Nikola Filipov

Extracts from What’s all this about London and what’s our bloke doing there?

©2013 translated by Christopher Buxton

What’s a Lithuanian doing in London?

 

Lithuanians are not a newly made up nation.  In the 14th century the Great Lithuanian Principality was the  most powerful nation in Europe. Following a dynastic marriage Lithuania united with Poland and Vladislav Varnenchik,, who died fighting against the Turks in the battle near Varna, was the ruler of exactly this union.

Lithuanians poured into London some time before their country’s accession to the EU. From an agreement signed in 1996 so called business visas giving opportunities to start up one-man small companies proved popular with them. There followed a proliferation of firms, small and large, that for a large fee produced business plans and all the documentation needed for these visas. But the more these procedures grew in popularity the more Lithuanians tended to avoid the services offered by their fellow countrymen and sought the help of foreign, often Bulgarian firms.

I helped Kyostas’s Lithuanian family to get a business visa.  He told me lots of stories, convincing me that in London there were no greater tricksters and scoundrels than Lithuanians.

There were more than one or two examples of fledgling Lithuanian firms opening offices in Central London and mounting strident campaigns advertising their effective action in setting up their fellow countrymen. They maintained that their lawyers had access to their people in the Home Office and the quickest and surest way to a visa was precisely through them. They gathered people’s passports, took their money and when after a couple of months their worried clients looked for the office, they found it boarded up – such an office had never existed.  Apart from the huge sums collected from folk, the scoundrels also sold on the passports to illegals, which doubled and trebled their profits.

“Putting your trust in a Lithuanian means that you don’t see that in taking your money, he’s already dug your grave and he’s leading you to it.” This was Kostyas’ metaphorical description of the situation.

I decided to help other Lithuanians with the formation and legalization of their documents but…I quickly desisted. While, amongst themselves helpers trick clients, with me the opposite applied. The clients whom I helped would never pay me the sum they had so  readily agreed – worse they disappeared without giving me anything, in other words the clients tricked me.  I wasted my time for nothing. Especially with Lithuanian women – they turned out to be cunning vixens.

I worked several months together with Edgaras.  He was a young Lithuanian, but was married with a child. The mother-in-law had joined the family to look after the child.  So he invited me to his 25th birthday party.  As I later realized, this had been at the suggestion of his mother-in-law, who was looking for a London lover. And at this birthday party there were only young folk and so I had to keep her company.

Only after the second toast, unexpectedly I became the centre of attention. Some of them had noticed that with the first toast I hadn’t drained my glass, but just assumed it was some mistake.  But after the second, they began with astonished looks to ask if I was ill, if doctors had forbidden me to drink or what…They could not accept that this was the way I usually drink.  Not just me but most Bulgarians…By the time I had finished my glass, the number of empty bottles on the table was almost equal to the number of guests.  And no I’m not talking about beer, not even wine, but vodka!

 It was too embarrassing to refuse a get-together with Niole , his mother-in-law. In the pub I bought two beers and sat down at a table opposite her, but she asked me with an astonished look: “Well but, did you only get one beer?”

“And what else was I supposed to get” And I was astonished in my turn.

“Well at least four at a time!”  Niole answered quite seriously.

And truth to tell, in the time it took for me to drink one, she gulped down four.  It turns out that Lithuanians don’t give way to Russians and Poles.  In fact they most probably hold the title in that discipline.

A year after their accession to the EU the Lithuanian colony in London was second in size to the Poles – over 100,000. Polish/Lithuanian shops began to sprout like mushrooms, as did distribution of Lithuanian language newspapers and magazines as well as Lithuanian schools and churches.

There was much talk of fraudulent marriages, mostly between Lithuanians and Ukranians to legalize their right to remain in London in this way. In most of the examples, divorced Lithuanian women married young Ukrainian men, but there were opposite examples.

