Last month I went home to Germany for a weekend. On my way back I took a bus from Berlin to Chernivtsi. It took a whole day to get there and Ukrainian roads are not exactly a joyride, but the experience justified the means. Such a trip reminds you of what it’s like to live in Ukraine.
The (Ukrainian) bus drivers spoke with a perfect Berlin dialect: “Is dit alles?” – Is that everything? – pointing at my 3 bags and several parcels. It was, but everyone else seemed to have brought three times as much. I later learned that the two drivers spend every weekend in Berlin. You know, for work. Car parts and driving people around, you know. Import. I did know. Chatting to Chernivtsi taxi drivers had prepared me for this. Many Ukrainians work abroad for years and make their money by importing things to Ukraine. Import tariffs are high, but a little bribe to the border guard usually does the trick.
When we picked up some more passengers on the way and they were saying goodbye to their family members tears were rolling like they wouldn’t be seeing each other for years. I had been prepared for this, too. So many Ukrainian families are torn apart because of work migration and only see each other for Christmas – maybe. I did a little survey at my university for a book project about labour migration. More than 60% of students there have a (close) family member working abroad and Skype is mostly the only way they communicate. And the young people, too, see no alternative than to go abroad after their studies. They just don’t see a future in their country.
We left Berlin without being stopped over by the police. We were lucky because – of course – there weren’t any seat belts in the heavily overloaded vehicle. And unlike in Ukraine, you can’t just bribe the police in Germany. After several hours of driving through Poland we finally made it to the Ukrainian border. At some point the driver splashed us all with water. At first I though he just wanted to wake us up for the border proceeding, but then he said: “Weesde wat dit is? Wasser von de Kirche.” I got it – holy water.
The suspense was killing us because crossing the border was the trickiest part of the journey and we had to pray that the border guards were in a good mood. The Polish ones were. No questions asked about the Ukrainians with a dubious Polish Schengen visa. “I have business visa from Poland. They have a number, if they call that number – it will be problem!” said the nervous girl who had visited her mum, who worked in Berlin. Like many children and young adults, she sees her mum once or twice a year. Getting a Schengen visa is not always easy. The Ukrainian border guards were less generous. They frisked our entire boot and we, of course, had to pay. After one hour, we were on the road again.
The next morning we stopped at a breakfast place. Back in Ukraine a full breakfast cost only 1€, and the toilets were squat ones again. Oh the joy! Back in Chernivtsi, I gave the driver his money – in Euros, of course. He helped me bring my stuff inside and just said “Tschüssi!”
Photo: Mirtillosmile (Flickr)