Sheremetyevo International Airport
With a courteous smile, but steely eyes the ‘customs agent’ continued.
“Have you been assigned a translator, guide or driver while in Ukraine and Moldova?” he asked.
“Only in Moldova.”
“Are you fluent in Russian, Ukrainian or Romanian dialects?”
“I can speak German, and a little Ukrainian.”
“And where have you attended school, Ms. Mengelder?”
“I graduated from UN, University of Nebraska in Lincoln.”
“How long have you been employed for the U.S. Genealogy Department of History and Research?”
“Only a few months.”
“What is your purpose for working in Ukraine and Moldova?”
“It is where I have focused my research, and study on ethnic groups who settled there, so chose to do part of my assignment there.”
“Part of your ‘assignment”?
“Yes, our team went first to Germany and Austria.”
“What exactly are the duties of your ‘assignment’ while in Ukraine and Moldova?”
“I am working with my agency in the U.S. on genealogy projects to enlarge and update our records and databases for our researchers and genealogists who use them for their family research. I will be visiting the records division of archives in each country, doing some micro-filming and photographing cemeteries.”
“And you hold current press credentials?”
“And has your government made contact, and received permission with the officials in each country to allow you access to these records and archives?”
“Yes. It was prearranged.”
There was a long pause before the agent asked another question, after typing.
“Do you have people, or contacts that you plan to see or meet with when arriving in Moldova?”
“Only my guide and translator. She is the one assigned to me through the consulate in Odessa, Ukraine, and the only one I will be working with besides him.”
“And these two you will be working with. The guide assigned to you in Moldova, and the Odessa Consulate? What are their names, please?”
“Irina Suvorov and Vasily Kuznetsov.”
The official typed some more. The back of his laptop was all I saw as he made notes, glancing down often to refer to my papers. When finished he stood up to see me out.
“I see. Please have a seat in the adjoining room Ms. Mengelder while we make contact with the consulate and guide you will be working with. We will get back with you shortly.” he said.
Taking a seat where I was directed I got out my e-reader and opened it to the page in the book I’d started earlier but had not finished. But, I could not help feeling anxious or nervous over his line of questioning.
When I came in with a team of archivists I did not expect to be interrogated, or asked what would be, “just a few questions” with a ‘customs agent.’ All the members of my team had already been checked and processed through without a hitch. All of them had left on their flights to their assigned destinations into other former Russian provinces.
Thinking back, I knew I had answered his questions truthfully enough without giving him any unnecessary information, or reason to doubt my story.
There was nothing to do but wait until I was free to report to the departure gate for my flight to Kharkov, so passed the time watching passengers check in for flights to gates on either side. The waiting area thinned out. Some stood in front of terminal arrival and departure screens, or checked bags. Some stopped at kiosks to look at brochures or schedules. Others stood in line while waiting to purchase tickets or make reservations. At times it seemed as if there was one who watched everyone else with nothing to do. Like it was before their old regime dissolved and their democratic government was formed.
After what seemed like an hour or more the ‘customs agent’ came out of his office carrying my passport, visas and identification papers. His face showed no expression, either way.
“OK, Ms. Mengelder, your story checked out. Your free to proceed to your gate for departure. I would like to caution you though, about your time in Moldova and Ukraine to be careful while on your ‘assignment,’ pursuing your stories or interviews. Please consider this helpful advice during your travels. Have a good flight and safe trip.”
“Thank you, sir,” I said, puzzled over his comment, wondering what he meant, as I headed over to my departure gate.
To be continued
Joyce E. Johnson