Category Archives: Transportation

Chernobyl Moose Hit by the Truck in Front of Me

This happened 10 February, 2022, driving near Malyn, Ukraine after a blockchain meetup in Kyiv.

It’s about 30 miles (48 km) from the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, where wildlife is flourishing.

When the moose stood up again and another truck was approaching from the other direction, I, and the driver from the other vehicle which stopped both scrambled into the ditch, thinking the moose would be hit in our direction, and possibly have an out-of-control truck behind it.

Ukrainian Bureaucrats and Russian Tanks

Yesterday my wife made arrangements to have a relative watch our two kids while I worked so that she should go to Ukraine’s equivalent of the Department of Motor Vehicles and renew her international driver’s license. She went, and after an hour waiting, she was told to re-take the pictures she had brought, so she went to a nearby photographer, returned, and waited again this time for a little less than an hour. Then they told her the printer was broken, and that she should come back some other day.


I had a similar adventure today, and after back-to-back defeats at the hands of Ukrainian bureaucrats, I do what little I can. I write.

The whole reason I’m currently visiting the in-laws is because I had a long-standing appointment in Kyiv to FINALLY (after six months of trying) get my Ukrainian driver’s license. We planned a week long visit around this appointment to get the driver’s license.

I announced a day off from work well in advance. Early this morning, I drove for two hours accompanied by a contact I nurtured who would help me with the processes. We waited for two hours and told their system was down and wouldn’t be working today, and drove two hour back. They told my contact to call back on Saturday. There was no mention of why they wrote off Thursday and Friday.

I had planned to return to Lviv on Saturday.

This is the dehumanizing, soul destroying reality of Ukrainian bureaucracy. It’s waiting for hours in crowded Soviet style offices with piles of documents on your lap hoping everything is in order. My relatives smile when I relate to them my struggles, not because they enjoy my suffering, but because after a life time of abuse, they’re happy to have a foreigner empathize with them.

“See?” They tell me. “This is why everybody wants to leave. Do you understand now?”

One of my nephews, a very talented artist who dreams of leaving, tells me he was once caught in a perfect contradiction of the kind that only Ukrainian bureaucracy can create: If I understood him correctly, he couldn’t update his residency without a passport, and he could get a passport without an updated residency.

My quest to get a Ukrainian driver’s license began about six months ago. I was pulled over in a cleverly designed speed trap, where the main highway is suddenly designated a residential zone, though there are no building nearby. There was a sign though. Fair enough.

I was told the rules had changed, and American driver’s licenses no longer qualified someone to drive on Ukrainian roads. I paid the speeding ticket – about 250 hryvnias ($10), and a 3500 hryvnia ($140) fine for driving without a license.

Knowing the predatory nature of Ukrainian bureaucracy, I always try to find a sympathetic insider before approaching any government institution. In this case, I found through some relatives a former high ranking police official who can contacts in Ukraine’s equivalent of the department of transportation. He wanted to hang out a bit before we began, so I spent a pleasant evening with min his yard, drinking beer, grilling shashlynk, and late in the evening even singing.

I asked him three times, both by phone and during our evening whether I needed to pay for these service. I didn’t use the word “bribe”, but it was obvious that’s what I meant. He told me emphatically that I did not.

Eventually, he told me everything was set, and gave the contact, and I called the contact, and received, somewhat impatiently, instructions how to proceed.

What followed were SEVEN visits to a department of motor vehicles. Each was book-ended by an hour of travel. Also, I would arrive a half hour early or more to reserve a place in line, then wait for the place to open, then elbow my way to a ticket in the order that people showed up, and wait for the ticket number to be called. Since I always showed up well before opening, I never had to wait more than about 45 minutes to get called.

1st visit – general review of documents. One of the translations needed to be notarized.

2nd visit – I returned the same day with a notarized translations, instead of a normal translation. I was surprised when he simply asked to return in about a week. There was some process that needed to happen.

