Tuesday, March 27, 2012

In Pursuit of a Visa I

My life has been consumed these past few weeks with the process of trying to receive a visa to be in Ukraine until the end of my service which is now July 2013. As I said in earlier posts, the Ukraine government changed their visa laws last October, requiring a new form of visa for all foreigners, which has resulted in Peace Corps Volunteers taking over our own registration process, something that had previously been done in Kyiv without our involvement.

Right now, this only affects those of us who are extending and the group that was sworn in last December. However, all new groups will have to abide by the new registration process, unless the pleas of the U.S. Embassy are successful in changing the requirements, which they mostly likely will be, given that the Ambassador is now meeting with the Ukraine Minister of Foreign Affairs.

However, for Volunteers like me, who cannot wait for the outcome of these high level talks, it has been a nightmare. Initially, I was told to wait for the central registration process to happen in Kyiv once Peace Corps learned of how many documents were going to be required in Crimea. But the visa I received from the Moldova trip expires at the end of March, and with no word from Kyiv, my Peace Corps manager told Nadjie and I we had to start working on getting the registration done in Crimea.

So we have spent every day for the last two weeks in various government offices, pursuing the elusive visa. Our biggest stumbling block has been the fact that landlords have to be involved in the registration process, providing documents proving their ownership of the house/apartment. Almost all landlords are reluctant to do this, as they are fearful of added taxes, etc., but in the case of Crimean Tatars, people don’t even have ownership documents. I discovered this fact when Neshet went with me to the registration place, only to be turned down because of not having the right documents. He has a document showing ownership of the land, but not the house. When I asked him why, he explained that when Crimean Tatars first returned to Crimea, they were only allowed to build houses in remote, unpopulated villages such as where Lenura’s parents live. They were denied access to land in Simferopol, where, of course, there was a much greater possibility of finding work. So people just started to squat on empty land surrounding Simferopol and began to build their houses. Eventually the government acquiesced (after a prolonged protest in the city center), and five “compact settlements” were established around Simferopol where Crimean Tatars could own land and build houses. At some point they were given deeds to the land, but by then, for the early settlers like Neshet, the houses had long been built without the required permits. And thus, they have no document showing that they own a house. Which begs the question of how they will pass their houses on to their children, and could the houses ever be sold. Many people have built substantial homes and over the years have continued to add improvements, such as what Neshet has done with our house. But all that work and money apparently will never be able to come back to them until there is some further development in the land reparations dispute.

But as it turns out, with the visa registration process the government doesn’t really care if you actually live were documents say you do--they just want some landlord to come forward and register you as living there. So we asked around Ak Mechet and the library to find someone who might possibly have the right ownership documents. Most people didn’t, but finally someone at the library told us to call someone she knew in one of the settlements who owned a large building with various apartments, and he agreed to act as my landlord.

So that brings me to the next stage of my adventure—my meeting with, as it turns out, the legendary Eskender Umerova.

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