Visiting Ivano-Frankivsk – Crossing Real and Imaginary Borders

(Russian version here)

Sergei Shalamov, member of the MitOst Board, and Maria Shamaeva from the Berlin Office travelled to Ivano-Frankivsk to prepare the International MitOst Festival 2015 and to meet the Ukrainian festival team. Sergei shares his impressions and his experiennces visiting Ukraine. 

Almost a year ago the board of MitOst made an important decision to hold the 13th International MitOst Festival in Ivano-Frankivsk in Western Ukraine. The decision, which is both important and difficult, well matched with the political and social realities of the new world we have been living in for a year and a half. For us, it was and still is an invitation to a deliberate, fruitful dialogue based on mutual respect, to reflect and to find solutions for old and new challenges, as well as participate actively in reducing the degree of separation in the society and in returning the situation to a peaceful course.

The Board of MitOst is frank to a dialogue about the decision to hold the festival in Ukraine. Safety of participants of the festival is an important criterion when choosing a venue for the festival. Many facilitators and coordinators of cooperation programmes and projects of MitOst regularly travel to Ukraine for seminars and other events. Therefore, we can say with confidence that our routes are fine-tuned. And in order to convince those who are particularly incredulous, I decided to demonstrate with my own example that fears and nervousness, cultivated by media and the Internet, are often groundless, and even men between the age of 25 to 60 can enter the territory of the neighboring state without any problems. Thus, on June 6th I arrived in Ukraine for the first time to see how life in Ivano-Frankivsk is like, how our festival team is doing and imagine what can be expected for the September.

What is special in Ivano-Frankivsk?
It is a city with 350 years of history, one of cultural centers of the country with a rich heritage and great potential. The town isn't big – about 230 thousand inhabitants – and very cozy. The majestic church stands here side by side with the giant Soviet-built office building and the streets wander between the epochs of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Republic of Poland, the Soviet Union and independent Ukraine. But the most important are the people who live in Ivano-Frankivsk. Three days are not enough to get to know the character of a city and it's inhabitants. But I may say with certainty that the youngsters of Ivano-Frankivsk, who simply joking on controversial topics ("I am a banderovka" = "I am a follower of nationalistic movement"), do not seem amenable to political influence, probably because of being as yet light-minded. The young people remain curious, sociable and active, with a strong motivation to make their country better. And, on the other hand, I was greatly impressed by local entrepreneur and public agents, who are ready to work in a completely new format, gushing with ideas and, for sure, loving their town and developing it. After the so-called "Perm cultural project" in Russia was shut down and cooperation between the government, the society and business in the field of "non-state" culture has been curtailing the development in Ivano-Frankivsk is to me like a breath of fresh air and poignant nostalgia at once (Video about Ivano-Frankisvk).

What is important to know?
Visiting MitOst Festival is safe. And no matter what your nationality is and what language you speak. Obviously, the south-eastern parts of the country, in which military actions are being conducted, are unwanted to go (check travel and safety information, here you'll find the information from the Federal Foreign Office about traveling to Ukriane). But in Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv, as in much regions of the country, people are living a peaceful life: getting married, reading books, having fun on Saturday nights, working weekdays and so on, and wishing you all the same. During a few days of my stay, I have never felt a negative attitude towards myself as a citizen of the Russian Federation: you’re free to ask people in the streets for directions or order dinner at a restaurant, or go with car sharing to another city, with talking Russian, and they'll tell you, in fact – start a conversation, and probably won’t even recognize you are a foreigner without a pass check because it is not obvious that you are not by origin from those regions of Ukraine, where people traditionally speak more Russian.

What is the procedure of crossing the border of Ukraine?
Nothing extraordinary, but some special procedure runs for the Russians. You will need a foreign passport, an invitation from the local partner of MitOst indicating the purpose of your visit, booking a return ticket and a hotel reservation, an insurance policy, as well as some money with you in order to prove your ability to pay during your stay. Copies of the invitation and the other papers should be enough, but you'd rather have "hard" copies as well. New is the necessity of holding an interview before you’re allowed to cross the border. In my case, three cute border officers in a separate room asked me to show all the necessary papers, and five minutes later I was easily getting my luggage.

Won't there any problems appear when crossing the border on the way to Ukraine or returning home?
No. Border Guard Service of the Russian Federation in Vnukovo was barely interested in a direction, or a purpose of my trip. Despite the political difficulties, our countries remain in close contact, and citizens of both countries are constantly crossing the common border.

On behalf of the Board of MitOst I kindly invite you to participate and join the 13th International MitOst Festival, which will take place from the 23rd until the 27th of September 2015. Seeing is believing. Welcome!

If you have any questions, want to share your story of travel to Ukraine or leave a comment, you can contact me via shalamov(at)

Have a look at our flickr-gallery with many pictures from Ivano-Frankivsk.