The European Union does not tire of making statements about support for Ukraine and its citizens. The European governors, like before (though less frequently than three months ago) are talking about their awe of Ukrainians, who are ready to stand for European values at the cost of their own lives.
Every significant European politician has states something about the unacceptability of Russian aggression against Ukraine and that “Russia has to pay the price,” the relations with it “cannot be the same as before,” and the Ukrainians “have to feel the support of Europe.”
No less frequent are statements regarding the necessity of regular contacts between citizens of Ukraine and the EU to retain stable support for the European vector.
However everything often works differently in practice.
Multiple entry visas? Nope, never heard
The visa sphere is a stark example. You were expecting that the Europeans’ words would become reality? You were waiting in vain.
Already AFTER the Russian aggression, many EU countries have liberalised their visa policies for Russian citizens significantly (however the improvement is also “the relations that cannot be as before”). Meanwhile the Ukrainians continue “paying the price” and feeling like people of the third sort.
Meanwhile – which is especially appalling in the given situation – Russia’s consulates give a multiple-entry Schengen visa for 3-5 years to the applicant. But for the citizens our country they limit themselves to a single-entry visa or don’t accept the papers at all.
Of course, this does not regard all European countries. There are many countries in the Schengen Union that support Ukraine not only with words, but with actions. Poland and the Czech Republic have radically simplified visa requirements in the past months, Slovakia, Slovenia have done this even earlier. Lithuania, Latvia and, in a way, Hungary, can also be called amicable to Ukraine in the context of visas.
However there are capitals whose policies evoke surprise.
The embassy of Italy is traditionally an outsider in the issue of giving multiple entry visas. According to the statistics of the EU Commission, in 2013 only 18% of Ukrainians that have addressed the Italian diplomatic body got a visa with the right for multiple entry.
The head of the visa department of the embassy Antonio di Romano assured EuroPravda that this is a limitation of European and Italian legislation. Italy is a tourist country, and multiple entry visas are not prescribed to tourists. “There is a category of people who have the right to multiple entry visas. Unfortunately, tourists are not listed among them,” explained the diplomat.
Let’s suppose this is the truth. But then why does a different “normative base” work for Russian citizens in Italy?
There are two Italian consulates working in the Russian Federation – in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. In the former, 98.1% of applicants got “long-term” multi-visas. In the latter the fraction of multi-visas is even higher – 99.5%. So everyone who applied.
This is confirmed by comments of Russian tourism forums. There you can read that the Italian embassy is one of the most tolerant ones. Gather a minimal documentation package – and you have a one-year visa in the bag, at least. And if you also decide to attend Arena di Verona – you can expect a three-year free of charge visa.
But these preferences are only for Russians. Not Ukrainians.
Ukrainian tour operators, on the contrary, will gladly offer you dozens of stories about the disappointment of your compatriots that decided to spend their money in Tuscany or the Amalfi coast. Especially those who decided to go their with their children.
And the issue here is not Russia’s “high success rate,” but that Rome still sees Ukraine as a country of the second sort (luckily, not the third one – there are countries “worse” than us). Just numbers: the average level of Italian multiple entry visas around the entire world is 73.7%. And this, you should agree, is higher than Ukraine’s 18%.
Italy is far from being the only country which considers Ukrainian applicants “unworthy” of multi-visas but gladly hand out multiple entry visas to Russia, Belarus and other countries of the region.
According to the statistics of the EU commission, 93.8% of the applicants have received multiple entry visas at the Portugal consulate in Moscow. Then why did this number only constitute 23.9 in Kyiv? Such a ration cannot be grounded in error – we are talking about direct discrimination against Ukrainian tourists in comparison to Russians.
In spring of 2014 – after Russia’s annex of the Crimea and the appearance of rumours that Europe will impose sanctions – the Russian mass media have started to heavily publish statements by Greek diplomats that promised simplification of visa policies for Russian citizens. According consul’s promises, any tourists that applied for one trip to Greece but has previous been in this country will get a multi-visa for a term of between one and three years… within 48 hours!
This is a huge contrast in comparison to the situation with Ukraine, where the representatives of the Greek consulate and embassy assure experts at round tables year after year that “the tourist visa cannot be multiple entry by definition.”
By the way, even before the new liberalisation stage, the Greeks regarded Russians with more tolerance than our compatriots. Throughout 2013 in the consulate in Moscow the fraction of “long-term” multiple entry visas constituted 36.6%, meanwhile it was only 14% in the Kyiv consulate.
The Greek embassy in Kyiv did not respond to EuroPravda’s letter with the petition to explain the reasons for this phenomenon.
A limited simplification
The workers of the tourism industry that come face-to-face with visa problems more frequently than others have their own versions that explain the harsh demands various consulates have in Ukraine. Frequently these versions are infinitely far from reality (which is natural for “folklore”).
“And what did you expect from the Italians after what Ukraine is doing to their business? When their confectioners get their trademarks taken away illegally by our courts,” explains Nataliya, a worker of one of the tourist agencies near the Italian consulate, to EuroPravda. The tour operators that demonstrate exemplary knowledge of the Italian-Ukrainian corporate conflicts can be understood – they are trying to find intelligent grounds for the policies that seemingly have no explanation. Of course the issue is not the “revenge” of the Italians. It just so happened.
