Seven-and-a-half months before I was trying to go from Russia to Georgia, I'd come to Russia from Ukraine.
The day was June 10th, 2007. I woke up in my tent in a field in central Ukraine.
I opened my passport. On a blank page, I glued my Russian visa.
But, I hadn't waited in an embassy, filled out paperwork, and paid for this visa. I'd made it myself. They say there's nothing like a home-cooked meal. And there's nothing like a counterfeit visa.
My visa looked pretty real. It could probably fool a policeman in the middle of Russia, who'd never seen a foreigner before. But, it probably wouldn't be good enough to get me through customs.
So, I would have to walk. Today was the day. (It said so on my visa.) I'd succeed or I would fail. It felt as if some invisible force - the foggy notion of what a Russian jail looks like, maybe - was pleading with my heart to reconsider. But, I wanted strongly to go to Russia. I was 95-99% sure I wasn't going to get caught.
I rode a bus to Kharkov. I waited for dusk to grow nearer. I took a train to small Kozacha Lopan, near the border.
I was revisiting the scene of my last illegal border crossing, when I'd left Russia the year before. Not far from here, Ukrainian border police had picked me up. (I ultimately managed to convince them I was innocent and hadn't been in Russia.)
This time, it was eight p.m. I had hoped that the border police would've stopped working by now. But, when my train reached Kozacha Lopan, there were about six men wearing army uniforms in the tiny station. They were seated, as if awaiting a train to carry them home. I must've seemed suspicious, as I walked past them carrying my two bags. I found myself a taxi. And we left, in the direction of the village of Udi.
We passed green fields, dry and hot after the sunny day. I looked for a dirt road to the right, the one on which I'd come the last time.
But, I didn't see it. And the taxi came nearer and nearer to Udi. But, I couldn't go there. I worried. This wasn't going right. Stop! Stop! Quickly! Let me out here!
The driver was slow to heed me. I explained that I couldn't go to "my girlfriend in Udi" until morning. Such an explanation probably required a few additional explanations. I gave him the rest of my Ukrainian money ($8). And I started walking towards Russia.
There was still daylight. It would've been possible, from two or three houses, to see me. I tried to hurry to some trees for cover, but it was a very, very big field. Dogs barked in Udi. Motorbikes growled. I hurried. Were they after me!?
I figured the smartest thing to do would be to stop walking and lay down flat on my back. I did so. The green grain was just tall enough to conceal me and my bags. Ha ha! They'd never find me now.
I lay that way for an hour or more. I didn't even risk lifting my head up to look around. Slowly, the farmland sky filled with tiny stars.
I got up. Clearly, no one was after me. I became disoriented and walked back to the road to Kozacha Lopan. There was no traffic. The night was friendly and silent.
I pulled out the compass my cousin had given me for Christmas, for precisely this kind of international sneaking.
I found my dirt road from last year. I walked through the dark farmland towards Russia.
Oh, what a wonderful feeling! My lungs filled up with oxygen that tasted like adventure. It was just me and the border-less world.
I was sensitive to any would-be sounds of approaching motors, but none came. A nearby light appeared beside some trees, and I froze. Slowly, I realized the light was just very bright and not near at all.
I walked through one field, stepped through a ditch, and stood in the final field. This was living. I wasn't entering a country through a beauty-less and police-filled airport, not even via a road, but through a field of rhubarb plants.
The rhubarb plants giveth, and the rhubarb plants giveth. I had no water, so I chewed the moisture out of the rhubarb leaves. The leaves also served as toilet paper, when needed. I made sure never to use the same leaves for both functions.
I reached the end of the field and a forest, and it started to rain. I entered the adjacent Russian village as the sun was already rising.
I had to leave this border village quickly! I hid my bags at the end of the village. I walked around, offering $20 to awake villagers with cars, if they'd drive me out of there. The second one accepted.
That very day, June 11th, I was riding in a small marshrutka bus to Staryy Oskol. The "miliciya" (police) stopped us. I was slightly nervous. The policeman asked to see my document.
He turned to the page of my visa. He saw my visa, the visa made using: a friend's real visa, a scanner, a computer "PhotoShop" program, and then the help of a print-studio. He, of course, let me go.
I was in Russia. (Smile.)
"Don't give me harbor for a gift. Give me sea."
"We've got enemies. That means we must also have friends."
(two translations of Russian rock classics, sung by Pavel on his guitar)
bye. Modern Oddyseus.