Russia: Losing My Passport

It was my last day in Moscow. I planned to head to St Petersburg that night on an overnight train, and was really looking forward to checking out the renowned culture capital of the country. I packed up my backpack, jumped on the subway and arrived at Leningrad train station to buy my ticket. I arrived and stood in a line for about 20 minutes. No worries, the train only leaves in an hour. I’ve got time.

Cancel that, wrong station. Out the door I go, and walk briskly a few hundred metres to the other station. It’s all good, I’ve still got time. I’ve had dinner. In another line I stand, which gradually got bigger, as the concept of queuing is a bit of a strange concept in Russia, especially Moscow. I finally got to the counter and presented a piece of paper with my train number, along with my passport. After taking a look at the paper, the lady shook her head and told me I was at the wrong station, yet again. Fuck! She pointed at a station on the map, which was one stop away on the metro. I jammed my passport into my back pocket and ran back to the metro and to the other station.

Finally at the right station, I queued up at the counter only to be told that I needed to go to another one (issues like that are to be expected when one does not read Russian). The train now left in thirty minutes. I’d catch it if these pricks in front of me didn’t spend half their time chatting up the counter lady. Move. Your. Ass.

Finally arriving a the right counter, I pulled out the piece of paper along with my.. hold on, where the fuck is my passport? I didn’t panic yet, it’s likely I put it back in my jacket. I checked all my pockets in my jacket. Nothing there, shit. Off comes the backpack which is checked along with every pocket in the clothes I’m wearing. No dice. I remembered holding it when I got off the metro here, it can’t be far. I hastily retraced my steps to no avail. Now’s when I began to get a little worried.

If it fell out of my pocket, it’s possible a good Samaritan handed it in to the info desk, so I jogged there to check. I managed to explain using my translator app what had happened. He chuckled and said something on his radio while motioning for me to remove my backpack and remain seated. I assumed he was asking other officials if they’d had a passport handed in. My assumption was soon disproved when a couple of disgruntled police officers arrived at the office and told me to follow them. Okaaaaay…

After a short walk outside to the back of the main hall, we arrived at the police station. I was walked through a door and into a corridor, where I was met by a couple of other officers smoking cigarettes and playing cards. The first officer spoke to them, and I managed to catch the word, ‘Passport.’ I nodded as if to reaffirm that I’d lost it. One cop turned around to me and said in broken English, “Money?”

“No money. Just passport.”

“Visa?”

“Yes, in the passport.”

“No visa.”

I met this one with silence. Not having a valid visa and passport in Russia is a bit of an issue, as in any country, but more so here. In an ordinary situation in another country you might expect some support and assistance from such officials in reporting a loss of theft, and which paperwork-laden process to commence. I realised soon enough that I was in the presence of officers who don’t hold the integrity you might expect of a police officer back home. This inference was confirmed soon enough when the first officer asked me to pay him. Ahhhh, shit.

I didn’t really say much as I was led nonchalantly back down the first corridor of the station. I began noticing everything around me: the cigarette butts on the floor, the questionable tattoos on the arms of the officer, and the faint smell of whiskey. The officer motioned for me to sit down on a chair, whilst he set around trying to unlock an empty jail cell nearby.

I’m not really sure what would have happened had I not successfully tried the door and legged it. I’ve got a pretty good feeling that I would have spent a considerable amount of time incarcerated and held on bullshit charges of being here illegally until an an acceptable amount of money exchanged hands. All I know is that nobody I had spoken to until that point had any intention of helping me right my situation.

I made my way quickly to the Dutch Embassy, assisted by the offline maps app MAPS.ME (a lifesaver at times, I recommend it). Once there I was told I’d have to come back to lodge my enquiry the next morning as they were closed.

I made my way back to the hostel I was staying at the last couple of days: Vagabond’s. The guy at the desk listened to me tell him what happened, then told me I could stay there that night, no worries. However, I’d have to find somewhere else the next day as they are liable to receive a hefty fine when the Russian police come to check records and find someone there without a passport.

Back to the Dutch embassy I went. The lady there was very helpful, but told me I did need to go and get a statement from the Russian police in order to process any paperwork. Good times! I headed to the station where I was greeted by several burly unsmiling men holding assault rifles. I used the translate app on my phone to convey that I had lost my passport and needed to file a statement, but they weren’t interested in speaking to me unless I had an interpreter with me.

I headed back to Vagabond’s, where the fellow at the counter understood my situation but couldn’t leave as he was the only one there. However, he really went out of his way to help me and asked on Facebook if any of his friends could meet me at the station to help me out. One of his mates turned up 20 minutes later and after a thirty minute yelling match with the officers I got a little slip of paper saying a statement had been lodged.

I took that back to the embassy where I was given my options. I could apply for a new passport, which would take two weeks, then after receiving that, apply for a new Russian visa in order to exit the country. This would mean I’d be stuck in Moscow for a month; something I certainly didn’t fancy and couldn’t afford to do.

The other option was to apply for an emergency passport. This is only granted to people who are actually in an emergency; as in, they have to get somewhere urgently or it will become a diplomatic issue if they remain in Russia. We applied for it on the grounds of the latter; if I remained in Moscow to wait for my passport I’d be overstaying my original visa which would cause major issues and involve several court appearances and more time.

Luckily, The Hague in The Netherlands approved my emergency passport and I booked a flight out to Amsterdam the next day. I’m here now and it’s been good to have an impromptu catch-up with friends and family as well as a bit of relaxation and partying. I love this place.

I’m somewhat annoyed that it all happened but glad that everything resolved itself and I didn’t have to spend time in a Russian jail – it could have been much worse. What’s most frustrating is that it’s broken up my ‘land-only’ travel rule, but some things can’t be avoided. I also didn’t get to see the culture capital of Russia, St Petersburg, so will have to leave that on the list for another day.

I’m on the way to pick up my new passport now, and followo I will commence a much overdue bender this weekend involving a couple of festivals and a bucket list DJ: Armin Van Burren 😀 I’ll fly back out to Ukraine on Monday or Tuesday. I’m looking forward to visiting Chernobyl!

TL,DR: Don’t lose your passport.