3rd visit – The third visit was infuriating. I went to the trouble to traveling there, claiming a place in line, etc, just to be told that I needed some additional materials. Apparently, he was unable to verify that my American driver’s license was legitimate. He could have easily told me this over the phone – but they always surprise you with problems at the last minute. I’ve been warned that this twisting of the knife is how Ukrainian bureaucrats try to get you to offer a bribe, but I remembered the guidance of the ex-police officer and bit my tongue.

He told me to get some proof from the US embassy that my driver’s license was legitimate. I explained that the embassy doesn’t do any such thing. Licenses are done state by state. He shrugged the typical shrug of a Ukrainian bureaucrat – “That’s our system,” he said. Nothing is every the bureaucrat’s fault. He told me to get something, even a notarized statement.

I tried to explain to him the extreme stupidity of this. The notary at the embassy will notarize ANY statement. The notary confirms the authenticity of a signature. That’s it. It means nothing about the validity of a statement, or legitimacy of an American driver’s license.

“That’s our system,” he said. I need something. So, thinking I was receiving a coded message, I asked if I needed to pay for these services, but he waved his arms as if my question was utterly absurd.

I made an appointment at the US embassy, which had a month long waiting list at the time. I returned to Lviv to continue running my IT business and returned in a month, first to visit the embassy in Kyiv, which is itself a long procedure to pass through security. Then I made my next trip.

4th visit – He was very pleased by the notarized statement. Everything was set. “Now just give me your medical exam, and we’ll make your license.” He seemed irritated that I didn’t have, never heard of, and never even thought about a special medical exam for a driver’s license.

I made another trip to Kyiv (2 hours each way), and received my medical exam – which was a completely fake procedure. You pay money, and they pretend to examine you and give you a piece of paper with a stamp.

5th visit – He accepted the medical exam, and then sent me to another office to pay the fee for my license. He told me not to wait in line again after paying, which I appreciated. When I returned with the receipt, he took my photograph, and as often happens with Ukrainian bureaucracy, my goal seemed very, very close, almost imminent.

It’s probably an exaggeration to call this deliberate sadism, though it certainly seems that way. Next, he showed me to a computer and told me all I had to do now was take an exam.

I thought the whole point of me verifying (or pretending to verify) my US driver’s license was to prove myself a qualified driver. That’s how it works in the US — you can get an international driver’s license with your existing driver’s license. You just pay a fee and fill out an application. You can even do it by mail without making multiple visits to some hellish, crumbling Soviet style office.

“That’s our system,” he shrugged.

I asked him why he hadn’t told me about this, and again he told me that that’s their system.

I was Sisyphus, and the boulder had just rolled down the hill again.

“I will not pass an exam in Ukrainian,” I said. “Can I take it in English?”

He said I could. It turned out that selecting English only changed the labels on the buttons to English: “okay” / “next question” / “cancel”.

The content remained Ukrainian. He telephone somebody to ask questions, and said he had an American who needed to take the exam in English, and he talked about what a stupid broken system they have. When he got off the phone, he continued telling me about their stupid broken system, but said there was no other option.

The test continues until you get three questions wrong. I had a hard time reading technical terms, and made it to about question number eight of twenty. From what I hear, the test is even difficult for native Ukrainians to pass.

He told me to come back in a few days. From his earlier complaining about their system, and from his tone of voice I got the impression that her take the test for me, or find some work around.

6th visit – Inexplicably, I had to take the test in Ukrainian again. When I asked him why he was wasting my time, he said something about the ex-police officer indicating some dispute between them. It was something like “you tell your friend that he needs to start acting like a human being,” as if I’m supposed to know what the hell that means.

Ukrainian bureaucracy has been so incredibly disorienting. Neither doing everything I was told, nor trying to offer a bribe as my relatives insist is the only way seemed to work for me. I didn’t know if this was incompetence, or if he was angry at the ex-police chief and taking it out one me, or if he was speaking to me in coded language that I should offer a bribe in some different way, even after he waved off my suggestion that I pay for services.

The point for foreigners is that you have to work very hard just to get on with life in Ukraine.

Inexplicably, he asked me to return in a few days. I asked what would be different, and he said something vague like “we’ll see.”

