Ukraine travel guide
Vast and mysterious to many, Ukraine is barely known to outsiders despite being one of the largest countries in Europe. Long-associated with its colossal neighbour Russia, it’s a country that stands out in its own right for its varied landscapes and surprising cultural diversity.
To the majority of those visiting for the first time, the reputation of Ukraine’s hardy inhabitants can seem formidable. But while, much like in neighbouring Russia, cracking a smile at a stranger in the street is deemed a sure sign of madness, locals tend to be a thoroughly welcoming lot once you’ve broken the ice. Before long they’ll be showing you round the sights and inviting you to their home for a steaming borscht – the country’s iconic beetroot soup.
Ukraine’s natural side is also seen as tough – and it’s true that in winter snow covers most of the land as temperatures plummet. During the rest of the year, though, it’s surprisingly clement. What’s more, with its largely unspoilt, verdant interior, Ukraine is ideal for hikers and cyclists.
The Carpathian Mountains that spill over the border with Poland, Hungary and Romania dominate the west of the country while flat plains carpeted with sunflowers and cereals make up much of the central and eastern region. To the south are the almost Mediterranean-like Black Sea coast and the Crimean Peninsula, which remains a huge draw for holidaymakers every summer. And even when snow falls through the winter, the landscape is beautiful, while there are many old churches and Soviet-era buildings to dive into for shelter.
Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, founded in the eighth century, displays a heady mix of architecture befitting of a city that was once capital of Kievan Rus, the precursor of the modern Russian state. A wealth of baroque and Renaissance architecture can also be found in Lviv, one of Europe’s oldest cities, while Odessa is probably best known for the Potemkin Stairway that featured in Sergei Eisenstein’s epic film The Battleship Potemkin.
Recently, Ukraine has been in the news for the wrong reasons due to Russian separatism on the border. Despite this, most of the country is completely safe for visitors.
603,700 sq km (233,090 sq miles).
44,624,373 (UN estimate 2016).
73.6 per sq km.
President Petro Poroshenko since 2014.
Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman since 2016.
220 volts AC, 50Hz. European plugs with two round pins are used.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Pay close attention to your personal security and monitor the media for information about possible safety or security risks. You should avoid demonstrations and public gatherings, as even peaceful protests may turn violent.
Most visitors to Ukraine experience no difficulties. Serious crime against foreigners is relatively rare, but incidents do occur. In some cases attacks have been racially motivated. Travellers of Asian or Afro-Caribbean descent and individuals belonging to religious minorities should take extra care.
You should report any incidents to the police by dialling 102. A list of local translators is available on the British Embassy website.
Be alert to the possibility of street crime and petty theft, which is on the increase in Kyiv. Foreigners may appear to be lucrative targets. Where possible, avoid walking alone late at night in dark or poorly lit streets. Keep valuables and cash safe and out of sight, especially in crowded areas, tourist spots, and public transport, where pickpockets and bag snatchers operate.
A common scam is to drop a wallet or bundle of money in front of a tourist. The criminal then “finds” the money and asks if it is the tourist’s or offers to share the money with them. If you are approached in this way, you should walk away without engaging in conversation.
Don’t lose sight of your credit cards during transactions.
Theft of and from vehicles is common. Don’t leave documents or money in your vehicle. Unregulated taxi drivers can overcharge. Use official taxis, which have the name and telephone number of the taxi company on the side of the door and on the top of the taxi.
Do not leave drinks or food unattended as they could be spiked. Beware of accepting drinks from casual acquaintances.
Direct flights between Ukraine and Russia ceased on 25 October 2015 and on 25 November 2015 Ukraine banned all Russian airlines from transiting its airspace. Check latest developments with your airline or travel company before you travel.
Bus, trolleybus and tram tickets normally need to be validated by being ‘punched’ when you board. You can be fined on the spot if you are travelling with a ticket that has not been validated.
There is a wide network of minibuses. The fare is normally displayed on the window inside the minibus. You may need to pass your money to the driver via other passengers.
There is no metro connection to Kyiv city centre from Boryspil International Airport. The most convenient way to reach the city centre is by taxi. Alternatively you can take the ‘Sky Bus’ from the airport to the city centre (via Kharkivska metro station to the main railway station “Pivdenny”). You can buy a ticket from the driver.
Use official taxis which display the name and telephone number of the taxi company. Where possible ask your hotel to get a taxi for you or ask for the telephone number of a reputable taxi company. You should agree the fare before getting into the taxi.
A number of local companies offer tours to Chernobyl. Some areas around the reactor are covered by an exclusion zone, and you may need to get a permit and travel with a guide. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, although some of the radioactive isotopes released into the atmosphere still linger, they are at tolerable exposure levels for limited periods of time.
You must have a valid International Driving Permit to drive legally in Ukraine, as well as your UK driving licence. Make sure you have original vehicle-registration papers, ownership documents and insurance papers available at all times. These will be required if you are stopped by the police and when crossing borders. This also applies to rental vehicles. If you do not have these papers when stopped by the police they have the right to impound your vehicle and charge you for this.
Local driving standards are poor. Street lights are weak, speed limits, traffic lights and road signs are often ignored, and drivers rarely indicate before manoeuvring. There are a high number of traffic accidents, including fatalities. Speeding, drunk driving and infrequent use of helmets, seat belts and child restraints in vehicles are the main contributing factors.
Roads are of variable quality. Driving outside major towns at night can be hazardous. Avoid night-time travel wherever possible.
You must wear a seat belt. Using a mobile phone while driving is prohibited. There is a zero-tolerance policy on drink driving.
There have been reports of traffic police stopping vehicles and levying on-the-spot fines for minor traffic violations. Ukrainian law allows the police to stop a vehicle. The police officer should give their name and rank, explain why you have been stopped and make an administrative offence report. Fines have to be paid at a bank within 15 days.
In case of a road accident dial 102. Ukrainian officials generally only speak Ukrainian.
If you travel by train, make sure your belongings are secure.
Don’t agree to look after the luggage of a fellow traveller or allow it to be stored in your compartment
Train timetables and ticket reservation is available online on the Ukrainian Railways site.