The illegal Ukrainian couple Taras and Oxana decided to legalize their London status in this way.  Lithuanian Gintaras agreed to marry Oxana for £10,000 and then to divorce her as soon as she received permanent leave to remain. Afterwards she would remarry Taras, thus legalizing him as well. This happened after the tightening of the laws, which now required five years of marriage.  A year and a half after the wedding the Lithuanian Gintaras sought the couple out with a plea for a £2,000 loan, because his business had gone down. Up to the end of the five year period he exploited the situation another two or three times and the couple paid a lot more than the sum originally agreed.

When the five years were up, Oksana looked for Gintaras to put documents in order, but he told her that she had to go through his lawyer.  And…the lawyer informed Oxana that the marriage had finished four years before, that Gintaras had then already divorced her and married another.  The couple were unable to make any more contact with Gintaras and the lawyer threatened them that if they worried him, he could send them back to their own country.

Such Lithuanian businesses, built on others’ unhappiness, are hardly rarities.

And like Poles, there are Lithuanians everywhere in London. A doctor examined me in hospital – Rimantas talked to me in Russian and told me he was from Lithuania. Speaking of which, in London for a long time now a Lithuanian clinical centre has opened with doctors with various specialities, dentists and nurses.  And some time ago I found out that they advertise their services and those of other Lithuanian clinics.  They advertise mostly in the Russian press in the Russian language. In Lithuania they don’t want to talk Russian, but in London they deafen the world with their services offered by Russian speaking doctors and Russian speaking nurses.

For more than three years I let out a room to a young Lithuanian couple – Gitas and Danuta.  They were modest and quiet, honest and hard working.  Danuta kept the kitchen sparklingly clean.  They saved their money, never went out. Drunken incidents were absolutely out of the question.. Everywhere, when someone attacked Lithuanians for their bad habits, I piped up that not all of them were like that and offered my exemplary tenants as an example.

 

At that time the small room next to theirs fell vacant and I decided to let it to a Lithuanian.  When I told them about my decision, Danuta and Gitas jumped up simultaneously and cried out in one voice: “That meanswe’ll have to go.   You know what two Lithuanians living next to each other means.  A bloody battle in less than two weeks!…

And so –  I had to return the guy’s deposit.  But ,,,without this he had thought the same and had been quite in two minds whether to take the room.

But that is not the main point I wished to make here. Soon these favourite tenants of mine packed their bags – left for Lithuania. And there was a downpour of letters from different banks, credit companies, mobile phone operators etc. They were looking for them to repay loans they had taken out, to pay for goods bought on credit etc. Quietly, peacefully they had lived in my property, because in London your credit rating increases if you’ve lived at least three years in one address – that was why!

Lithuanians like most East Europeans in London work mostly in the building trade and their wives clean hotels and houses. Many of them are contractors and they provide work for other builders. According to the statistics, on the building sites in Stratford Olympic village one in every ten building workers was Lithuanian. But watch out if someone offers you work at the end of the working day.

Following an advert in a Russian newspaper that I was looking for work, a Russian speaking contractor phoned me up. He said that by the next morning he had to find four workers for a site in Holborn. I had to take my National Insurance details and CIS card and at 16.45 be at the Underground station where his man would meet me. I had to bring £90, which were for some card and part of it for his commission for setting me up with work. He wouldn’t take a percent off my wages, as other agents would.

A young man met me at the station and led me to an enormous building site. He ushered me into some office and there a man with a tie asked for my documents. After he looked through them we began to fill out an employment contract. He gave me instructions and his mobile phone number, to cover all eventualities. He told me I’d be working alongside the young guy who’d met me and I got his number as well. He gave me his card which had two more telephone numbers and an address. We signed two standard contracts – one for him and one for the firm.  After all that my doubts practically evaporated and I handed over the money.

I turned up the next morning in steel capped boots, helmet and high viz. vest as they’d told me, but I didn’t find the young man.  In a little while I began to ring the mobile phone number.  No-one replied. I tried ythe other number.  Either no-one replied or they said the number didn’t exist. I bang on the locked site door.  At last some watchman opened it and told me that the building was complete and no workers would be working there from now on.  I showed him the contract and he looked at me in sympathy. Every day folk turned up conned like me. Unemployed, penniless, taken out a  £90 loan to pay the commission for securing work and…

That’s it Lithuanians in London!

