Ukraine Border Guards - Begging and Stealing
I just came through the Russia-Ukraine border today and experienced what can only be described as cheating/stealing from one border guard and outright begging from a second.
This was at the border directly west of Kursk - en-route to Kiev. I went through the same border in April and didn't experience any of this, so perhaps it is a recent development.
When I first entered the Ukrainian side of the border post, a female guard in military fatigues took me over to a sand-bagged post where two of her colleagues were standing. She had already asked me if I wanted to change any money when she first approached me in my vehicle. Once the actual formalities of checking my passport were concluded, she again asked me if I wanted to change any money. I usually wait until I can access an ATM but I figured a bit of cash would be useful until then, so I asked if she could change $20 US. She said she could and I handed her a $20 note. At that point, her male colleague asked if I could give each of them $20 which raised a red-flag that something untoward was going on. I declined and said I just needed $20 changing.
The female guard then told me to proceed to the passport control window with my vehicle. I asked for my money and she motioned me ahead, indicating that she would come to see me. Once I'd cleared passport control, there was no signed of the female guard, not my money. I tried walking back to the sand-bagged post but was challenged by a male guard with a rifle - who motioned me to proceed to the vehicle inspection area.
Whilst my vehicle was being inspected, I told the searching guard that I needed to find the woman who took my money. He seemed concerned that someone had taken money, asked for details and went to look for the woman. I was told that the woman and left the post and I told the guy that I wanted to speak to the person in charge because the woman seemed to have stolen my money. I was then told that she'd 'gone to the bank' to get my money changed.
All of the border procedures had been completed and I was free to go but I told the guard that I was waiting for my money - or I needed to see the person in charge. After a while, a male guard arrived and handed me my $20, saying that the bank was closed and the female guard had been unable to get me local money!
I then drove to the exit barrier to leave the post and the male guard there checked my slip of paper and my passport and then, before going to open the barrier, asked me for some cash 'for tea or coffee'.
As soon as I drove outside the barrier, there were civilians standing there with wads of cash, trying to change money.
I'm convinced that the female guard had no intention of changing any money and was simply trying to cheat/steal, assuming that I'd just leave the border without the cash and she'd have a free handout.
So, if passing through a border and you are asked about changing money by a uniformed guard, just decline and wait until you are on the other side.
2014 overland adventure to Russia and Central Asia in Land Rover Defender www.bermudarover.com