School was out. For a change, I was the one making a quick jaunt to the grocery store. Elizabeth asked how long it would take for us to get there and I replied, “Just two minutes.” In actuality, it took about an hour and half or maybe even two.
Traffic was heavy on the ring road and there was the usual confusion of who belongs where on a 4-lane road without lines, parked cars on the right, and commuter busses pulling out into traffic. A jam was forming around the entrance to the big grocery store, Auchan. The taxi in front of me stopped but I didn’t. I bumped his bumper. We were hardly moving, which was a good thing, but it was enough for my license plate to touch up against his bumper. And so there we stopped. And there we stayed – blocking traffic and just adding to the chaos.
|The red van is parked. We blocked the next lane being used as a turn lane into the grocery store.|
The taxi driver got out for a look and started calling someone. I got out for a look and started calling George. Next, the taxi no longer had a taxi light on top of the car. Even after 16 years in Ukraine, I still didn’t assume anything odd about that. I attributed it to the fact he was no longer available to take customers. A friend later revealed it was more likely he was driving a taxi without a license and wanted to hide any evidence from the police. Just goes to show, my upbringing of “innocent until proven guilty” is firmly implanted.
Okay, so we both take some pictures and George sends our friend, Pasha, to come help me since he’s out in another village a good 45 minutes away. The taxi driver asks me if we’re going to sit there until morning. I said I had no idea. He wanted me to pay him some money. Without moving his car forward even an inch, there was no way to tell if there was a mark on his bumper or not. We have insurance so I thought we might as well let this thing play itself out. The taxi driver called the police. About 45 minutes since the accident occurred, Pasha and a police car arrive on the scene at about the same time. Pasha took over communicating with the police officers who primarily sat in their patrol car and wrote up paperwork.
Pasha took a look at the dashcam I have to see what happened. That’s when he got the suspicion that the other driver wasn’t really a taxi driver. Pasha wrote up my testimony and I scribbled on a line that stated it was my testimony. The police confiscated my driver’s license and gave me a temporary one. After the police had taken some pictures and measured distances, we were allowed to move our cars off the road. A little bit later, signatures here and there, and we were good to go.
|There may some scratches but it's hard to tell if it's just the dirt.|
I waited for a week before the text message came from the court telling me when to appear before the judge. The appointment was slated for one week later at 8:25am. Thankfully, George was available to go with me.
It was a stressful morning as the typical 20-minute or less drive into town took an hour and we were late for the appointment. I telephoned but no one answered. We found a parking place right outside the courthouse and passed through the unattended security booth. A cleaning lady gave us directions on where to go. Up two flights of stairs, a small group of people lined the hallway. We found the door with the judge’s name on it and found out from those in line that we would be admitted according to our appointment time and they were running about 20 minutes behind. [Sigh of relief.] When my turn came, we went into the first room with the secretaries and then through another door to the judge’s office which looked identical to every government office I’ve ever been in. Two desks pushed against each other with one chair at the end for the guest. The windows opened onto a major Kyiv city street, muffling the judge’s voice. I leaned in to understand better. She asked if I spoke Ukrainian and I said Russian was better. After a couple of sentences, it was clear that she was more comfortable in Ukrainian and she turned to George, hoping he’d be able to understand and translate. He offered to help. The judge confirmed my identity and then asked me if the police had told me my rights and the charge. Both of which I had not been informed of. She briefly summarized with a cursory glance at a law book. The charge: I failed to keep a safe distance between cars. Did I accept the charge? Yes, I did. She said I’d need to return a week later to pick up the court decision and bring back proof that I paid the $15 fine at a bank. She scribbled the address of the police station where I could pick up my driver’s license after receiving the court decision.
|A picture of the courthouse from Google - obviously the building's been painted and is looking better now.|
When we returned for the court decision, we didn’t know where to go. The judge’s office was locked shut. George asked in a few other offices where to go and we found our way to the back end of the courthouse and up an old flight of stairs to room #17. Broken and unwanted cabinets stood outside the door at the top. Cardboard covered a hole in the landing. We asked the lone man sitting in the tan vinyl chair if there was a line. He wasn’t sure how the system worked so George inquired inside and we were told to wait until the lady at the far end was finished with her patron. When he left, we entered. Surprisingly, she was very helpful, made two copies of our bank receipt, and directed us to return to the judge’s office for the decision. When we told her it was locked, she went herself to take a look. Another worker on the second floor confirmed that no one was there. The lady from room #17 was a bit disturbed that the judge’s secretary wasn’t there and told us to return the next day. Even though it wasn’t a receiving day, the judge’s secretary should be there and would give us the paper we needed.
|Stacks of papers and an old cabinet before the door of room #17|
|You can see the covered hole in the landing.|
|The staircase to room #17|
|Some of the unwanted cabinets outside room #17|
The next day we passed through the security booth after giving a picture ID and went up to the judge’s office. The secretary immediately looked through a pile of papers and pulled out mine, had me sign it, and then took it back downstairs to the other end of the courthouse, down another hallway. We lost track of him and returned to the foyer to wait. It appeared he was doing this step on his own. He found us and tried using a bit of English to tell us we could take this paper to the police station and receive my license back. We’d need to come back a week later to get the final court decision after the appeal period was over. Who was going to appeal a guilty plea? I guess that didn’t matter.
A week later we returned to the courthouse. Again the judge’s office was locked so we went to room #17 to see if the final decision was available there. After waiting a while, George inquired inside whom to ask for the final decision and we were directed to the man in the back, next to the lady we hand spoken to the week before. He found my paperwork in a tied bundle of other cases on the shelves, had me sign my name on a slip of paper, and gave me a copy of the decision. The next instructions were to go to room #20 for the stamp. THE STAMP! Nothing in Ukraine is official without THE STAMP! Deeper into the bowels of the courthouse we went to room #20. The lady inside said the one and only person with the stamp was not there. We would need to wait. We waited for quite some time until the man came back. I brought my paper to him and asked for a stamp. With great authority, he stamped the decision.
Off we went to the insurance company to turn in a copy of the court decision. They made a photocopy and said that’s all we needed to do. It was finished!
Two trips to the insurance office, four trips to the courthouse, one trip to bank, one trip to the police station. A lot of time spent waiting. Hopefully there’s never a next time, but if there is, we’ll know how much time it’ll take to deal with the official channels. Considering how inefficient the court is, maybe it’ll be worth it to just give some money to the other driver?