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Bribes: The True Ukrainian Experience


Once you explain the meaning of the word “bribe” to a Ukrainian person their look of misunderstanding quickly changes to the “oh-yeah-i-know-that-because-it’s-normal” look. Bribes are everywhere in Ukrainian life. These actions are so blatant that what we might know as “money under the table” is actually just “money set on top of the table in an envelope”.

One of the first weekends in Ukraine, we ventured down to an expat type bar where we spoke with many businessmen from the U.S., U.K., and Canada. They all talked about how difficult and frustrating it is to get the simplest task completed, like the signing of a form, without the use of a bribe. How is a company supposed to deal with adding the costs of bribes to their books? Very interesting.

Since bribes are so common in Ukrainian life, my time wouldn’t have been complete in Kiev without having to pay at least one. It was interesting because a week before the possible incident my students asked me if I had yet paid a bribe. I responded that I hadn’t, but that I had definitely thought about offering it before in certain situations, such as getting the internet hooked up in a timely manner.

If you don’t follow along the comments of the blog too closely, you might not know that I am no longer in Ukraine. Surprise! Interestingly enough, my mom sent me a package a few weeks before I had to leave with some important documents and such. Even though it arrived in Ukraine on Feb 9, it sat there… and sat there… until finally last week I got very nervous. I contacted a teacher’s service worker at the school and she was able to find out that my package was sitting in Customs. She went as far as to visit Customs only to find out that she had to fill out a stack of forms and come back the next day. Apparently I was going to have to pay some sort of tax on the package since it was claimed as being worth $140. That, in fact, is a huge LIE. My guess is this:

The Ukrainian Customs people saw that a package was sent through Priority Mail from America. It was obviously a bit more imiportant to the end recipient than sending standard mail. However, it was not sent DHL, which from what I read online actually pays bribes to the Customs officers in order to get their package to arrive on time. Since it was probably an important package, Customs figured they could get a bribe from the recipient in order to receive it immediately.

Basically, it was looking to be a huge hassle and I was worried I wouldn’t receive my package before I had to leave on Friday. I actually told the teacher services worker that I would be willing to pay a bribe just to be done with it.

She went back the next day with all the paperwork, which literally took 30 seconds for the officer to look at before handing over the package. What?! Really?! No taxes to pay either?

Come on, Ukraine. You’ve got to be kidding me. No, I didn’t actually pay a bribe. Sorry if you thought I did – suckers – uh… I mean thanks for reading!


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3 Responses to Bribes: The True Ukrainian Experience

  1. nick March 12, 2009 at 6:15 am #

    in fact, Ukrainian custom – one of the most corrupt government agency. I impacted with it 5 years ago. I wonted to start business – bought laptops on ebay ant sold them in Ukraine. But I can not do it, because customers wonted a lot of documents. They said it that because wonted to get bribe. But I had not done give bribe because it is very expensive. If I had given bribe, business would not have been remunerative =)

  2. Lauren April 16, 2009 at 4:42 am #

    I’ll be in Russia in a few weeks, so thanks for the post, now I know to be wary of the bribe culture. I live in China currently where it is considered rude NOT to bribe, so I feel ready for the Ukrainian challenge!

  3. Daniel Roo October 18, 2010 at 9:20 am #

    Reminds me of my first visit to Eastern Ukraine, I flew into Kiev with no problems, even my connecting flight onto Kharkov was without incident, leaving Kharkov was a different matter. As soon as the airport officials noticed my British passport they all started nodding to each other, almost like some secret code.
    Then came along a six and half foot burly monster with a big grin on his face…

    off into the little room we went…

    ….turns out it’s all my fault, there is a “mistake” on my landing card, this could take some time to sort out, but hey, what about my flight? not worry he said, “we are friends, I can help you…”

    100gr later he is happy and I am p***d off as he took the cash I needed for a taxi at Kiev airport so I could get to my hotel.

    Moral of this story? If in Ukraine do not take just enough cash for your needs, take enough to bribe your way around the officials. They are the worst.

    Did mention that my GF “paid” for her driving license? She visited me in England this summer and I decided to let her take my motor for a short drive.

    I now understand why Ukraine has some of the highest road death rates on the planet.

    Really enjoying the blog, keep it up!

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