Articles, Blog

That time UKRAINE accused me of being a SPY … | Vodka Vodcast 009 Part 1

So when I walk in the doors close behind
me the two women border guards who were there earlier are actually in the office
and they start talking to me quite you know normally not aggressively or
anything but like yeah we see where your passport has been changed they show me
you know that the picture whatever and I guess there’s some sort of plastic over
it there and yeah we see that your passport has been changed we know that
it’s not your passport we’re just wondering why you would come to Ukraine
on a fake Irish passport as a Russian in the current political circumstances Всем привет and welcome back
to another episode of the Vodka vodcast with me Conor Clyne this is the Tsar
Experience and in today’s episode I’m going to be getting in delving in deep
into my first experience in this country I’m actually speaking to you from Odessa
in Ukraine I’m sitting here in the beautiful green theatre Зеленый Театр
here in Park Shevchenko they’ve can let me in to actually film here normally you are not allowed film in the actual theatre itself so that’s kind of a nice thing so
thank you everybody there for letting me in and letting me film here today big
thumbs up for them so one of the reasons I started making this vodcast series is
because basically because you asked for it a lot of you I polled you and you
were really enthusiastic about the opportunity to get to you know know me a
good bit better and exactly my background and how I can you know what
these stories inspire you in one way to come here to Eastern Europe and also to
give you good practical advice in a longer format where you really
understand where I’m coming from as opposed to say a five minute video
seven-minute video where I kind of try to be really succinct and punchy and it
kind of detracts a little bit from really explaining in detail about my
point of view and where it comes from and how it relates to you so basically
if you’re new here to the channel go ahead and press the subscribe button it
helps the channel out a good bit and make sure that you’ve or it also tickled
that notification bell because that way you get notified and this is as I said
loud and said yeah but it’s actually gonna be split into two parts so you’re
gonna need to be notified to learn when the second part of this episode is is
released next week so you want to go ahead and do that now. It helps the channel
a lot so I really appreciate it so one of the things when I put out the
poll was that you wanted more anecdotes and I think especially relevant are the
anecdotes and stories that I have from traveling here before I learn how to
speak Russian properly and before I actually understood a lot about the
culture like the daily culture of the people here and what was it like when I
first came on my trip here to Ukraine while traveling here to Ukraine over
all so in today’s episode and one that we continued next week in part two I’m
gonna be giving you a really good detail over in my first crazy insane trip to
this country it was a whirlwind adventure a lot of people questioned why
I ever came back because so many things happened to me some amazing some really
really well you’ll I’m gonna get into them now but definitely traumatic I
guess you could say so I want to explain where where where I’m coming from in the
other episodes of the vodcast I’ve given you a little bit overview that I had actually
studied some Russian at university when I was in the States and then I was
actually there studying international relations and I had a specialization in the
former Soviet Union in effect it was called the new Eurasia and so that
prepared me really well to understand the politics of the region and the grand
scheme of things in international affairs were Ukraine the Baltics were
Russia you know obviously the successors successor state to the Soviet Union
where there the whole place that really well and when I was actually in
Washington of course you know it’s a very it’s a very diplomatic city in the
sensed that there are a lot of diplomats there and you know I got to meet and have
dinner with the former president of Estonia who’ve been a dissident so I
don’t you know was really au fait with a lot of the politics and this part of the
element of the culture we can call it in the region then after that I was
actually working as a lawyer at the European Commission in Brussels I did
have some work that also concerned Ukraine and Kazakhstan and other
countries in the region and Russia of course so I was really like on the
political side and the economic side I was really really up-to-date but that did
not prepare me for my first trip here very well at all because it lured me
into a false sense of security and let’s get into it so I had flown to Poland on
my first trip I was gonna actually originally supposed to travel with my
ex-girlfriend who’s German and the relationship didn’t work out we have
planned to go to Crimea together in the south of Ukraine and this is obviously
before Russia annexed Crimea so was not just de jure in Ukraine but actually
de facto it was an autonomous Republic in Ukraine
at the time so that didn’t work out and I was kind of like well what am I gonna
do this summer and I suddenly find myself single my original plan was going
to Crimea so I said you know I’m just gonna do this same trip as I planned I’ll
