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‘They denied everyone, little boys, little girls — it didn’t matter’ Meduza speaks to Russian citizens turned away at the Ukrainian border in Kyiv, immediately after the government’s entry ban

Meduza
Russian citizens at Boryspil International Airport in Kyiv, November 30, 2018
Russian citizens at Boryspil International Airport in Kyiv, November 30, 2018
Mikhail Shishkin

On November 30, the Ukrainian government announced that it was banning all Russian men between the ages of 16 and 60 from entering the country until December 26, when President Poroshenko’s recent martial law decree is scheduled to end. Meduza spoke to several Russians who landed at Boryspil International Airport in Kyiv immediately after the ban was imposed. These individuals say they were denied entry into Ukraine on the formal grounds that border officials are admitting neither men nor women.

Mikhail Shishkin

designer

I fly to Kyiv periodically to give branding workshops. The last time was in September. This time, I had an invitation and a return ticket — everything was just like usual. At customs, they used to ask the frequent flyers almost nothing, but today they questioned all of us separately. The border guard, a friendly young woman, asked me whom I was visiting and where I was going.

Then I sat there waiting for a decision. They let in one man who was with his family, and generally it didn’t look like they were about to deny everyone entry. It seemed they were looking at everyone individually and deciding that way. And it wasn’t just Russians — I saw people from Iran and Georgia there, too.

But they turned me away, in the end, citing inadequate financial security. I didn’t have any cash on me or any bank statements — they’d never asked for that stuff before. I showed them the banking app on my phone: 60,000 rubles [$900] on one card, 10,000 [$150] on another, and a credit line of 250,000 rubles [$3,740]. But they said they’d already reached their decision. And now they’re denying everyone else on various pretexts.

Rodion Popkov

founder of the startup Proability.me

In two days, Kyiv is hosting the “Mafia” world championship, and there will be a lot of players from 10 countries across the world. Those who flew in yesterday from abroad got through customs without a problem. But today, since the morning, there was this order basically not to let men [from Russia] into the country.

We waited three or four hours. At first, there was just the order not to let us in, but it seems they didn’t yet have the rejection form. And later, I guess, it was ready, and then they denied entry to everyone [from Russia]. Little boys, little girls — it didn’t matter. This was the fifth time I’ve flown to Ukraine in the last three years, and today was the first time they brought me into a room, questioned me, and then denied me entry. Generally speaking, everyone handled the situation calmly and professionally.

The formal reason for denying me entry was the supposed vagueness of my visit. They said this, even though each of us had an invitation letter, and mine was directly from the president of the [gaming] federation. It listed his telephone number and there was even a copy of his Ukrainian passport. But they still refused to let us into the country.

I’ve lived in Georgia for the past three years. I don’t have any connection to what’s happening in Russia — zero. [On our flight] there was one woman who’s lived in Israel for years, and she even has residency, but they turned her away, too. They’re sending me back to Georgia on the same flight, but it doesn’t leave for another 12 hours. They took our passports and said they’d give them to the flight attendants, and we’ll only get them back once we’re on the plane. So we can’t even go to Duty Free and buy anything.

Olga Khanikova

I’ve lived in Israel for a long time, and I flew to Kyiv from there. I have a Russian passport with permanent residency in Israel. I’ve also got Israeli identification papers. They didn’t even question me separately. I’ve been sitting here for three and a half hours. They took my passport at the border. The line for questioning was huge, but now there are a lot fewer people, but they still haven’t given me a decision. So far, they’re not admitting anyone who has a Russian passport. There are a lot of women here, and many of them have kids with them.

Interviews by Ilya Zhegulev

Translations by Kevin Rothrock