Just Acting on Information Received

 

There are a million illegal immigrants in London.  They live with the motto: I’m always hiding, but no-one’s looking for me. That’s a path I’ve trodden too. Before finding out about my rights. Because what Bulgarians happen to have learnt about their rights they keep as a profound secret from other Bulgarians. And the path of an illegal is strewn with weird eccentricities, unlike the grey everyday existence of the rest of society.

.And so Nedyalko M. leaving for Bulgaria once sold me his National Insurance number for £200 instead of explaining how I could apply for one myself. And until I solved this puzzle I worked illegally under this name for a year. As soon as I’d uncovered the truth I sold the number on for £100.  The price had dropped as more Bulgarians found out about their rights.

Stanislav came from the Western Ukraine and knew Polish. And so he bought a Polish passport and was transformed into the Pole Marek Sekura.  He printed out business cards with this name and managed to open a bank account.

If I can get a £50,000 bank loan I’m on my toes back to the Ukraine, he often told me as he lifted his second or third glass.

And banks fell over themselves to offer loans. Nobody bothered to check in Poland or Bulgaria whether such-and-such person existed and most importantly where he was to be found at this given moment. No-one checked whether this particular Nedyalko was working in his chemist’s shop in Plovdiv or on a building site in London. No-one checked whether this particular Marek Sekura (if we accept that such a person existed) was at that moment a plumber in Krakow or in London. And after a third vodka he boasted: Barclays are giving me a £25,000loan. But I’ve decided to buy a house…

Ey, we didn’t believe in this for one moment.  What madman would buy a house under a false name?  Couldn’t the real Marek Sekura show up one day and take this house?

I bought a house, Stanislav/Marek boasted and packed his bags.

He disappeared quickly. In two days this guy never existed.  And after a month or two letters from banks and other credit companies flooded in. They were looking for Marek Sekura to pay off his loan and make the repayments on the house.  And what happened with the house turned out something unique.

Whoa! Look what cunning crooks these Eastern Europeans have been! cried the Englishman of average intelligence as he tried to develop a little more cunning.

Whoa! How stupid these Englishmen are! cried the Eastern European of average intelligence and worked harder on even more cunning tricks.

Because of the fast rising property prices London banks began to offer mortgage loans on not 80% or even 90% of the sale price.  In the competition for clients they went over 100% and were now offering loans of 120% of the property value. Yes it was to help with furnishing and for removal and for a housewarming party. And so they valued Stanislav/Marek’s house at £200,000 and gave him 20% on top, which £40,000 he lapped up and sent it straight to the Ukraine. Let them search for Marek Sekura in Poland.  Even if they were to find such a person there – he’d have a cast iron alibi.  Because he’d have been working the whole time legally in Poland without having any idea what games were being played in London with the passport that had been officially declared stolen.

And not a few Englosh banks were burned by Bulgarians with false Greek passports. Once in a travel bureau in Plovdiv I asked how much a bus ticket to London would cost and straightaway they offered me a Greek passport, with which I could have taken out an irretrievable loan from some London bank.

And the other day Oleg Hubainov confessed to me: “I’ve been illegal for eight years.  I haven’t bought a foreign passport – everything is mine. In two or three years I’ll apply for an English passport proving that I’ve been suppotying myself for ten years and paid taxes.  The police have checked me three times and nothing…They probably deport to order only.

And he told me once how he was checked by theImmigration Service, the very people who hunt illegals. When they saw that his visa had run out five years before, they had a quick confab.

“This guy’s been here illegally for five years without a visa.  What shall we do with him?”

“Where’s he from?  What’s his nationality?”

“Ukrainian with a Ukrainian passport.”

“Oh let him go.  Don’t you know we’re hunting Albanians today?”