just do it on my own so I was gonna travel on my own to the former Soviet
Union we have previously traveled together my ex-girlfriend and I to St.
Petersburg in Russia and we had traveled up through the Baltics to get there and
back down she had a fear of flying so we had to do everything over land which was
absolutely fine by me because it’s just an opportunity to see all the amazing
cities on the way so that wasn’t really an issue but traveling alone was
definitely going to be a different experience of course and I did speak a
little bit of Russian I had studied it but it wasn’t very good it was like
really on the European common framework of languages probably just
like I don’t know A2 to A1 which is like basically beginners level but
really basic beginners level so I was able to you know in theory order in
restaurants and you know greet people and all that kind of stuff and
understand a certain amount but I definitely wasn’t going to be you know
able to hope deep conversations are really yeah and engage very well with
local people and I was traveling my own sub is gonna be obviously important on
the trip and this is one the reasons I really encourage you to learn Russian it
definitely helped the level I had but as I’ll describe it definitely would
have been better especially traveling my own at the time this is a few years ago
and I was in 2009 my first trip a lot less people than today speak English
spoke English at the time in Ukraine and actually the biggest complaint I still
get from clients here or friends is that they come and the language barrier is
the biggest thing that they face here especially if they want to talk to girls
in general especially in Odessa that’s what they all say so really I encourage
you of course I’ll link down you know what I’m gonna link in the show notes if
you’re listening to this or watching this on YouTube the link below a lot of
the resources I personally use to learn Russian and Ukrainian and go check them
out I also have reviews on the channel of most of them so I’ll just link that below in the description to the video so if you are interested and
motivated to learn Russian you can just go down there and take a look and
actually I’m going to set up a Russian Academy pretty soon so I will also put
that link there in due course if you’re watching this in a couple of months
then you’ll also be able to go and look at that now I flew to eastern Poland
actually went to Auschwitz close to Krakow and that was a pretty
traumatic experience but that’s not for today’s video because that’s in
modern-day Poland and after having visited and actually been in pretty low
spirits as one would expect after visiting a former Nazi extermination
camp I took a bus from Krakow first I took the train to a border town which
had an unpronounceable name which I’m not going to butcher and offend everyone
Polish who was watching this right now but from there I took a bus and you know
I managed to order a ticket in Russian because they were they seemed to be
Ukrainians who were selling the tickets there and they spoke to me in Ukrainian I
didn’t and then Polish and I didn’t understand either
so I’m sitting on the back of this bus and I’m really excited because I think
okay I’m gonna go to Ukraine I’ve never been there before I’m travelling on my
own I’m gonna go to Lviv if I think I looked up online to get an apartment
there now at the time Ukraine was not as cheap as it is today relative it was
probably even it was at least the same price as Krakow Lviv at the time maybe
even a little bit more expensive so that’s something to bear in mind about
how things have changed since my experience in 2009 it definitely wasn’t
a local a super low-cost destination back then so I was really
excited just to just to go to Ukraine I’d read a good bit about it obviously
there have been the revolution in 2004 the orange revolution which I’d watched
from afar so I was like okay I’m gonna go to this country you know I’m kind of
a travel geek in a way so I’m I’m just excited I go somewhere new in general so
I’m on the bus to cross the border near to Lviv and it was a rather strange bus
like they were everyone seemed to know each other on the bus they’re all
Ukrainians and they all had these things in black like plastic bags and they had
passed them all around amongst each other and one of them I can said if I
wonder why I was like no I’m not gonna touch something that’s covered in black
plastic to go through an international border without even knowing what it is it’s not
like they’re offering me money or something to do it so there were four
Polish tourists who are on the back of the bus who spoke some English and spoke
to me kind of whatever was I was quite tired
after my trip a little bit drained in Poland so I get to the border and there
were two women border guards two lady border guards get on and they spoke to
me in Ukrainian at the time you needed a little slip of paper like an entry and
exit card for the country this is no longer needed
for those of you who are of course travelling with North American or
European passports for most nationalities I don’t think you need this anymore but
at the time it was visa-free for 90 days every 180 but you still had this little
slip of paper that you had to fill in and apparently show to the immigration
officials I didn’t understand that very well when they were asking me they were
