Escaping Ukranian jail with my first police bribe

Chernobyl Danger sign

Danger sign at the Chernobyl checkpoint boarder foreshadowing what was to come – Chernobyl, Ukraine

Before arriving in Odessa, Ukraine I thought the whole Eastern European police bribe rumor a farce. Little did I know that if you’re in the wrong place at the right time you’d better know the laws of the land or you’re going to be offering up cold hard cash for freedom.

Odessa is beautifully situated on the black sea, and as a beachfront city I can’t think of anything better than enjoying the sun and sand with a cool refreshing beer to wash down summer heat.


Beach Club Odessa

Beachfront club in Odessa, Ukraine

On a hot summer’s day during my last visit to the city my friend and I were sauntering down the cobble stone promenade, situated along Odessa’s beachfront, when we saw the opportunity to enjoy a cold beverage and relax in the summer weather.

As we passed an outdoor fridge filled with cold drinks, and an old Ukrainian woman standing in front waiting to make a sale, the two of us couldn’t resist.  So, without delay we made the decision and forked out the two dollars for a beer. As the old woman handed us our refreshments we found it odd that she returned our beverages with the caps loosely replaced on top of each bottle; we should have left the caps on.

Odessa Promenade

Promenade where the police busted me. Don’t you want to just sit back and relax with a nice beverage?

As we thanked her and turned the corner, before I even sipped my beer, I saw three police officers streamlining towards us. Two seconds later, before I realized what was happening, the police had us surrounded. One of the three looked at us, and in a thick Ukrainian accent said, “No alggghol. Big trrauble. You. Caume.”

Without any hesitation we fell in line with the officers, and a few minutes later found ourselves sitting in a small office with the biggest, baldest, angriest looking Ukrainian I’ve ever seen sitting at the only desk in the room.

“Pazzport” I heard as I looked across the small concrete building at the three jet-black cell doors situated across from me.

I knew I didn’t do anything wrong. In fact, just two day’s before I was in the streets celebrating Ukrainian national day in downtown Kiev where everyone seemed to be out in the streets with alcohol. Problem was we weren’t in Kiev, we didn’t speak much Russian, spoke even less Ukrainian, and had no idea of the laws in Odessa.

Dwayne Johnson

Dwayne Johnson by david_shankbone Flickr (no affiliation to Borderless Travels or related content

As I sat thinking of what to do next, the Ukrainian Dwayne Johnson took out his wallet, pointed to it and said, “We sheck drraugs, taike out mauny.” So I took out my money and passed him my wallet.

Of course there were no drugs, and the police knew that too. It was just an opportunity for them to see how much money I had. Let the bribing begin.

“Prrrotokol,” the officer repeated as he sat writing down our passport names on a blank sheet of paper lying in front of him on the desk; “you pei!”

“How much?” I responded as he continued to write. That’s when he looked up and passed the paper across his desk. It read 1000, the equivalent of about 100 Euros.

“I’ll sit in jail all night. There’s no way I’m paying 100 Euros. We didn’t even do anything,” I whispered to my friend Johnny who was sitting beside me on the bench.

In his Colin Farrell like Irish accent Johnny responded, “It’s to much. We’re students. Better price.” He said out loud as he took out an old student ID from his wallet to show the monster sitting in front of us.

With a stone cold look in his eyes and the butt end of cigarette smoldering between his lips the monster looked at the student ID then passed it back to us with the piece of paper saying, “NO! You pei. Big trrauble. Prrrotokol.”

Fourty-five minutes later, after passing the “protocol” sheet back and forth between the Ukrainian barbarian who kept scratching out our offers and threatening jail, we finally settled on a bribe of 600 UAH (60 Euros).

The proper fine for having an open beer in the street was 50 UAH (5€). The funny thing about the whole situation was that after the whole ordeal the police let us leave with our beverages; best thirty-euro beer I’ve ever had, or maybe not. Too bad it wasn’t the last time I would sit in that room discussing monetary compensation with the police officers, but that’s another story.

Before I scare you off of traveling to Eastern Europe let me leave you with this.  Countries like Ukraine are safe, most people are extremely welcoming, helpful, friendly, and don’t take advantage of tourists.  However,  if you find yourself being put in a situation where the authorities are trying to take advantage of you be calm, follow directions, and understand that you’re not at home and sometimes you’re going to have to pay for that luxury.  It’s all part of the experience.

Safe travels,



Ian Yacobucci

Traveling the Trans-Siberian, mountaineering the Himalayas, or teaching in Tokyo, I'm always trying something new. As a someone who's worked, studied, and traveled to 40+ countries around the world, I'm here to share my experiences so you can do the same.

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