This week I’m “liveblogging” my trip to Ukraine. Unlike traditional reports, these posts will be shorter and more frequent.
Little did I know when we pulled out of passport control into the no man’s land between Ukraine and Poland that the biggest wait was ahead of us. Over the next four hours, I was asked to smuggle cigarettes into Poland, grilled at the Polish border over my artwork, and then encountered one of the nastiest latrines I’ve ever encountered (and I’ve encountered some pretty bad ones over the years).
Crossing The Polish Border By Bus
Someone warned me in the comments section that this would happen and sure enough, it did. As we pulled up to the Polish border, a man took a carton of cigarettes from his bag and started handing two packs to every person around him, including me.
I declined and when he started speaking to me in Ukrainian I told him (in English) I did not understand. Apparently, people are allowed to each bring in two packs of cigarettes into Poland, where smokes are a whole lot more expensive than in Ukraine. This dude was trying to save some money and enlisted the help of those around him, most of whom willingly stuffed two packs into their pockets.
The border process to enter Poland was very slow. We sat for over there hours on the bus and did not move.
Finally, we pulled up to the checkpoint and were ordered off the bus along with all of our belongings (when leaving Ukraine, all of our items remained on the bus).
Inside, a passport control booth slowly processed each traveler into Poland and therefore into the Schengen Area. Every bag was scanned and my artwork (and a bust of Lenin I also purchased from Volodymyr) drew a lot of attention.
The canvas was tightly wrapped in plastic to insulate it during the journey home and an official ordered me to unwrap it. I pleaded with him to let me leave it wrapped and handed him the export document from the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture certifying that I had the authority to remove this painting from Ukraine.
After reading that over (it wasn’t clear to me if the Polish border guard could even read Ukrainian) and closely examining the Lenin bust, he let me go without having to unwrap the painting.
On the other side, we huddled in the cold room waiting for everyone to process. No one was allowed outside until everyone was stamped in.
I took this opportunity to use the restroom, though found the restroom absolutely deplorable (hence my barb about Polish “hospitality” in the title).
It’s a shame his border outpost was so third-world because Poland is an advanced, first-world nation.
As we finally pulled out of the border station, there was still a 3.5-hour drive ahead of us even though, per our schedule, we were due to arrive in one hour.
Yes, I cut it too close and would miss my fight. I’ll say more about that next.
But by this point, I was so tired that I laid my head down and was almost instantly asleep.