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September 5, 2002

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You can tell by the way a border guard looks at you and then your passport, as if he's sizing your net worth from your shoes and nationality, he's going to be trouble. Last night we decided to leave Belarus and enter Ukraine. Near midnight we stopped at the Ukrainian border. The first guard, a young guy in a fresh uniform, called in reinforcements. He took our passports and returned with more senior people. The leader, his hat cocked back, asked us in broken English for every document possible: our invitation letters, itinerary, and medical insurance papers. We gave it all to him and he seemed satisfied. Then he came out with it, "You need stamp, yes?" He meant an entry stamp and we certainly needed that. It was obvious he wanted money, so we said, "Skolka (How much)?" He said, "$20 each." This was too much, so we refused. He asked, "What will you do, no stamp? I will take your passports, show my boss, maybe he will give you stamp." We shrugged and a few tense moments followed. Our guards conferred. We kept smiling. Then they handed back our passports, already stamped. "We like American money," the guard said. We wanted to say, "We do too," but we kept our mouths shut. The train entered Ukraine, near Chernobyl (nothing glowed on the horizon), and pulled into Kiev at dawn.
One of Kiev's many different quarters: the Podil, a historic mercantile district. Mongol hordes who always made architectural contributions by burning everything to the ground, pillaged Kiev in 1240.
Mayden Nezalezhnosti, the main square of modern Kiev, is a good place to begin exploring the city. The name, Mayden Nezalezhnosti, was specifically designed to cause tourists as much difficulty as possible in pronunciation, in this way taxi drivers can take you all over town because they can't understand where you want to go.