Ukraine: A Porous Border

Global Voices Online
Thursday, January 24, 2008

On Tuesday, Ukrainian news site posted a translation of Mark Franchetti's recent Sunday Times story on Ukraine's porous borders and illegal migration.

"Britain is target in Ukraine’s people smuggling bonanza," the article's headline declared. "With most border controls in Eastern Europe now gone, people smuggling has become easy business in the Ukraine."

The English-language original has received 16 reader comments so far, the Russian translation - 88 comments.

While many readers admitted that the problem of illegal migration existed in Ukraine and that corruption among border guards and other officials contributed greatly to it, most did not seem too happy about Franchetti's piece. Quite a few were offended by the lead sentence, which described an anonymous Ukrainian people smuggler, who was "chewing slices of pork fat at his house less than two miles from the border with Slovakia," his "grin studded with gold teeth."

Here's one comment, which pretty much sums up other readers' initial reaction:


[...] As for [salo, pork fat] and gold teeth - this is how they imagine us [Ukrainians]. If the article were about the Russo-Finnish border, there'd be [valenki, felt boots] and [balalaika, a musical instrument] in it. [...]

The very first comment, which appeared less than ten minutes after the translation was posted, expressed exasperation with president Victor Yushchenko's pro-Western stance:

Yushchenka na kol:

In Europe, they perceive us as savages, and we continue to faithfully lick their [behinds]. Keep it up, [orangeoids].

Another reader was wondering about Yushchenko's efforts to curb labor migration from Ukraine:


Has Yushchenko accomplished anything with creating jobs at home? I remember there was some talk about it during the 2004 elections...

While some displeased readers automatically concluded that the British journalist had been bribed into writing this article, others were more reasonable:


I don't think this article is planted - who would need that? Europe doesn't need us, they don't care about us anyway. Though perhaps the point is to get Europeans to feel hostile towards Ukraine and to make border control tougher. [...]

Naturally, at least one exchange did occur between a reader suffering from Soviet nostalgia and a sort of a realist:


Shame... There was nothing like this in the USSR, and there was no reason to drag yourself to the West when the Iron Curtain was in place, there used to be at least some prosperity, before the collapse under Gorbachev. And now people are prepared to give their last money to Ukrainian officials in order to be able to work as dishwashers at a McDonald's in Poland.


In the USSR, they'd shoot you at the border without much thought, that's why there weren't too many people willing to cross (though some desperate ones did exist). Don't take [this article] too seriously: [the journalist] wouldn't be able to tell a Pole from a Ukrainian, and there are plenty of those over there. Slavs, just as Arabs, aren't too welcome there, even [Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich] is unable to [create positive publicity]...

A number of readers pointed out that Ukraine cannot be held solely responsible for the massive illegal labor migration:


That Ukraine is the main supplier of immigrants to Britain is nonsense. Where is Ukraine and where is Britain? And how do they [non-Ukrainian illegal migrants] get here from Moscow? Maybe it's Moscow that's the main supplier of immigrants? And what about the rest of the countries through which immigrants make their way to reach Britain - are they not responsible? [...]



Border guards will understand all the complexity of it when the money for deportation will be taken from their budget - and this is when the boom will quickly stop. In its turn, the EU also has a sufficiently good motivation for border control. So this story has been written to scare the British mommies... P.S. What's needed is border regulations with Russia, this is where the true HOLE is. One doesn't even have to arrange things there, you are free to run back and forth as much as you want.

Here's another suggestion on what should be done to relieve the grave situation along Ukraine's border - and a note that inspires some optimism, pointing out that ignoring illegal migration may soon become unprofitable for Ukrainian officials:


They should be firing officials and everyone who gets caught in people smuggling and other dirty business - and give them long-term jail sentences. But we would need the rule of law in this country - something that isn't there. And won't appear anytime soon.



[...] Now that Ukraine has signed a readmission agreement with the EU, it is responsible for covering all the costs incurred by the stay and extradition of all those who entered the EU illegally from Ukraine. To put it differently, if half of China enter the EU through Ukraine, Ukraine will be obliged to pay all the extradition-related expenses. [...]

Finally, a few comments from two readers who seem to have a firsthand knowledge of the people smuggling business in Ukraine:

Sasha Uzhgorod:

[...] I stopped doing this business four years ago [...] Let's start with the prices. All the calculations used to be in dollars, and now they are in euros. I won't name the specific prices, but [the ones mentioned in the piece] definitely do not correspond to what we charge. The guides were mainly border guards themselves, but also rangers and hunters (they are cheaper) - but not small kids ["boys," as the Sunday Times article states]. It's true that there are plenty of deaths at the border, especially in wintertime. As for who controls this business, it's not criminal gangs but cops together with SBU [Security Service of Ukraine]. I left when they took control of the business. As for the hack who wrote this piece, he must have talked to some drunk at a bar, someone who had heard some bits and pieces, but who is not a real guide. [...]



[...] A few times, my work has brought me into contact with people involved in [people smuggling] to Europe. There were no underaged there - the greens [border guards] serve as guides, as well as rangers and hunters, Sasha is absolutely right here. And only the local ones, draftee soldiers are scared to get involved. [...] People from the East [of Ukraine] and Kyiv dominate the business, the locals get involved only because they know the border area. This business is controlled by the police and SBU - it's a big business, after all. [...]

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