I needed to return to Lviv to refocus on my business, and we had vacation planned to the United States.

Frustrated, demoralized, and dejected, I did not return, but looked for an alternative plan to get a Ukrainian driver’s license. I found another contact of my wife’s family who had helped other people get their driver’s licenses. However as I had an in-process application at a different department, I need to cancel it

7th visit – After we returned from our vacation to the United States, I made a last trip to that god-forsaken Soviet little bureaucracy, this time with my wife. She cut the line, and told the manager she needed to cancel an application for her foreigner husband. The manager, without seeing me or asking her to name her husband, waddled to the cabinet and retrieved my file. It had been about four months since I’d started it. He returned some documents, and asked for a statement about cancelling the process, which my wife wrote and I signed.

Today was a visit to a separate department, coordinated by a separate insider. I wasted six hours. Four of them driving, and two of them waiting. Their system was down. They asked to call back on Saturday without explaining why Thursday or Friday were out of the question.

So that’s where I am.

All I want to do is drive legally in Ukraine, as I did for eight years before the laws were changed. After six months of trying and wasting countless hours, I have nothing to show for my efforts.

Perhaps I made a mistake by even trying to get a Ukrainian driver’s license as the police man who gave me that speeding ticket six months ago told me I needed to do. Perhaps during my vacation in America, I could have just applied for an international driver’s license and that would have covered my needs.

But the point it – why are such mistakes possible? And why should it be a mistake?

The types of people Ukraine wants to attract and retain will not be willing to live under this dystopian bureaucracy.

I’m not even sure if I should return and try again if I get the go-ahead on Saturday. After nine years in Ukraine, I bought one way tickets for myself and my family to the US. We made this difficult decision (and it was difficult) in October, before the tensions with Russia went crazy, and now I hate the feeling of abandoning Ukraine, or failing to stand up to Russia the bully.

Update: On Saturday, my contact called me and said I could try again on Tuesday or Wednesday. I decided to follow through with plans to return to Lviv to resume packing.

Even if I did take an additional day off from work, and even their systems did not go down again, and even if I pass through their hoops and qualify for a driver’s license, I’m worried they wouldn’t be able to give me one because of fresh problems with my residency (see below). This is best part yet!


Residency Woes

After living in Ukraine for NINE years, Ukraine will not renew my Residency Permit. I have a “permanent” residency which requires only a one time renewal which should have happened this year.

Just to get to the point where my renewal was rejected took over 40 interactions. I recorded each one as a civics lesson, and perhaps I’ll list them in a separate blog post. For example:

* wait in line to be told to come back another day
* get sent to a different office to review documents
* have him refer me to a different office
* go somewhere else to fill out and submit the form to pay the penalty
* have my finger prints taken in one office on the second floor
* later the same day, have my finger prints taken on the first floor (the nice lady apologized for the absurdity, saying, as always: “that’s our system”)
* go to the bank to pay a penalty for applying for renewal several months late

In total there were FORTY interaction. They bounce you around like a ping pong ball.

And the reward for such determined effort: my renewal was rejected.

I had received the permit in 2013 based on the fact that my mother was born in Ukraine. In fact, both my parents were born in Ukraine, but Ukraine’s ministry of immigration wouldn’t accept American naturalization documents which specified them as being from Ukraine. No, that would be too easy. I spent six month scouring Ukrainian archives, and being horribly abused by Ukrainian bureaucrats. Eventually I received the residency based on my finding documents about my mother’s Christening, the only trace left from those chaotic, turbulent times into which my parents were borns.

Well, nine years later, I cannot renew my residency because my mother was Christened “Maria-Ivanna”, and on all the American documents which prove that she’s my mother, she dropped the secondary name and appears only as “Maria”. Her birth date is the same. Her maiden name is there on her marriage certificate. Everything lines up, except for the double name on her Christening.

I cannot imagine the mindset of the bureaucrat who scours documents to find such minuscule, irrelevant errors. I’m biased by my frustration, but it’s hard for me to imagine it being anything other than extreme sadism or extreme stupidity.


