Ivan Ivanovich

“Are you fucking kidding me?! The square stamp goes inside the circle stamp. Not under it, not over it. What are you, in fucking grade school?” The head of civil registry in the Dnipro region of Kiev has been screaming not stop for the past 30 minutes while Marichka has been waiting in the hall, but the man in front of her in line is now leaving her office and it’s finally her turn. “Come in! Whoever’s next. Come in! Yes. How can I help you?

“Good day, Lena Mykhailivna.” Her name was on the office door. “I was send here by, um, Ivan Ivanovich. He, uh, called you I think.”

“Yes, yes. Sit down. What can I do for you.”

“I want to change my surname.” Name changes, births, deaths, marriages, divorces— it’s all done here.

“Ok. That shouldn’t be a problem.” She opens up a drawer and start rifling through it for a blank document. “The process takes 3 months.”

“3 months?” Marichka and I are only in Ukraine until the end of February. “Can you do it in two weeks?”

Lena Mykhailivna pauses, looks directly at Marichka. “No.” She pauses again. “It’ll take a month minimum.”

“I understand. Uh, it’s just that I need it earlier than that because….”

“We’re very busy, you understand.” Lena Mykhailivna pauses a third time as if she’s waiting for a response, even though she’s the one that interrupted Marichka. “February 16th— I can’t do any earlier.”

“I see. Um, ok. I suppose I’ll have to make due.”

“Ugh,” she sighs. “Go to my assistant Sophia and see what papers she needs.”

    I’m a little bird

    Flying over the field

    I’m a little bird

    Flying over the field

    Over the field

    Over the field

    Flying over the field

“Generally when you get married in Ukraine, you tick a box on the registration to change your maiden name,” says Tanya, the translator who has translated all of Marichka’s personal documents for her application for permanent residence in Canada. “On the day of and only on the day of. Otherwise you pay later.”

“I know,” says Marichka, “I’ve been married three times.”

“I know,” says Tanya, who knows everything about us. She knows the kids’ names and medical histories, each husband’s relationship history (from the marriage arranged by her father at 18 to rid himself of the financial burden of a grown daughter to the alcoholic druggie she wanted to change through their shared interest in raki but who ended up relapsing and beating her to the Russian programmer-poet-fan who left his wife for his muse and then his muse for a nurse). She’s read our email correspondence and has translated personal letters of support from friends and family. Marichka’s newest CD plays in the office, though we never gave it to her.

“They told us in Canada that we can’t change my name there, that I have to do it in my country of origin first,” explains Marichka, “so I got the marriage certificate from there— which doesn’t have the name change box, of course— and I need you to translate it.” Marichka hands her a photocopy from a thin plastic folder which has a number of other documents Tanya already has on file.

“Mashaaaa,” says Tanya, burying her head in her hands after just a cursory glance. “Why didn’t you caaaaall me? I know everything you need and I could have told you that you need this notarized— you need a stamp. You have a voice like a songbird, but you’re not very clever! Without a stamp, this piece of paper is useless. You can throw it out— it’s a piece of garbage.” She tosses it on he desk, which is bare except for an old corporate telephone and a desktop Compaq that looks like it’s from the late nineties.

“What?”

“You need to send the original certificate back to Canada, get it stamped, and then send it back to me to translate. Then I translate and stamp it here and then you fly on over to the registrar as fast as you can.” She folds the photocopy in half, length-wise.

“Tanya… I can’t do that. It’ll take too long. I’m going back to Canada in a month.”

“Hmm. Well of course I have people who can make the stamp,” says Tanya, unfolding the creased sheet. “but in your case I wouldn’t do this. All your documents are being looked over already. The last thing you need is someone saying that you have fake documents and then putting the rest of your application under scrutiny. All it takes is one pissed off administrator.”

“No I don’t want that.”

“I mean they don’t know english anyways and they never check the translations.” Tanya folds the tops right corner into the centre of the page to meet the crease she made. “We had one couple from America that we translated a document for and just added a line that said she’s choosing to take her husbands name even though there was no line like that.” She folds the top left corner in the same way. “But they had a stamped document. The registrar’s office never checks translations, but they look for the stamp.” She smooths out each fold and then folds each half again, slowly and accurately turning our useless marriage certificate into a paper airplane.

“The fucking stamp. Why didn’t they tell me about the stamp in Canada? Stupid country!”

“Or….” Tanya lays the plane down, focussing on her train of thought for a moment, “or you can just change your name. Every citizen of Ukraine can do this. You go to civil registry and don’t even mention the certificate, just say that you want to change your name to your husband’s. But it’ll cost money.”