This story seemed highly improbable to me but what reason would Oleg have to lie? And I myself have witnessed many more improbable things. Nasko decided to surrender himself to the authorities, in order to make use of the free ticket back to Bulgaria.  He stuck his head in the lion’s mouth. He went and asked for Social Support – which was forbidden us at the time and instead of sending him to the airport, they decided to let him have it

The difference between Albanians and Bulgarians is as much as that between the earth and the moon. Illegal Albanians help one another. They hide among themselves, share information and support each other as though they were all close relatives. As far as relationships between the newly arrived Bulgarians are concerned, I’d mention two or three typical stories.

Miroslav worked for Spas. He was illegal as his visa had run out.  Knowing this, Spas put off paying him till the following week. The following week the story repeated itself with the excuse that the owner of the house they were restoring hadn’t come up with the required money.  And just before the third or fourth week when Spas already owed him over £1000 for contracted work, suddenly Immigration arrested Miroslav and sent him straight to the airport – he was given a free ticket to Sofia. The rumour spread that this could be no accident. This couldn’t be a coincidence because there’d been more than one similar story. They all reckoned that this was part of a logical process and given the circumstances they wouldn’t have waited a third or fourth week but looked for work elsewhere once the second week of non-payment rolled by., forgetting all that Spas owed them. Jokes even made the rounds about being saved from Spas (Spas means savior in Bulgarian – trans.).

And that Simeon grassed up Boris in order to steal his job is not worth the telling – these are just banal stories.

What happened to Marin was by no means untypical. No Bulgarian loans or borrows from another Bulgarian abroad, but Marin leant money.  Ivo and Vasko from Pleven often boasted how they’d borrowed hundreds of pounds when their wallets were overflowing, under the pretext that they hadn’t enough money for food and that they’d pay the money back as soon as they’d sorted themselves out. They didn’t pay back anything – even made out that he owed them so they could ask for more.

And Marin helped this other bloke with a thousand pound loan, while working illegally in London driving some kind of minibus. The borrower failed to keep his promise to pay back the money within a week. When after a month Marin began to pester him about the money, two or three police cars blockaded the minibus and began to turn it upside down looking for weapons and drugs. Once they’d realized that his work permit had run out they deported him. So much for gratitude that he’d helped out with a loan.  At least he learnt that one shouldn’t compete with British banks in handing out loans.  Especially to fellow countrymen.

What’s a Ukrainian doing in London?

 

First off let’s specify what this Ukrainian is and then see what he’s doing in London. Because according to some Russian academics Ukrainians are Russians. Gradually as the capital and centre moved towards Moscow theses lands began to be called “Okraina” (surroundings, periphery) and that’s how Ukraine came to be.  The history of both current nations Russia and Ukraine begins with Kiev Rus.  Bulgarian Renaissance figures who lived and studied in these lands never mentioned the Ukraine or Ukrainian, but they talked of Russia and the Russian language.

Here I can’t avoid the analogy with Macedonia. The Serbs were unable to turn the Bulgarian population living in Macedonia into Serbs.  So with the help of the Comintern they forced the Macedonian nation into being and worked on the Macedonian language to cut the population off from Mother Bulgaria. It’s the same for the population of South western Ukraine, part of which had fallen under Polish influence, the Ukrainian nation has been invented to separate it from Mother Russia.

For us Bulgarians  Ukrainians and Russians are even now one and the same.  But…what battles are being fought can be illustrated with an example.

In a top to bottom overhaul of Arthur’s London house, two Ukrainians happened to be working.  They got to know one another – one was plastering the walls and the other was pasting wallpaper.  Roundabout lunch time I realised that exchanges were becoming shriller and I noticed that one was talking in pure Russian and the other in Ukrainian dialect. Towards the end of the working day however such a war broke out between them that we could  scarcely separate them. Igor accused Andrei of state treason and hurled insults and curses at his pro-Russian sympathies. In his turn Andrei responded with counterattacks on Polish fuelled Ukrainian chauvinism  and also accused him of treason and servility to hidden NATO and anti-Russian interests.