It’s fashionable to discuss Ukraine’s bureaucracy and corruption in terms of attracting foreign investment or productive foreigners. I believe President Zelensky has talked about trying to get diaspora Ukrainians to live and do business in Ukraine. Pro tip: don’t kick out the ones already here who are trying to stay.

I’ll note that some modest improvements have been made – I don’t meet as many rude bureaucrats as I used to. The ones in the Lviv Immigration office were especially helpful, showing great patience, and offering advice everywhere they could. This is a vast improvement from the outright abuse I suffered in 2012 and 2013 when I first received my residency.

While the context of foreigners and foreign investment is relevant to bureaucratic reform, it’s a bit of a shame to prioritize it. Bureaucratic reform should, first and foremost, be discussed in the context of unlocking the considerable potential of Ukrainians. There’s tremendous talent here trying to bloom.

How many businesses were never created? How many beautiful things never materialized because people were too demoralized? How many projects were never attempted? How many workdays were wasted sitting in those horrible offices with stacks of documents on people’s laps? How many hours were never spent relaxing? How many talented Ukrainians fled this madness as soon as they got the chance?

Yes, save Ukraine from Russian, but save Ukraine from itself too.

Kyiv has the third worst traffic in Europe

🔵Kyiv has the third worst traffic in Europe, after Moscow and Istanbul, according to a new ranking by TomTom, the Dutch satellite navigation company. In a ranking of 416 cities around the world, Kyiv placed 12th, Odessa 18th, Kharkiv 29th; and Dnipro 47th. Kyiv’s worst traffic of the year could well be this evening. During 2019, the slowest traffic was on Thursday evenings, between 18:00 and 19:30. Kyiv’s worst traffic jams last year were on Jan. 23.

OMG. Train ticket tech support works . . . . WELL. Tears of happiness fill my eyes.

OMG. I’m dizzy with Ukrainian pride. Just for the hell of it, I called tech support for the website that sells train tickets. It was after 9pm.

Not only did someone answer, the lady was perfectly polite and competent!

Just two years ago, buying train tickets was the bane of my existence:

Train Station Clerk Pauses for Cleaning Lady. Ugh

Train Stations are the worst. My life has gotten measurably better since I learned how to buy tickets online. Nevertheless, sometimes I still have to go to the station. Picture this:

Crowded. Long lines. Everyone is cranky. The cleaning lady pushes aside the clerk with her mop. The clerk first slides her chair back to accommodate the cleaning, then leaves her booth altogether and so the stone-faced hag with the mop can fishing moistening the floor with her dirty rag on a stick.

The Bus from Przemysl

Note: The author is an American of Ukrainian descent currently living in L’viv Ukraine. His ancestors had fled that country to escape the Bolsheviks. Przemysl is a city just on the other side of the Ukrainian-Polish border.

The Bus from Przemysl


Yogurt. Juice. Mandarins. A bicycle chain repair machine. Coffee creamer. Goods tightly bound in plastic bags, or placed individually in the overhead compartment.

Constant, frantic noise of middle-aged women, like walking into a chicken coop. rows full of boxes. seats piled high. windows blocked. boxes and bags.

The business of clearing seats, of ladies reminding each other what belongs to whom.


The doors close. The driver climbs over some bags to find his seat. A woman calls for the man sitting in front. He pulls a roll of packing tape from his coat pocket, steps over bags. he seals a torn-open box, returns to his seat, resigned to the duty of his labor, completely silent, unlike the women. A woman hands him a bag of vacuum sealed sausages. Some tumble to the floor. He kneels to retrieve them from under a seat. He will hold them in his lap for the rest of the trip. Another bag of sausages goes to the lady across the aisle from him.

The driver insisting the under compartment is full, unpacking a bag of thermoses — each is boxed, ready to be shelved in some store — and placing them individually in the overhead.

Boxes of powdered milk under the seats.

Slowly, things settle to private conversations. There are big snowy fields and villages in the distant forested hills.

What a vulgar, vile idea it was to reduce all this to the brutality and ignorance of a post office.