and there was a place that said where would I exit the country and I was like
oh I don’t know when I’m gonna exit them you know just basically traveling
overland maybe I leave in three weeks maybe I leave in four weeks maybe I live
by Odessa and maybe I leave by another place right so the woman beside me just
just write something down right because otherwise they will annoy you so as I
could put some random place on a certain date and then I basically chilled in the
back of the bus few minutes later a big burly Ukrainian border guy gets on he
looks around and he goes a little ирландский паспорт but maybe even said in
Russian but the way it sounded to me and I can put up my hand and I said the это мой паспорт and he’s like I guess he said like пошли or something and then
we got off the bus together at that stage I had answered to the Ukrainian
border guys in my pidgin Russian and my very basic Russian so because I didn’t
speak Ukrainian and they seemed to speak Ukrainian and Polish everyone
else on the bus so I go into this office it’s all a bit strange and a little bit
intimidating because you know I’m it’s my first trip to that country right and
already I’ve been pulled off the bus because I have an Irish passport so going to
follow the big stocky Ukrainian border guard into the office the guy had a neck
this thick and just maybe walking behind the scene his thick neck I’m
falling in behind him so when I walked in the doors close behind me the two
women border guards who were there earlier are actually in the office and
they start talking to me quite you know normally not aggressively or anything
but like yeah we see where your passport has been changed
they show me you know that the picture whatever and I guess there’s some sort
of plastic over it there and yeah we see that your passport has been changed we
know that it’s not your passport we’re just wondering why you would come to
Ukraine on a fake Irish passport as a Russian in the current political
circumstances? Now this is pre EuroMaidan obviously this is back in 2009 before
the latest revolution in Ukraine which was to the end of 2013 beginning of 2014
and I was actually there for that but I think that’s a different story to get
into in another episode of the podcast but at the time there was no like this
before you know the war in the east of Ukraine in Donbass and of course the
annexation of Crimea but it was obviously very tense diplomatic
relations between the two countries are following the Orange Revolution in
2004 where the pro- … pro-russian President Yanukovych
eventually wasn’t elected and Yushchenko who was pro-European
was elected in his place so Yushchenko was the president he’d actually gotten rid
of the visas for Europeans and North Americans
this was obviously the politics at the time and I’m standing there going ‘это мой паспорт … я не из России’ and basically you guys can hear my accent
and I’m obviously not Russian whatsoever I hardly speak Russian. My Russian is
terrible and obviously I’m really Irish and this is my passport here what
are you guys talking about basically and they were pretty much adamant yeah
you’ve been trained to pretend that you’re a foreigner it’s it’s normal that
you’re trained to have an accent and yeah we just want to know why you’re
here on your fake passport so at this stage I’m pretty like shocked
I mean basically I’ve arrived in the country I am at the border and now
they’re accusing me basically of being some sort of spy which sounds kind of
glamorous I mean the people have the image of James Bond but it’s not really
glamorous if you’re on that you know a dusty border crossing and you’ve just
you’re tired and you just want to go and you’re traveling somewhere legitimately
and they start questioning your identity and whether you’re actually
basically committing espionage so I’m there and
you know at the beginning like this this is just funny right I mean I’m obviously
I’m not Russian obviously not a spy whatever but they were they were really
insistent and they were like yeah just you just gotta explain why you would do
this why you would be here on a fake Irish passport and of course I tried
several times in my not great Russian to explain that and this was really my
passport and eventually they said okay sign your signature so you know I sign
my signature I’m like there you go you should put an end to all of this
problems and there’s you know confusion and they’re like aha the two signatures
are different the one in your passport is not the same as when you’ve just
signed and in fact my passport was quite old it was probably eight or nine years
all the time and I had had you know a completely different signature um
apparently eight or nine years previously and I hadn’t realized that
because I don’t look at my passport so often you see the signature that’s there
and they were completely different then I was like oh this really might be a
problem now because I just signed the wrong signature and I was like I started
trying to explain it in the sense of hey like my Russian really wasn’t good
enough to do this but let’s try to explain hey yeah I changed my signature
and they were kind of looking confused and I just say you know what screw this
they’re clearly the same signature and they were looking at they’re completely
different what do you mean I was like if you get an expert in they will tell you