The next day only one of them worked. And he continually insisted that their fabricated country needed to be divided. The western part with its main city Lvov should be ceded to Poland and the east with Kiev to return to Mother Russia – that was the only way to solve the problems.

According to statistics in the first decade of the new 21st century about six and half million Ukrainians left the Ukraine. However the number of legally registered workers in different countries amounted to just one and a half million.  Where did the remaining five million disappear?

Olga described how she was transported in an enormous long distance lorry along with another ten people across Poland and Germany.  The whole time they lay in a hiding place beneath tons of metal scrap, imported from Ukraine into Germany.  But the risks of transport over dry land are less than by sea.

Oleg told me a shocking story. Twenty people set out by boat from Odessa. The gang took several thousand dollars from them and warned them they had to take at least as much in cash with them. At a stopover in Greece in the port of Piraeus, those with insufficient funds were invited to disembark.  Because the English imposed hefty fines for every illegal immigrant. Once out on the open sea, they began to be treated with barbarity.  Those without funds or refusing to pay the required sum were thrown overboard by night to feed the fishes. Out of the twenty or so would-be emigrants, hardly a handful arrived in London.

London Ukrainians have their own club. There’s a Ukrainian language newspaper. They help and support one another, especially if they have identical or complementary opinions.  They are hard working and mostly think that once they’ve reached a target sum, they’ll return to the Ukraine and start up their own business. From my impressions of  tens of Ukrainian acquaintances, male and female I would draw up some categories:

I’m not going to talk about the oligarchs. Those who have come legally with work visas are comparatively few, but they do not spare themselves, throw their heart and soul into their work.  Compared to all other Eastern European nations, Bulgarians work best with Ukrainians particularly. Although small in number this category of Ukrainians can be met in different economic sectors.

The greater number of London Ukrainians are illegal immigrants.  Some of them are simply with out of date tourist, student or other kind of visas and they strive to use as much time as possible working in London  in order to earn more money before returning to their homeland.  There are however many who are here with false foreign passports, working with assumed names and national insurance numbers.

Those coming from Western Ukraine usually provide themselves with Polish passports.  They often know Polish and like the company of Poles. Such was the experience of Stanislav the plumber, who bought a Polish passport for £200 under the name of Marek Sikora. What is more he grabbed  a mortgage loan at 120% which banks were offering just before the crisis, through which he swallowed up another £30,000 and slipped off back to the Ukraine.

Whether someone is a true Pole or a Ukrainian with a Polish passport can be understood through signs of religious affiliation.  While Poles are deeply religious, Ukrainians are mostly atheists. And why wouldn’t they be otherwise? For how many years has their Orthodox church been divided? One half of Orthodox Christians follow the Moscow Patriarch and celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January while the other half have gone across to the Greek Orthodox church and celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December.  And with both one and the other there are two hierarchies…Not a small number are Catholics and other Christian groups are popular.  For this reason Ukrainians are being sought out by different sects like the Jehovah’s Witnesses for example and they often fall under their spell.

Eastern Ukrainians don’t get together with Poles.  They get hold of mostly false Slovakian, sometimes Lithuanian or other foreign passports. According to a statistic quoted in an English newspaper the sale of foreign passports was pretty widespread in Prague and was managed by the Albanian Mafia. To our credit Bulgarian passports were some of the most expensive, costing over £ 1,000 because they were the most difficult to forge.

In spite of regulations regarding marriages with foreigners being tightened,  marrying to get citizenship remains a popular practice. Ten years ago a fraudulent marriage cost £3-4,000 and now the price is £10,000.

I let a room to one such family seven or eight years ago. A fifty year old Lithuanian woman had married Victor a Ukrainian who had not yet reached thirty.  They spent their honeymoon by my side. Seeing that Niole was in the house the whole day I asked her whether she was working anywhere and she laughed in response:  “Why would I marry a Ukrainian, if I had to work?” I soon realized that he had paid for this fictional marriage to gain citizenship and he had no intention of living out his life with Niole.