“Fine. It can’t be that much. How long?”

Tanya cringes before she even says “3 months” understanding immediately that this won’t work. “Let me make some calls.” She picks up the phone with her left hand and grabs the mouse with her right and starts searching for numbers in her database.

    Flying over the field

    Sweeping the grass

    Flying over the field

    Sweeping the grass

    The grass

    The grass

    Sweeping the grass

“Ok… so how can we, um, you know… be friends. I mean, I want to thank, er, how can I thank you?” Marichka regrets wearing the sweater skirt through which she is now sweating nervously.

“Later,” says Lena Mykhalivna. “You go to Sophia.” Then she pauses—something has clicked. “Actually, you don’t need to go anywhere. Let’s just have her come here.” She calls her assistant and within 30 seconds Sophia is rushing into the office.

“Do you have any numbers for the police that help us with these,” She gives Sophia a sheet of paper she pulled from the drawer.

“Yes, ma’am. I know it by heart. I just don’t know the names by heart.”

“Geeze,” She turns to Marichka: “You go get the documents you need— birth certificates, passport, bla bla bla— and bring them back later today.” She turns to Sophia: “Can you do it today?”

“Yes.”

“Ok, good. Go.” Sophia leaves. “If you bring me everything today, you can have it by the end of the week.”

    Sweeping the grass

    Looking for my hawk

    Sweeping the grass

    Looking for my hawk

    Hawk

    Hawk

    Looking for my hawk

Apart from running a small translation company that consists of her and one assistant who basically runs documents across the city, Tanya is an parachuting fanatic, or at least she has been since her father died. He worked in a factory building airplanes by profession, but was known by his peers as a poet and composer and general renaissance man to whom his entire community looked up. Once his kids were born, he focussed all his energy on discovering their talents and encouraging them to pursue their dreams. When he died, her brothers and sisters stopped seeing each other and. That’s when she met her husband, a drummer in a rock band who was playing all over town in the late 80s when trendy and short-lived rock dives dominated the downtown core. He found out she liked to paint and bought her a easel and paints and she fell in love. Painting took a back seat to parachuting, though, which she found gave her more immediate gratification than the dozens of paintings she didn’t have the patience to finish before she had another idea. Still, her husband hung the unfinished paintings all over their apartment, boasting to guests about his wife’s knack for surreal impressionism. Now, they paraplane together when they’re not overwhelmed by work. 

They do not share the same surname. 

“We forgot to check the box on our wedding day,” Tanya says with a smile.

    Hawk, you’re so dazzling

    As my Love is beautiful

    Hawk, you’re so dazzling

    As my Love is beautiful

    My Love

    My Love

    My Love is beautiful

When Marichka returns to the registrar’s office at 4pm, there are rose petals in the hall from an afternoon wedding.

“There is one subject missing,” says Sophia, who has checked for all the kids and husbands in the database and ensured that all the submitted information is correct.

“Subject?”

“Your first husband. He’s not in the database. Maybe you misspelled the name?”

“I don’t think so. Maybe cause he’s in the army. He’s serving right now.”

“That doesn’t matter.”

“I know sometimes they pull files when…”

“It’s probably a misspelled name. It’s ok. Let’s go to the head.”

Next door, the office much more dishevelled than it was in the morning— there are several stacks of paper on the desk and the head is noticeably more irritated than she was earlier.

“I don’t have time— just do the stamps yourself.”

Sophia opens up the ink pad on the desk and picks two corks sitting next to it. She carefully stamps Marichka’s application with a square stamp and then a circle, so that the square is perfectly centred within the second stamp.

“Now go. I don’t need you anymore.” Sophia leaves promptly with the stamped name change application. “She fucked up so bad today. I yelled at her and now she’s all scared.” 

“I can see that.”

“She’ll make sure everything gets done, but I’ll call to make sure it gets done.” She takes off her plastic-rimmed glasses and pinches the bridge of her nose, closing her eyes to give them a momentary break. “I can’t even read the letters at this point. What a fucking day.”

A woman comes in with another stack of papers— births.

“How many?”

“46.”

“Ok— start counting.”

Then there’s a knock at the door and an old woman pokes her head in. “Excuse me, but I forgot my documents and I think they’re…”

“What documents! There are no documents here! I told you— you took away everything. See? I have nothing.” There are literally thousands of documents on her desk. “Nothing. So leave!”