I see the traffic before I see the border. Three lanes of vans and cars. All still. People stand among in their coats. So many. Later, I’m told they will mostly be crossing on foot.

I’m happy to see the bus steer into the lane for opposing traffic. We skip almost the entire line, then the driver stops and cuts the engine. We wait. There’s a 100 zloty note prominent on the dashboard.

One of the women speaks to the driver. 150 zloty. A quiet conversation. Another 40 zloty. I am a bystander to this world. (my ticket cost only 25.) A shuffling of documents.

We wait beside a flatbed trailer with two cars chained in place. I think they have no tires, but then see the tires laid flat. The frames rest upon the tires. Perhaps these aren’t cars at all. Perhaps in this moment they are merely scrap metal. A different thing entirely.

I watch my travel companions. Fascinated by their world. They know this trip well. I imagine their lives, look into their bags: Kiwi. Mushrooms. Butter. Seeds.

The Polish guard collects passports, looks, each of us carefully in the face. No smiling. Soon they’re returned.

More waiting.

The Ukrainian guard does the same and then (rejoice!) we are through! Breathe again.

At a gas station, the flurry of activity, the frantic clucking crescendos. One woman can’t find her bag. Two men carry crates of juice to the gas station. A woman exits the bus and six bags are unloaded onto the curb beside her. The two come running back from the gas station, arms swinging. The driver yells hurry. Boxes go into the trunk of a waiting car.

Such intricate chaos. God bless it, I think. God bless these people, this system.

At the next stop, numbers — forty yogurts, no sixty. Counting. Such hustle and precision! Nothing like US Army logistics. Ha.

A box of yogurt and a box of butter become two boxes, half-full of each.

Now, there are hryvni on the dashboard.

A lady unloading the overhead places a large box of chocolate snacks in my lap without asking permission or speaking to me. She clears a space on the seat across the aisle and moves the box there. I feel . . . accepted.

Boots, crackers. Someone needs something from beneath the seat adjacent to me. I begin to help. The boxes of butter are heavy.

Men await our arrival beside one grocery. The women hand them boxes through the door. They stack them in the alley in the spots where snow had melted away.

Now, the hryvni are gone.

A microwave gets passed from the from to the back of the bus. They yell at the driver to open the rear door. They call him by his first name.

Four bags go beside the traffic circle where a taxi waits.

The stops get quieter, less frantic now with fewer people and fewer goods. It is dark when we finally reach L’viv. I am one of only three passengers when the bus parks beside the train station. I exist with my suitcase and walk home.


Snow is falling lightly. Everything is calm. Freshly returned from the west, L’viv’s poverty is clear. I carry the suitcase because its little wheels can’t handle the disastrous sidewalks, the snow and slush, the trolley tracks buckling the cobblestone streets. Yes, Ukraine is poorer that the west — run down in many ways. The roads and sidewalks, a disaster. But still, it’s very beautiful. Everywhere, under dustings of snow, in the shadows cast by electric lights, there are hidden treasures of architecture, history, religion, faith.

A programmer, two central bankers, and I were on a train . . .

Not kidding. I was on the Kyiv-Lviv train today. Happened to be sitting in the wagon’s one booth arrangement of seats. There’s exactly one in each wagon of the new Hundai trains. My companions are two young women who work at Ukraine’s central bank and an 8-year computer programmer, back-end specialist.

He spoke English pretty well. The two women were attending some central bank conference in L’viv. They mentioned that there’d be discussion of an audit.

Great conversation. Yes, Bitcoin came up. It came up a lot. :-)

I love my life.

Oh, and during the trip, a fantastic rainbow appeared over half the horizon.

Ukraine’s New Hundai Trains

So, I recently took a trip on them, Kyiv to Lviv. Five hours instead of over-night.

I like that you’re not forced in a strange union, sitting on bunk beds with strangers in a private cabin. I love the free electricity, the comfort, the modernity — sliding class doors, nice seats that face forward, windows that you can look through without having to lean awkwardly.