By the third or fourth month Victor began coming home after midnight, and there were times when he didn’t come back at all. Sometimes he stank of alcohol and cigarettes. Rows began to break out. I heard how he justified himself, that they’d never talked of family life, and that his aim was to legally remain in London.  But the divorced Niole clearly had hatched other plans.  When one evening I heard her weeping out loud, she told me that she’s spotted him on a bus in the arms of a young girl and now he didn’t want to talk to her on the phone.  I don’t know how the wholestory finished, because I was unable to see Victor again, and unemployed Niole left the flat and probably set out to look for another young Ukrainian.

Ukrainian women are the most beautiful women in London and then some…I’ve seen so many mixed marriages between Englishmen and Russian women and it turns out in the end that the Russia is Ukrainian or at least she has Ukrainian roots. I wasted quite a lot of working time with six foot Ukrainian Yuri talking through the question as to why Ukrainian women were so beautiful.  We reached the conclusion that this is the result of the huge deficit in the Ukrainian male population after the wars.  So that for example after the second world war, there were several women for every one man and of course he would choose the most beautiful.  Thus through generations only beautiful women were born  and as we know beauty begets beauty.

Apart from being beautiful Ukrainian women are hard working.  They love cleanliness and order in the home and they cook tasty meals. So many times when I have turned up in a flat or house where the hostess is Ukrainian I have never failed to find it clean and tidy. This is in contrast to English women where sometimes you have to shift stuff lying on the floor to make a path for your feet. Ey why would they not be wooed by Englishmen? A marriage between an Englishman and a Ukrainian woman is stable and happy. A marriage between an English woman and a Ukrainian last until he gets citizenship.

Oxana lived in a beautiful house by the Thames close to the Tower.  In 1954 in some media report her husband John had been declared the most handsome boy in London and now an enormous portrait of him at that time was hanging on the wall.  A few years ago I installed a huge crystal chandelier for them over the staircase. The Ukrainian wife took charge of the display and the Englishman was called in at the end to pay me..But the cleanliness and order could not fail to impress me. Just as the cooked lunch she insisted on serving me.

Another Ukrainian woman called Zaryana amazed me with her indefatigable aptitude for work.  She cleaned private homes and because her satisfied clients recommended her to one another, she got to the stage when she was working from dawn to dusk with no day off. But she never turned down work from anyone. Every week she’d send money to the Ukraine where she supported a familt with two students.

Volodomir had a contractor’s instinct. Apart from mastery of all building activities plus plumbing and welding, he had considerable experience on building sites in Russia and the Ukraine. But in London his status was illegal and he looked for cover – some Pole, Balt or Bulgarian to legalize his activities. For this purpose he paid appropriate commission, but he still secured regular work for a dozen of his people.  While to some extent he exploited them, paying them sometimes less than the minimum wage everyone was happy. Because they were illegal but had got work.  He put them up near by – so they were close to hand even though they were sleeping several to a room.

It’s true most East Europeans in London work on building sites but it particularly applies to Ukrainians.  If you hear Russian being spoken on a building site or see in the toilet the celebrated three letter balls and penis with a scrawled signature in Cyrillic, you know Ukrainians work there. If the homeowners are happy with the work of their Russian speaking cleaner, whether she’s a beautiful blonde or not, she’ll most likely turn out to be Ukrainian.

And in the end let’s not forget their famous bacon fat. And in Bulgaria too, a special breed of ruddy faced men wolf down bacon fat not just as a starter, but in the Ukraine…Ukrainians reckon that they invented bacon fat and this is their gift to world cuisine. Salo – that’s what they call their bacon fat is ranked as their national dish, they’re proud of it and produce it in huge quantities even foe export.

In London bacon fat is sold only in East European food shops  – Polish Lithuanian Russian and Bulgarian.  And you’ll know a Ukrainian by his refrigerator – in it there will have to be a piece of bacon fat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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