“God will forgive you but the bureaucracy won’t”

Russia is a bureaucratic country (newsflash).

In order to be “legal” in Russia I have to have a few documents:

1. Passport

2. Visa

3. Migration card (a little form you fill out when you arrive on Russian territory)

4. Registration (all foreigners have to be registered in the city where they’re staying. If foreigners go to a new city and stay longer then 7 days, they have to register there. Only one registration is valid at a time, so every time I travel, I also have to re-register when I come back to Samara)

These four simple bits of paperwork have caused me, the other volunteers, and the staff of ICYE who have to deal with all this, no end of trouble.

The latest mini-drama happened just as I was preparing to visit an old friend in Kirov. I had been to Rostov for volunteers’ mid-term training, and had allowed just enough time between the two trips to re-register in Samara. However, about 36 hours before my flight to Kirov, I received the following text from my boss:

“They can’t register you”.

Upon further probing, I learnt that the cyrillic transliteration of my surname on my migration card – filled out by officials at Domodedovo airport, and not by me – differed ever so slightly from the one on my visa, and that therefore, the immigration centre panicked, even though I’ve already registered several times with this card. Because, obviously, it’s beyond officials whose entire job involves dealing with foreign documents to realise that there is more than one way to transliterate a foreign name, or to see that the Latin versions on both documents matched up.

So the lady in our office who deals with all our visa issues went to the immigration office (where my passport was being held hostage) on my behalf the next morning. From there, as far as I understand, she was sent to a different branch in another part of the city. There, they told her that in order to issue me a new card, I would have to come into the office and say that I’d lost the original one. Obviously, she refused, as that would mean me falsely claiming it was my fault. Sources dispute what would happen in this case, but it varies from me being issued a new card for free, to me being fined an indeterminate amount, or even not being allowed to leave the country (which seems somewhat illogical, but since when has logic had a place in Russian bureaucracy?)

Eventually, they gave up and registered me anyway without bothering to issue a new card. (Why, why couldn’t they have done this in the first place?!)

This is just one of the many examples of the weird and wonderful world of Russian bureaucracy – and it’s nothing compared with the story of the two volunteers who accidentally damaged their visas and were almost deported!

But I got my passport back in the end, survived my scary internal flight to Kirov on a tiny propellor plane, and all turned out well and dandy! Photos will follow if I ever locate the cable for my camera…

*here are those photos I promised!

View from my tiny prop plane to Kirov

Reunited after two and a half years!

Reunited after two and a half years!


View of Urzhum

View of Urzhum, about 200km from Kirov

SAM_1146 SAM_1152

In front of Urzhum cathedral, about 200km from Kirov

In front of Urzhum cathedral

SAM_1139 SAM_1156


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s