*Photos courtesy of the extreme cuteness found at an MTU Christmas party*
Upon coming to Ukraine there was one thing that was hanging over our heads: VISAS. We'd heard nothing but nightmare after nightmare about the process of getting visas to live in Ukraine. It's kind of like when you're pregnant with your first baby. Suddenly every woman with a bad, or extra difficult birthing experience comes out of the woodwork to let you know their horror. Every gruesome detail is recounted, as the squirming Mommy-to-be tries to gracefully escape the clutches of the bitter birther in front of her. Terror fills the preggo's mind and she can't imagine how she will survive the inevitable. Yeah, that pretty much sums up our pre-entry feelings about visas. “So and So was denied at the border…So and So had to pay x amount of money to FINALLY get their visas after traveling to 52 different government offices in one day, trudging through the snow uphill both ways….and so on and so on.” You catch my drift. The visa process was not something we were looking forward to, per se. BUT, like a birth, painful as it may be, it had to happen.
While in the US we fretted about our visas. We tried to pursue getting our visas while in the States so we would have them in hand upon arrival, but that didn't work out. In trying to ease our minds and get things taken care of in advance we just could not feel peaceful. We got the feeling that God wanted us to just wait and trust Him. He had brought us this far, so He wasn't about to start failing us now. The visa situation was never out of God's control and that's all we had to go with. So we did!
Here's a simple run-down of the not-so-simple visa process here in Ukraine:
1. US citizens can stay in Ukraine without a visa for 90 days.
2. So, within the first 90 days upon arrival you must obtain the official documents you need for your visa, and then you leave Ukraine to head to a Ukrainian consulate outside of the country to apply for your visa.
3. For the “D Visa” (long-term visa) basically the only way we could go about it was to be invited by a church that is registered here in Ukraine. The church doesn't have to be registered in the city you live in, but it is a considerably easier process if you can take care of everything in the city where you reside.
4. The registered church writes an official letter of invitation, complete with stamps and signatures (stamps are muy importante here). That letter must then be submitted to the Ministry of Culture (a local government office) for approval. Everyone we talked to told us that the office generally takes around 3 weeks to give their approval.
5. After you have both approvals you take those letters, and some other official stuff to another country and apply for your visa.
6. Once you have your visa you come back in to Ukraine and then have 45 days to register where you live and such with the local government offices. That involves awholelotta documents with awholelotta stamps. The end results of all the documenting and stamping is a temporary residency that is good for one year, but may be extended for another year (with rumors of a second renewal???).
All that to say, once we got to Ukraine we knew we had our work cut out for us, and with all the holidays looming right after our arrival, the clock was not on our side. Mission to Ukraine (MTU) has strong relationship with a couple churches here in Zhitomir that said they would consider inviting us. The Vineyard churches here are not registered, so that was never an option. Shortly after our arrival in Ukraine the pastor of the Central Baptist happily agreed to inviting us for our visas, so that was a HUGE answer to prayer! Pastor Pavel is such a kind man with a huge heart. He has already blessed us so much, going above and beyond to help. 🙂 MTU is an amazing service here in Zhitomir and people who love MTU are happy to help however they can. Yay for that! Praise God for MTU's influence and good standing in this community. It really says a lot about the people who work there and the quality of care they give. It even says more about God's Kingdom and it's expansion in to Zhitomir through MTU. He is at work and it's an awesome sight to behold.