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Prior to December 21, 2007, people were able to travel visa-free between Poland and Ukraine, needing only their passports. Now, they can leave their passports at home, but must possess Schengen travel visas.
In response to these Schengen restrictions, Ukrainians have staged protests at the border against what they see as the new Berlin Wall. Some even feel as though they are being treated like third-class Europeans.
Another Schengen-related problem is a wave of strikes by Polish customs agents, who deserted their posts because of increased responsibilities and low pay. They demanded monthly pay increases of 415 euros, almost double the previous average salary.
Ukraine is trying to work with Poland on a visa-free travel agreement for Ukrainians living within 50 kilometers of the border. Poland insists the arrangement should be limited to a 15-kilometer zone.
In the wake of this change, Ukrainian visa fees have risen to 35 euros. This is troublesome to Ukrainian citizens, whose average monthly salary is 226 euros. These new visa restrictions have also caused a rise in corruption, in the form of bribes for expedited documents at the Polish consulate in Lviv.
The new rules also affect the transport of goods. Approximately 80% of Ukraine’s EU exports go through Polish border posts, and truck drivers must have their visas up-to-date. This could become a larger problem when Ukraine becomes a World Trade Organization (WTO) member and their export volumes increase.
So much for “free” travel zones. It is hard to believe that Poland would void an existing agreement with Ukraine to enforce the “letter of the law” of the Schengen agreement. I’ll bet no one saw these difficulties coming when considering Schengen participation. What a mess!
December 21, 2007 marks the end of overland border and seaport checks between many former communist states in Eastern Europe and their Western neighbors. This is a symbolic event similar to, but not as grandiose as, the tearing down of the Berlin Wall.
The Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovenia join 15 other countries already participating in the "Schengen" free travel zone (Malta also joins on December 21). Citizens of Schengen-participating states are only required to carry a common "Schengen visa" instead of specific visas for each country they visit.
It is great to see the people of Eastern Europe gain new freedoms, as yet another barrier falls in part of the old Eastern Bloc.
If you are contemplating a trip to Ukraine, there are many issues to consider to make the trip as hassle-free as possible. The following is a brief list of items to think through during your preparations:
When in Kyiv last year, I found out the hard way that most people do not speak English. That also means that staff at most hotels only speak Russian and/or Ukrainian. Notice that I said MOST, but certainly not all.