The door doesn’t even fully close and Sophia comes running back in with an application for a new birth certificate for a man who is immigrating to Israel.

“Israel, eh? And you— where are you going?”

“Canada,” says Marichka.

“People travelling all over the world and we’re here knee-deep in work. What are you getting married?”

“Yep.” Easier to say yes that to explain she’s already married.

“And where did you find him?”

“On the Maidan. During the revolution.”

“Good— at least it was worthwhile for someone.”

    But you’re proud, distant

    Like the moon at dawn

    You’re proud, distant

    Like the moon at dawn

    Like the moon

    Like the moon

    Like the moon at dawn

“Yes. Vladimir Yurovych. Good day. Yes, I have a name change case and I need to… Listen I need to know how quickly I can get what I need. No, Yurovych, I know what I need. I need to know how quickly you can do it. Mhm. Fine. You’re no help. Ok. Mhm. Goodbye.” Tanya hangs up the phone. “Useless.” She clicks on another contact, mouths the number and then picks up the phone. “Let’s try Olga Ihorovna.”

“Yes. Olga Ihorovna. Good day. Yes, I have a name change case— remember that situation back in October when we had those documents but were missing others? Yes, we have the same situation. Yes, exact same documents. We need the same thing. Mhm. Yes. Great. Ok. Thank you. Goodbye.” She hangs up and turns to me. “Ok, they’re waiting for you.”

“Who?”

“The registrar’s office. Go to the head’s office— I think her name is… Lena Mykhailivna… and tell her you’re from Ivan Ivanovich.” Tanya picks up the paper airplane and aims it at the window.

“Who’s Ivan Ivanovich?”

“Let’s say Ivan Ivanovich is the head of another registrar’s office. And he called in advance."

“Huh? I don’t understand. Did he call in advance?”

“He doesn’t exist, but she’ll know what you’re coming for.” She tosses our folded photocopy at the window. It crashes and falls to the ground by the door.

“How?”

“Guests from Ivan Ivanovich only mean one thing.” She stands up and walks to the door to pick up the airplane, then returns to her desk, straightening out the accordion tip.

“What?”

“She’ll tell you to sit down and tell her your situation and she’ll tell you everything I have told you. Then you ask how you can speed up the process and for how much, but don’t ask directly because all the heads are new since the election and and they’re still paranoid. If need be, say that you will figure out a way to thank her and call me and i’ll deal with it.” Tanya aims the plane at the window again and flicks it with even more force; it crashes into the window and falls to the ground. 

A man knocks on the door and pokes his head in. “Are you Tanya Olehivna?” he asks. He’s carrying a plastic folder filled with documents.

“Yes, yes,” Tanya answers. “Come on in, I’ll be right with you. But please mind your step. There’s an airplane under your feet.”

    Like the moon at dawn

    Fog in the valley

    Like the moon at dawn

    Fog in the valley

    Fog

    Fog

    Fog in the valley

“I wanna sit in that chair so bad,” says Sophia, eyes the leather swivel chair that is slowly spinning counterclockwise from the force of Lena Mykhailivna getting up to leave the room. When she returns, she sends Sophia out, scribbles $100 on a piece of paper and shoves it in front of Marichka. 

“It’s ok?”

“Yes.”

“You understand that I have to share with the police and others along the way,” she justifies the high price.

“Yes, I understand. Do I send it to your account, or meet someone, or…”

“Hryvnia is better for me…”

Marichka takes money out from her purse and starts counting. Lena Mykhailivna quickly leaves, slams the door behind her as if she wasn’t expecting for Marichka to do it right then and there. Marichka puts the money in an notebook and closes it with bills sticking out.

Lena Mykhalivna comes back and sits down. “Ok. Don’t worry— we will get everything done. And if you need your passport done, we can do that too— we have our people.”

“How should I, um, thank Sophia?”

“Don’t worry— she fucked up today.” Lena Mykhailivna immediately dismisses the notion, but then reconsiders. “Actually, buy her a bottle of champagne. That should do it.”

“Ok. Thank you.”

“Don’t worry,” she smiles and hold her hand out, pointing to the door. “We’ll get you to your Canada.”

    Like the fog in the valley

    The cossack— the girl

    Like the fog in the valley

    The cossack— the girl

    Cossack

    Cossack

    The cossack— the girl

Last week, Max got a letter in the mail to go to pay a visit to the Ukrainian tax department because he hadn’t been paying he private entrepreneur taxes for the past three years. Four years ago, he bought a coffee truck, which he registered and sold cappuccinos out of in downtownKiev for a year before selling it to pursue bee-keeping. For the next three years, he was supposed to have continued submitting tax reports for his business with zeros across the board, but since he didn’t he now has to pay a fine.

