An American Buys A "Second Home" in Ukraine
||At the Bazaar in
Mogilev Podolskiy, Ukraine
For seventy years just as Jews were held captive in the USSR, Jewish historic documents were held prisoners of the Soviet archival system. With the political changes of the past few years, access to these materials has increased dramatically. Thousands of American Jews are interested in what these surviving documents may reveal: What remains of Jewish life in their ancestral town? Is the Jewish cemetery still there? Are there any relatives still alive? These are the clients who send me back to "the old country" on a regular basis and because of their interest, I bought an apartment and established an office in that part of the world.
Seventy-five percent of American Jews can trace at least one ancestor to the former USSR and I am one of them. A few years ago, it was impossible to visit small villages in the former Soviet Union. In fact, only a handful of large cities were on an approved list for foreigners to visit. My ancestral towns were not "open" cities. Walls, however, sometimes do come down, attempted coups do fail and even dreams do come true.
In the former USSR, many people aspire to own a little place in the countryside, known as a dacha. A few years ago, when I began visiting Ukraine every few months, I stayed in a dacha just a few miles outside of Mogilev Podolskiy, a city of almost 150,000 including a few thousand remaining Jews. The dacha consisted of a two-story house complete with in-door plumbing and hot water (after a wait of one hour for it to heat up). I was there as a guest of a friend of a friend and gave serious thought to trying to buy it, but was discouraged by local friends who pointed out the lack of security, extensive restoration and repairs which would be costly and time-consuming, and the expense of upkeep and maintenance.
Common sense prevailed and I bought an apartment in the center of Mogilev Podolskiy, within walking distance to the bazaar (the only "shopping mall" to be found anywhere) and to the neighboring Republic of Moldova.
Shopping for an apartment in Ukraine is different from such an activity in America. Private ownership of apartments is a new privilege in this part of the world. Those wishing to sell do not place ads in newspapers, and the concept of real estate offices does not exist. One learns about available apartments simply by word of mouth. The apartment I purchased is located on Lenin Street (wouldn't you know!) and was owned by a Jewish couple waiting to immigrate to Brooklyn. They were delighted to find an American buyer who could make payment to their relatives in America in U.S. Dollars the currency of choice in Ukraine.
The purchase contract was a form completed by the local notary and subsequently filed with the appropriate local office. Perhaps because the transfer of private property was still a new phenomenon, or perhaps because a foreigner had never before felt the desire to buy property in Mogilev Podolskiy, no one with whom I had contact had any idea that we had completely ignored the first step required for a foreigner to acquire property in Ukraine. Appaarently a foreigner needed official permission to live in Ukraine which consisted of obtaining a domestic passport. Who knew?
This problem came to light when it was time to change the utilities into my name. Simply said, without a domestic passport, I could not legally live in Ukraine. The lengthy procedure required to obtain this precious document took me to Vinnitsa the town from which all matters in the region are administered where I was interviewed about my reasons for wanting to live in Ukraine and chastised for waiting to apply until after I had bought the apartment.
It was then that I began to truly understand the meaning of "red tape." Although I am sure the person who interviewed me was a member of the (supposedly defunct) KGB, securing the required permission proved to be less complicated than the actual issuing of the passport.
With my new Ukraine passport which establishes my residency, but states my country of citizenship as the USA I was able to finally transfer the utilities into my name.
Furnishing this "second home" has taken ingenuity, patience and muscles as
most of the items, including office furniture and equipment, have been transported from the U.S. Althought I never expected to duplicate the comfort and facilities I enjoy in my New Jersey residence/office, it wasn't long before I became an expert in which electronic equipment would work with requisite converters and transformers. As long as the telephone and electricity are working (they do break down with reliable regularity) the Ukraine office now functions well enough.
When my grandmother, Miriam Odnopozov, left the small town of Priluki and traveled to America in 1895, it was for reasons similar to those of hundreds of thousands of other immigrants who wanted to escape pogroms and terrible living conditions in exchange for the promise of America. Two generations and one hundred years later, her namesake has returned to Ukraine and found a "second home" her grandmother could never have.
Excerpted from an article published March 21, 1996 in the San Diego Jewish Times. Reprinted with permission of the San Diego Jewish Timesin San Diego, California