!?????

I reunited back with Maria and Janka who were at a restaurant in town and explained everything that happened. They couldn’t believe it.

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They had a grand ol’ time at Chernobyl and exploring the sights of Kiev while I was busy trying not to get kidnapped. Basically, Ukraine sucked, although I’m thankful because things could have been tremendously worse.

Day 7  Goodbye forever, Ukraine!

I woke up and saw an email from the US embassy stating that a police report was not necessary for my case.

You mean I could have skipped going to all of those incompetent police stations?!

We made it to our early morning flight to Warsaw, with my passport permanently glued to my body. I’m never leaving this baby again.

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Moral of the story: If you are gonna lose your passport somewhere, DON’T do it in Ukraine. 

 

P.S.

Don’t let this turn you off from traveling to Ukraine. Like I said, the food was top-notch and there was plenty to see. I felt relatively safe for the most part, other than that shady alleyway. BUT, if you do travel here, I highly recommend you come with someone who knows the language or you come through an English friendly tour operator. I believe if I spoke the language or if there wasn’t such a language barrier, a lot of the issues I had would never have happened.

 

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Author: Adventure Born

I'm Daniel. A cereal lovin', traveling machine from Michigan on a solo journey around the world, documenting and sharing my unexpected tales from abroad. My aim is to inspire people like YOU to discover your very own adventures. The world is truly too big not to explore it!

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