The government tax agency is in the exact same building where Max used to go to kindergarten. He even remembers spanned his teenage years in the gated off yard once they closed the school— there was a hole in the fence and he and his friends used to crawl through and play cards and drink there without the hassle of local bums and drug addicts hassling them for money or booze.

“Nowadays, it’s all modernized,” explains Max. “Faux high tech, you know. There’s this big electronic table with numbers and it’s supposed to keep everything organized. But they change so quickly that you can’t take your eyes off it for a second. People stare at this massive blinking board like zombies for fear of losing their place in line. It’s torture. Your neck hurts and you want to sit down, but you’re a slave to the screen. And when new people ask you questions, you just point in any direction and slur something or else say I dunno even if you do know. It’s terrible.

“I waited 40 minutes (relatively quick) just for my number to change just for the administrator to tell me I’m in the wrong place even though the letter told me exactly to come here, to take a number and to wait.” He takes out the letter and shows me. “And she tells me I’m supposed to call this number.” He points to a tiny number at the bottom of the page with a surname beside it without a title or first name and any indication of who that person is.

“So I go into the lobby and call from the receptionist’s phone. I say ‘Good day… I’m Max Firsov and I’m downstairs.’ And she replies— ‘I’m happy that you’re downstairs.’ The service! Anyways, she comes down through all these card-access doors and security points just to get me to bring me up to her office.

“So we get to her office— past all this security— and it’s a fucking dump! I mean crumbling walls and soviet desks and the seat cushion is worn down to the wooden frame and I’m surprised their aren’t springs popping out of it. And there are two other people behind similar desks who don’t pay attention to us as we come in.

“Anyways, she pulls up my taxes on the computer and shows me my fine— 170 hryvnia for the first offence, and 1300 for the second. Then, she looked right at me and asked— I couldn’t believe this, I’ve never had someone ask this so directly— ‘how do you feel about corruption?” Can you believe it?! I mean usually they come in through the back door, insinuate, leave time for you to offer, pause— you know how they do it with the pause. Like my friend was pulled over the the cops the other day— the new cops. The ones with the new uniforms and everything. She was driving on a quiet side street. Under the speed limit. The cops turn on the cherries. She sees them, but there’s nowhere to pull over. Literally every parking spot is taken and it’s a one way street. But she doesn’t speed up, she just keeps driving until there is a place to pull over. Before that happens he cop turns the siren on and off. She finally pulls over. He asks to see her license and registration. She complies. He says she fled the cops and that he was confiscating her license. Pause. She said that’s ridiculous, but she had no witnesses. He said again—I’m afraid I’m going to have to confiscate your license. Pause. The fucking pause. The new cops! I couldn’t believe it when she told me. But now— ‘how do you feel about corruption?’ And in front of her co-workers! Plus she was like my age… 30 or so, pretty… not like an old soviet bag!

“So I say ‘not good.’ And she says ok well your going to have to fill in and back-date the forms. But we don’t have them here— you have to go buy them down the street. And she sends me to this little basement stationary store beside a shoe repair shop that everyone knows about and that there are always lines of pissed off people at because they all been sent here to buy all sorts of stupid incomprehensible forms. And the best part is there’s a sign above the counter that says they can fill the forms in for you for a cost. 

“So I get the forms and sign them but don’t actually fill any numbers in, remember, because it’s for a coffee trunk that I don’t own anymore— a business that doesn’t generate any revenue. And I come back to the reception and call back up to the lady and go through 5 check points to sit in the shitty chair in the crumbling room only for her to say ‘it’s too bad you don’t do corruption. We could all be happy and instead your money’s going to God knows where.’ And she kept pressing: ‘I could have put 170 +170 and you wouldn’t have to pay 1470 to some asshole you don’t know.’

“I guess it’s not so bad. On my way out, I ran into a ex-classmate— a guy I used to drink and play cards with behind this very building— and he was all pissed off cause he missed his number twice and then the administrator offered to erase his court date for illegal parking, erase the ticket completely, if he just gives her a prepaid bill for $100 of gas. I asked him if he was gonna do it and he says ‘what option do I have? In this country, we all work for Ivan Ivanovich.”

    I’m a little bird

    Flying over the field

    I’m a little bird

    Flying over the field

    Over the field

    Over the field

    Flying over the field