The Legacy of Soviet Rule Still Haunts Ukraine

On an exceptionally cold January day in 1978, my family was beginning its long voyage to America from the Soviet Union. Our bags were being checked by Soviet customs in Brest, Belarus - the last Soviet outpost - when my father stepped out of line to, in his own words, "wave one last time to my father, whom I may never see again." He started walking towards the exit, but before he reached it, a Soviet agent walked up behind him and said, "Either you go back to the waiting area, or you won't be going anywhere today or anytime soon." My dad had two options: go back as the agent insisted; or get booted out and start again the bureaucratic process for leaving the country, which could have taken up to a year.

Fast forward to 2006 in Ukraine, where my wife and my daughter (a U.S. citizen) were recently getting checked in by a customs agent in Kharkov. The apparatus the agents use to scan passports utilizes heat, and the heat partially melted my daughter's passport photograph. When my wife insisted that the agent write some receipt or official statement acknowledging the damage was done by the machine (by accident or otherwise) the agent's response was, "Listen miss, nothing wrong was done here. It was like this, and if you have a problem with that we can throw you on the next plane back to your beloved America."

The problem in Ukraine and other former Soviet Republics today, as it was for more than 70 years in the Soviet Union, is not Communism - Russia never followed anything remotely close to that ideology, they just said they did - but the inherent culture of corruption, bullying, extortion and lack of self-policing in government. Neither my father in 1978 nor my wife in 2006 could seek redress with a superior official to appeal their case. The attitude of the government officials was "take it or leave it" or "if you don't like it, too bad."

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