Hello my friends
As many of you know I've lived in the Donetskaya Oblast since October 2011 as a temporary US expat married to a wonderful Ukrainian lady.
But this is not about that, this is about this: DOK.
When I first arrived at DOK, in the early days of October last year, I could see the shell of construction for a new terminal. Our plane nosed over the old terminal and a bus came out to us. The bus took us to the entry area where we stood in lines as we were joined by the luggage carts form the airplane ("Here you go--find your chimadoni--we brought it to you.").
At this point in Donetskaya history the concept of a mechanized luggage retrieval system inside of the terminal was inconceivable. So I went to the several luggage carts and began looking. I found my three bags, each on a different cart. Some kind worker men looked at me and realized I was not Ukrainian and suddenly my superstar status as an American was in high gear. I guess they recognized me from my many appearances on Leno and Letterman. I'm certain they didn't remember me from the Arsenio Hall Show.
At any rate, as an non-RU speaking person I was temporarily in an exalted status (they know you're one of the few people in the airport who will have money and be glad to dispense some of it to luggage carriers).
The man closest to me muttered something intently in RU and I replied, "Ya nye guvaru po Ruski," [I don't speak Russian], which is a phrase people over here never ever hear anyone say. So when you say this they look at your 23 heads and just don't understand you at all. So I switched to the more useful phrase, "Ya nye munoga punyumayo po Ruski." [I understand Russian a little bit]. He nodded and repeated the unintelligible Russian phrase he first said.
Being the astute human observer that i am I just ignored all of our previous conversation, considered our context and said, "Tree chimidoni--bolshoi ee chorney." [I've got three big black suitcases]. He nodded, turned around and yelled something at workers and suddenly out of some 120+ people on the plane, I had an instant entourage looking for my bags.
Then the comedy began. These old guys dove into all of the luggage carts and started digging out, and holding up black (and near black) suitcases and hollering out a question to me. Most often I saw it wasn't mine and I yelled out "Nyet." Eventually we had my three chimidoni and I was headed for one of the two border control security booths with my entourage in tow.
At the booth the serious Ukrainian border guard (redundant, I know), looked at me and my team, "Hmmm, he must be important!
," and he greeted me in traditional Ukrainian border guard speak. PASSPORT."
I handed him my passport.
"How long you will be in Ukraine?"
"I will work here."
"I don't have a business name, I work private on the internet, contracts." Not a word I said registered with his IVRS Internal Vocabulary Recognition System. So I added, "ya robotaet tolka menya-internet--biz Ukrainski business." [roughly: I work alone in the internet--without a Ukrainian business].
Now I'd really done it. I could see the millisecond transitions in his eyes as his IVRS linked up with his UBGP-C17 Ukrainian Border Guard Playbook - Chapter 17: What to do when you cannot find an answer in this book.
He looked at me and went for the next best thing he could think of, "Gastinyetsa?"
He wanted to know the name of a hotel where I would stay. That wouldn't help us here. I wasn't staying in a hotel. I looked over my shoulder at my entourage of patient pensioners.
So I said, "Nye gastinyetsa. ya zhevu vapartment" [Roughly: No hotel-I live in an apartment].
Again, an IVRS + UBGP-C17 search and, "address?"
I gave him my nevyesta's (fiance's) address in Russian and he seemed satisfied. He looked at my passport, page by page as if to show that he did have some work to do and he was official. He found the page loaded with Ukraine stamps and demonstrated his intellectual prowess, "This is not your first time to Ukraine?"
He looked at me, paused, grabbed his power stick (passport stamp), stamped my passport and handed it to me with out a word. I took the passport and me and my crew headed into the sauna (terminal) where my lady was waiting for me. She smiled when she saw me and then even more when she saw my troop of pensioners each carrying one bag--all of which had rollers and an extendable handle.
Skipping, skipping, skipping, 20 UAH later (to my entourage) all three bags and my carry on and me and my lady are in a taxi headed for home.
Now--fast forward to June this year (2012) and I'm leaving Ukraine temporarily.
I arrive at DOk and the new terminal looks something like a rough copy paste of SJC (San Jose International Airport) near San Francisco. Wow! In Ukraine!
I go into the huge (nicely air conditioned) terminal and head upstairs (automatically actuated escalators even!) to the international departures gate. There is no check in for Turkish Airlines to Istanbul. Hmmm. Some 50+ check in booths, two of which are operational now, and nothing for Turkish Airways.
So I foolishly head upstairs to the third level (international gates and security) where I learn that my flight departs from the old terminal. Kanyeshna [of course].
I hike over there, out in the hot June sun and into the hot June old terminal sauna. Two hours, and three liters of sweat later, I'm on board my plane. But I'm skipping ahead again. The US passport has some advantages when you get off the beaten path. At security I was waved through with my belt and shoes on (!) while RU speaking people are held and talked to for a few minutes so that the guard can demonstrate he is important.
At the final gate the very serious guard (again, redundant) looked through my passport and stumbled when he ran into my marriage to a UA woman stamp and the OVIR six month visa stamp. He looked at my 23 heads and paused. Then he stood up and went out of his booth to a director type of border guard. They both came back into his booth and looked at my passport together (it's official UA law that all border guards must only look at and discuss passports inside of guard booths). The director held my passport open and looked at me with surprise, "You have a marriage in Ukraine?"
"Da," I smiled.
We both smiled. Gosh we're buddies now!
He handed my passport back to the first guard and told him something in RU, about how he really should have read BOTH textbooks when he studied to be a guard.
Guard One stamped my passport and handed it to me. And in about an hour I was on my plane to Istanbul and then Moldova (where I went to get my new Visa to live in Ukraine--more on that in another post!)
Skipping, skipping, skipping...
Now I'm returning to DOK and our plane stops near the new (AIR CONDITIONED) terminal.
I'd made a friend on the plane and here and I chatted as we got in line at one of the many security booths in the new (again, AIR CONDITIONED) terminal. I will not even mention that she was a beautiful and kind (albeit serious) Ukrainian woman. I'm just not going to say that. It's irrelevant, and besides I'm married.
Fast forward and I'm standing at the guard booth and the guard is cheerful. OMG I'm in a lucid dream! The guard smiled softly as I handed him my passport. He looked at my several Ukraine pages and saw my fresh new visa. He smiled, stamped the visa, handed me my passport and happily said, "Welcome to Ukraine."
I'm in the twilight zone--not Ukraine. Apparently with the Euro football contest the airport terminal wasn't the only new thing in Ukraine! I'm not saying that you'll get a warm welcome at other UA airports--but the Euro event has changed the face of UA border control in DOK!
I shared a taxi with my new friend and then it dropped me off at our apartment where I type this to you after some 15 hours of sleep, recovering from my journey
That's all for now.
See you in the funny papers,
Ps The photos are inside of the new DOK terminal.