that that’s written by the same person because three three points on the
signatures are identical so it’s written by the same person and they looked at
each other like bemused by the whole thing by my claim cuz they’re obviously
completely different signatures and then eventually just told me to wait outside
waited outside I was thinking I was actually concerned that bus was gonna
leave it all my stuff I had no idea what happens in these situations they just
leave you and the border does sort it out and dump your suitcase there but
anyways I was worried they were actually going to leave with it so I’m sitting there
and I’m like okay I’m actually just standing outside the door not sitting
and eventually one of the border guards comes back one of the women and she
hands me my passport there’s kind of no words exchanged at all I got a look at
her take the passport him just like hop back on the bus I’m like oh god I got my
passport back and the woman who had told me on the
us to just feeling anything about when I was leaving she was like hey everything
okay did you have to give them money or something I was like no no no in the end
everything’s cool don’t worry about it everything worked out pretty well when
I’m back on the bus and I have my passport and you guys are still here so
I was pretty happy then the bus started to creep forward this woman got off with
her friend there’s like these old toilets or I could see well you know the
the letters for one male and female on the other side and she went into them
the man’s side of the toilets just like stone concrete toilet entries I guess
inside there’s probably some hole in the ground something really disgusting that I
never want to see because I’ve seen them you know side of the road so these kind
of stops in Ukraine or Moldove or somewhere not the kind of experience
that you know you associate with being in Europe anymore for sure
and then suddenly she stuck her head back out look left look right and then
with her friend they ran back on the bus with more bags these black pint plastic
bags full of stuff and I couldn’t see what was in it and my Russian really
wasn’t good enough to start getting engaged in a conversation about what was
in there as no one spoke English on the bus
so basically then a customs officer got on maybe 100 meters later and they all
were like yeah who owns this bag who ends up back there oh this – – mine guy
never looked inside in any of them and then we rolled on towards Lviv in
western Ukraine and the bus actually stopped like five times on the way to
unload what was ever in these black plastic bags and everyone was getting
paid off openly in cash the bus driver all the people around so there really
all smugglers basically there were really only five passengers on this bus
that’s my entry to Ukraine. I arrived in Lviv really beautiful city I’m gonna
have vlogs about that I’ll link them up in a card somewhere here in YouTube if
you’re watching it up within the show notes
if you’re listening to this and yeah that was my entry to Ukraine that was
the first experience being accused of being a Russian spy here ironic if you
got to know me you know that definitely is not the case who I would be spying
for if I were a spy and I would be too obvious to be a spy so that was my
entry to the country I was like wow you know what a what an introduction right
first day so later on I go to Kazantip Kazantip is a music festival that used
to exist it was held in Crimea the Crimean
Peninsula as I’ve said Crimea has since been annexed by Russia that’s disputed
internationally of course it’s not legally recognized so it’s still de jure
or legally part of Ukraine but at the time there was no I’m here about
this it was de facto in Ukraine as well and an autonomous republic and they had
this amazing music festival down in the south of the country and I went there
and then you know this is in the in in this episode and giving you some of that
crazy stuff to happen that was you know basically disturbing, right? Being accused of being a spy first of all but Kazantip as an experience and I think
I’ll just go into that in another episode because otherwise it’s gonna be
a huge long long long long video but that was when the reasons why I came
back because I just had an amazing time at this music festival it was really really
really cool but that’s the reason I went to Crimea and then afterwards I went to
the city of Sevastopol and that’s when things really really became crazy … so
well done it’s the end of part 1 of this two-part episode of the vodka vodcast it’s
quite long so I’d rather split into two parts episode 9 where I’m telling you my
stories but my very first trip to this country to Ukraine. I’m here in Odessa
actually in Park Shevchenko and that behind me is the green theatre
if you’re new to the channel go ahead and squeeze that subscribe button that
red button there and whack the notification bell so that you’re
notified when part 2 of this episode is published next week if you have not gone
and looked at my free training courses take a look below in the description
there are actually three of them there one for languages one for travel and one
for dating here in Ukraine in Eastern Europe so kind of looking forward to
seeing all of your smiling enthusiastic faces in part 2 of this episode see you
next week. До свидания!