These new trains are over staffed compared to European ones. Of course, it’s impossible to tell who is doing it correctly without a more competitive free market for transportation, but I suspect that like most of Ukraine’s government endeavors, the trains have way too many employees. There’s someone assigned to each car. There are two people taking a cart of snacks through the train (which I love). There’s another lady whose only job seems to be passing through and collecting garbage twice during the five hour trip.

In other rail news, they’ve been requiring identification both for purchase of tickets and for boarding which slows things down a lot and increases the level of stupidity. Sadly, most Ukrainians aren’t very good at standing in line, and government institutions will never, ever think to invest in any sort of crowd control. So boarding a train is even more of a mob scene than usual because the gate keeper has to check everybody’s id.

Days like today make me miss America

So for the past couple weeks, a friend of mine who works in a municipal level gov’t position has been telling me that everything’s fine, that he’ll call tomorrow and tell me when I can pick up documents I’ve been waiting for. His help has been completely selfless. I’m grateful, and want to be polite, even when he never calls. I kept waiting TWO days, giving him a chance to live up to his promise, and then calling him, and receiving the same reassurance.

When I called him yesterday, he finally said everything was ready. “Travel to the regional office and pick up your stuff.”

Public transportation in Ukraine kicks my ass. I’ve written about train stations before. Same goes for bus stations: the only way I’m able to figure out when a bus is going somewhere is to travel to the station, stand in line, and then ask the clerk.

Yesterday evening, I enlisted the help of a native Ukrainian. She made an inquiry online. She said there was a bus from L’viv to the regional office at 15:00. That didn’t sound right and I decided to take a marshutka first thing in the morning to find out when the buses travel.

I take the #10 Marshutka to the bus station. I just googled the distance and see that it’s about 10.5 kilometers. The fact that a ten kilometer trip takes 45 minutes is one of the miracles of L’viv’s public transportation system. It’s a little cartel. Marshutky are filty, slow, and even more crowded than the NYC subways I grew up riding. There are never enough.

It turned out my Ukrainian friend was wrong. One bus leaves at 8:30 in the morning. I learned this at 8:45. The next one at 13:00. I waited in a nearby restaurant for almost four hours.

I eventually took the bus to the region where my paperwork was being prepared. During the two-and-a-half hour ride at a snails pace to avoid pot holes, I telephoned a cousin and asked him to meet me. We went together to the office where everything was supposedly ready. Nothing was ready.

I couldn’t even pay the 26 uah fee (about $3). I was told the following week not to return there, but to go to the Oblast center to get my documents, and then later to the regional office to pay the three bucks.

It would have been a foolish, rookie mistake to try and figure out why I’d been asked to go there in the first place when apparently I had to first picking up the documents in the Oblast center. The fact that the question didn’t even occur to me until much later is a sign of my maturing to the reality of Ukrainian bureaucracy. It has no logic, no center. It is idiocy for the sake of idiocy. It is a cruel joke without a punchline. It just keeps stumbling along, but without ever actually getting anywhere.

I waited another two hours for the bus back to L’viv.

Here’s what really made today special:

I had intended to take Marshutka #10 back toward my apartment. I thought I saw a #10, and moved to secure my place in the crush of people. (There are never enough Marshutky.) It turned out that it was #40. I zoned out for what I expected to be a 45 minute, 10 kilometer trip, and didn’t realize my mistake until I was in a little town beyond the municipal boundary of the city. My cell phone battery died.

I was able to take a different Marshutka back to the bus station, and arrived just in time to see the last bus departing toward the city center. Of course, I didn’t realize it was the last bus until after a good twenty minutes of sitting on the cold bench.

I started walking home, and found a big crowd of people at a different Marshutka stop. I waited with them for quite a while, but felt reassured by their number. Thirty one. I counted. I took that Marshutka. One lady told me it was the last of the evening. After a half-hour ride, it may or may not have gotten me closer to my home. Not sure. I exited and walked across what seemed like half the city, climbing piles of snow and wading through ankle deep slush.

It was after midnight when I returned home.

My day has been as smart and efficient as a bag of hammers.