“Many complains directed at us have to do with the past. This has to do with 2011-2012, then there really were some problems. However now we have completely different work rules, another approach,” says Antonio di Romano. “I know we had the reputation of one of the most demanding consulates. And I understand that much time is needed to change the people’s perception. But we are working on this intensively, we are making an effort.”
The words of the Italian diplomat are confirmed by the Ukrainian MFA. “The Italian embassy is changing for the better, we see it. The amount of complains we receive on our hotline has decreased significantly. The dynamics are positive, and we are satisfied with this,” Andriy Sybiga, head of the department of the consulate service of the MFA, assured EuroPravda.
There is nothing to argue about – the Italian diplomatic institution has really made a turn for the better in the past year. What is more, the Italians turned out to be ready to react to criticisms in the press (see more below). This does not mean that everything works great now – this just means that it was much worse before.
After 2012 mass ungrounded refusals that made the applicant non grata in the Schengen zone have become a thing of the past. In the last year, 1.4% of applicants were refused, though a year before it was 5%. In light of this, and a number of other improvements, Italy has left the last places of the rating of the organisation “Europe without Borders,” which is has been occupying for several consecutive years.
But the problems that remain are striking.
You lost your father? Stay at home!
When issuing a visa to a minor from a single-parent family, the consulates demand the permission from the other parent or the document that confirms the absence of one of the parents. This is normal world practice.
However among the rules of the Italian visa centre there is deadly phrase, which is marked on their website: “Please note! We do not accept court decisions regarding the deeming of one of the parents as missing.”
Therefore a child applicant that has a tragedy in their family (as one of the parents is missing), according to the Italian embassy, does not have the right to enter the Schengen zone!
It is difficult to find a logical excuse for this rule. The embassy explains that they had to face machinations and falsification of documents. “There were machinations among Ukrainian citizens, which used all means possible to move their entire families to Italy. They even forged documents to move their children. But this is all in the past. Now the situation has taken a dramatic turn for the better,” assures Antonio di Romano.
However, having admitted that there are no old problems left, the consulate cannot take the next step – abolish the ungrounded limitations.
To be fair, it has to be noted that the Italian diplomats can be convinced in some issues.
Thus, at a meeting at the Italian embassy, EuroPravda correspondent spent quite a lot of time (and, sometimes, quite emotionally too) explaining to the consulate workers the absurdity of the demand that the Ukrainians that are going on holiday with their children to Italy have to give themselves notarised permission for the child to leave the country. The author of this material had to see many notary certificates (which backed the notaries into a corner) with texts similar to the following: “I, Petro Petrenko, allow myself, Petro Petrenko, and my wife, Mariya Petrenko, to take my child to Italy.”
The head of the visa department, during the discussion, grounded the necessity of such a document citing the normative base of Italy: “In visa issues we adhere to Italian legislation, and not Ukrainian legislation. We have very strict rules as to minors’ rights.”
But it is not difficult to check – the Italian embassy in Russia does not have such demands! Once more, do they have “a different Italian legislation?”
It turned out that some Schengen consulates in Ukraine simply don’t trust the Ukrainian government to be honest – Antonio di Romano, in particular, stated that he knows of instances when children were taken from Ukraine to Italy without the permission of one of the parents, though it is prohibited by Ukrainian legislation. However, EuroPravda’s petition to give concrete examples of such violations went unanswered.
The National Border Service, on their part, are doubtful of the honesty of Italian consulate workers. “Taking a child out of the country without the notarised permission of one of the parents? This is nonsense, it cannot be! We did not allow 3144 children to leave the country last year, their parents did not have a certificate – so this rules works without fail. And there have been no complaints from the embassy – all of the complaints came from the citizens which were not allowed to leave.”
Hope for the best
Regardless of all the criticisms directed at the embassies, EuroPravda gladly concludes: the majority is changing for the better year after year.
This way, during the days that passed between the meeting at the Italian embassy and the moment of publishing this material, the absurd point about notarised permission “to oneself” has vanished from the website of the Italian visa centre.
Yes, other problems remain. But even such small steps will get us closer to the right direction.
A similar point about permission is also listed among the documents demanded by other embassies, in particular, the Hungarian one. Unfortunately, on their website the demand remained the same. But there is hope that changes will happen here as well.
“We are seeing unprecedented readiness for dialogue in the Europeans,” shared Andriy Sybiga with EuroPravda. “In May, a meeting of the Joint Visa Committee (the format of regular diplomat consolations between Ukraine and the EU) was held. For the first time since its beginning, the European partners have given us answers to all of our complaints and all problematic instances without exception, admitting the rightness of the Ukrainian side!”
The only country the visa dialogue “does not work with,” according to the Ukrainian diplomat, is Belgium: “There are individual difficulties with Belgium. For example, last year there was an instance of a direct violation on their part, when they gave three-day visas to a group of Ukrainian journalists instead of multiple ones. In sum, after our protest, Belgium admitted its mistake and promised that it will not allow such things to happen anymore, but so far, unfortunately, we have not observed any changes for the better.”
EuroPravda promises to observe the progress of various consulates and the mistakes they make in doing their jobs.
Translated by Mariya Shcherbinina