  1. Didier deNice Author

    Conor, you are a nice guy !
    …but just like women you are much too wordy in ALL your videos !
    You can easily compress those 20 minutes videos in less than 10.
    Save us time and aggravation 🙂

    I gave up this one after 7 long minutes.

  2. Stefan Reichenberger Author

    I guess the unpronouncable Polish border town was Przemyśl? I missed my train connection there this year and had to wait for three hours. The town turned out to be more interesting than expected.

  3. Dean JK Author

    Interesting to listen about your experiences. But what I would like to ask you is what do you think is the main reason that Ukraine today is cheaper than it was in 2009?

  4. Eamon Gilligan Author

    Really interesting story so far! I enjoy hearing these different sorts of travel anecdotes. Obviously not that much fun to go through at the time, but they make for great telling afterwards. Looking forward to part 2! 🙂

  5. pbutter237 Author

    I had a similar bus experience when I took a bus from Lwow to Przemysl, Poland back in 1997. I took a bus which left around 6pm. I expected to be in Poland by late evening. Was I wrong! Like you I was the only foreigner on the bus. It was a really old country bus. Along the way, the driver stopped at someone's house to pick up some more people with those questionable packages! When we got to the border, I was given this piece of paper. I had no idea what it was. It was all in cyrillic. No one on the bus spoke some English. I speak Polish but no one seemed to understand much of that either. The bus was put into the slow line since the guards suspected us of smuggling. Eventually, we all had to get off the bus to walk through customs with our bags. I gave the agent the blank paper and told him I don't understand! This caused a delay and eventually, they just let me go without filling it out. It took some time and I was worried that the bus left without me. It turned out that the bus had moved forward and I was able to get on. Some women didn't make it back on the bus! Next, again, we were parked on one side waiting to cross into Poland. I watched as all these cars just slowly drove by us. I wanted to get off and hitch a ride! I was an innocent tourist involved in a smuggling operation! Finally, we crawled to the Polish border post. All of us had to get off the bus. The border guard had all of us put our packages on a table and split us into groups of smugglers and non-smugglers according to his judgement. I was put into the smuggler group! At this time, the sun was starting to come up! He re-considered and put me into the innocent party line. All of those he picked as smugglers had to go into the office. Everyone else he let back on the bus. We left without all those women. I think a few of them still got through. Overall, I spent something like 10+ hours at the border! I was so happy to be back in Poland!

  6. Pier Jade Author

    Did you say Russia annexed Crimea? Get your facts straight before propagate the mass media lies on this topic. Obviously you know NOTHING about Crimea and even the fact that historically it was always part of Russia. Crimea had 2 referendums. The first by 97% the people chose to become a republic. This was their answer to the illegal U.S. backed and sponsored coup and color revolution brought upon by the West. Did you not hear about the Victoria Nuland tapes "Yatz is our guy"? So the U.S. imposed their will on Ukraine by installing one of their own puppets. The people of Crimea decided not to be under an oligarchy who grabbed power by force. The second referendum by a landslide 96+% the people voted to return this land to Russia. The majority of the population and native people of Crimeans are Russian, not Ukrainian. Crimea was always part of Russia but Crimea was handed over to Ukraine by an undemocratic process that did not involve the will of the people of Crimea. Crimeans chose to return to mother Russia. All of this talk that Crimea was annexed is just a bunch of hog-wash and anyone saying so is plain ignorant. Go interview the people of Crimea. UK citizen Graham Phillips who speaks fluent Russian and traveler, journalist and popular video blogger, personally interviewed the people of Crimea > and they are very happy about their decision to be part of Russia. Good videos but your "Crimea annex" story contradicts the facts.

  7. kleefan8 Author

    I really like these long format Vodka Vlogs…not too long-winded for me. As you said, it gives you the ability to go into depth where you can't in a shorter video. You've had some great adventures!


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *