Europe : Ukraine
Ukraine (Ukrayina) is a country in Eastern Europe. It lies at the northwest end of the Black Sea, with Russia to the east, Belarus to the north, Poland to the northwest, Slovakia and Hungary to the west, and Romania to the south west and south, with Moldova in between.
Most of the country (the central and eastern portions) was formerly a part of Russian Empire; after WWII, the entire country - known as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic - was a part of the Soviet Union. Ukraine is the second-largest country in Europe, albeit with a slightly declining population.
In English, the country is sometimes referred to with the definite article, "The Ukraine", a grammatically incorrect term usually applied to a region, rather than a political entity (e.g. the Baltics, the Caucasus, the West etc.) Since its establishment as an independent nation in 1991, the country is officially called simply "Ukraine," and this form should be used when refering to the country.
Ukrainian history is long and proud, with the inception of Kyivan (or Kievan) Rus as the most powerful state in Medieval Europe. While this state fell prey to Mongol conquest, the western part of Ukraine became part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth form the 14th until the 18th century, even modern Ukraine owes it a debt of sorts. A subsequent Ukrainian state was able to - in the face of pressure from the ascendant Muscovy - remain autonomous for more than a century, however the Russian Empire absorbed much of Ukraine in the 18th century, to the detriment of their culture and identity.
Despite a brief, but uncertain, flash of independence at the end of the czarist regime, Ukraine was incorporated into the new USSR after the Russian Civil War in 1922 and subject to two disastrous famines (1932-33 and 1946) as well as brutal fighting during World War II. As a Soviet republic, the Ukrainian language was often 'sidelined' when compared to Russian to varying degrees; Stalinist repressions during the 1930s, attempts at decentralisation during the Khrushchev administraion and the retightening of controls during the Brezhnev-Kosygin era of the 1970s and early 1980s. In any case, the traditionally bilingual province had signs in both Russian and Ukrainian in virtually all cities, including Lviv, where Ukrainian is most prevalent. The 1986 Chernobyl accident was a further catastrophe to the republic but also widely considered as an event which, in the long run, galvanized the population in regional sentiment and led to increasing pressure on the central government to promote autonomy.
Ukraine declared its sovereignty within the Soviet Union in July 1990 as a prelude to unfolding events in the year to come. The Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine's Parliament) again declared its independence in early December 1991 following the results of referendum in November 1991 which indicated overwhelming popular support (90% in favour of independence). This declaration became a concrete reality as the Soviet Union formally ceased to exist on December 25, 1991. Initially, there were severe economic difficulties, hyperinflation, and oligarchal rule prevailed in the early years following independence. The issues of cronyism, corruption and alleged voting irregularities came to a head during the heavily-disputed 2004 Presidential election, where allegations of vote-rigging sparked what became known as the "Orange Revolution". This revolution resulted in the subsequent election of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko as President.
- Kiev — The beautiful Ukrainian capital, home to leafy hills and world-famous Orthodox and Baroque architecture
- Chernobyl - tour the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster
Visa requirements and customs
Tourist visas are no longer required for citizens of the European Union, United States, Canada, Japan, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Andorra, Vatican City, Monaco, Iceland, Norway, San Marino, Mongolia, Serbia, Montenegro and the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (except Turkmenistan). This applies only for tourist travel lasting less than 90 days.
For other countries, visas are obtainable within a few hours of visiting a Ukrainian consulate having received a 'letter of invitation' from one's prespective lodging or business provider.
More information is available at Ukraine's Embassy in your country and/or the Foreign service departments of your national governments (or their embassy websites here in Ukraine).
Always know how much currency you have with you. Customs officials might inquire about the amount being brought into the country. It is prohibited to bring large amounts of Ukrainian currency (hryvnia) in to the country unless it was declared upon leaving Ukraine.
It is advisable to check in advance the customs regulations (e.g. the Boryspol Airport website, which has an English version) as rules and regulations have the habit of changing at short and unannounced notice.
When entering the country you will be required to complete an immigration form - currently this is a simple white document with two parts that have more or less identical information. Both parts should be completed on arrival: the immigration officer will keep one part and you have to retain the second, which you will need to show to the immigration officer on your departure from the country. It is not advisable to lose this easily lost scrap of paper, as you'll almost certainly have difficulties on leaving Ukraine (and likely incur a "fine" too). You will need to know where you are going to stay as this is required on the form and the immigration officer will insist that it is filled in.
The cheapest way to fly into Ukraine is through the Kyiv Boryspil International Airport. The main international hubs for these flights are Budapest, Frankfurt, Milan, Munich, Prague, London, Rome, Vienna and Warsaw with several flights a day of Austrian AUA, CSA Czech Airlines, LOT, Lufthansa, Alitalia, Air France, British Airways, KLM and MALEV - Hungarian Airlines; also Ukraine International, which code-shares on these routes with the respective carriers, and another Ukrainian carrier, AeroSvit. Special offers on flights come and go, depending on the whim of the carrier. Recently the low-cost airline Wizzair started operations within Ukraine and will start one international route from Kyiv to London Luton airport in December 2008. The only other low cost carrier serving Ukraine is AirBaltic, with flights routing through either Riga, Latvia, or Vilnius, Lithuania. AeroSvit could also be considered a somewhat low-cost carrier.
There are several airlines which offer direct flights to cities like Dnipropetrovsk (Lufthansa), Donetsk (Lufthansa, Austrian), Odessa (MALEV, LOT, Austrian, CSA Czech Airlines), Kharkiv and Lviv (LOT, Austrian Airlines), but they are more expensive.
To fly inside Ukraine, the most common airline is AeroSvit. It is the unofficial national airline, and its routes cover all of Ukraine's major destinations. Planes used are newer Boeing 737 and 767 aircraft. Ukraine International also recently introduced flights within the country from its hub in Kyiv, mainly flying newer Boeing 737 aircraft.
One can enter Ukraine by train  from any land-bordering neighbor. When coming from Western Europe there will be a wait at the border while the train's bogies are changed in order to adapt to a different rail gauge. It's generally quicker and cheaper to buy a ticket to the border and then change trains, rather than wait getting through train. Generally, in Ukraine railway travel is much cheaper than flying, and is comparable (but probably cheaper) to bus or car travel. It will take at most a whole day to ride across the country, so unless you are in hurry take a train. It's good practice to take long-distance trains, which are much more comfortable. Avoid cheap third-class travel if you're cautious of local experiences.
When you arrive, the road is fairly narrow (no motorway/autobahn this) with a queue of trucks and vans parked to the right of the road; a hard-core parking area with cafe/bar to the left. Don't stop behind the goods vehicles, slip up the side of them and then feed into the customs area when the guy flags you forward (for courteous Europeans, you're not jumping the queue - commercial traffic goes through a different process).
If you're in an EU registered car then make for the EU-passports, passport control section. Thence to Ukrainian passport control and then Ukrainian customs and then you're through. It used to be a nightmare, with apocalyptic tales of 5-6+ hours at the border (and as of July 2007, this is still a possibility), but the Ukrainians have made great advances in efficiency and it takes about an hour to make the crossing (September 2005 - still true in Feb 2006). Don't expect the border police to treat you in a friendly or even respectful manner, in fact, expect anything ranging from neutral to extremely dickish behavior.
Once through, just follow the main road towards Lviv on the E40 - this is the route right across Ukraine to Kyiv (and thence on to the East). Stick to this - the main towns on the way are Lviv, Rivne, Zhytomyr.
Watch out about 15-20 km inside Ukraine, I think the village is called Mostiska, as they have gone crazy about traffic calming measures here (speed bumps or sleeping policemen). They're like icebergs across the road, and very badly marked. And there are about four or five sets of them through the village. Other than that, take care on the road, which although the main East/West highway, and the main road route into the EU, still remains in a miserable condition (surface-wise). And you'll soon realise why Ukraine has such poor statistics in relation to driver and pedestrian fatalities and injuries. Drive defensively is the optimum advice re the roads, other road users and the walking, riding public.
You can walk across the 200 meter long bridge from Sighetul Marmatiei, Romania. But once you get to Slatina, Ukraine, it may be difficult to engage onward travel unless you came in a car. Bicycling is also a possibility in summer.
The quickest way to get around big cities is the so-called marshrutka - the minibuses which follow routes much like the regular buses do. You can generally flag them down or ask them to stop at places other than the specified bus-stops. The fare is paid as soon as you get in, and is fixed no matter how far you want to go. This is the same for the conventional buses, tram, trolley-buses and the Metro. You tell the driver that you want to get off when you're approaching the destination. Each city has an inter-city bus station from which you can go pretty much anywhere in Ukraine. Fares and quality of service vary widely.
Trains in Ukraine are really cheap. For example: Simferopol to Lviv for 8 Euros ("platzkart") on overnight train with sleeping-car.
The problem is that trains are quite popular in Ukraine and you have to buy the tickets well in advance. There are always 3 kinds of ticket counters: 1 group for trains that go on the same day, 1 for trains that go within 7 days and 1 for trains that go within 45 days. Buying tickets for the same day is usually not such a big problem as long as they are still available. But tickets for trains that leave not on the same day you usually have to stand in line for a very long time. Sometimes up to 4 hours!
You might want to get the more expensive tickets ("SV" and "kupe"). Being a foreigner and traveling in "platzkart" (compartments without doors) is safe and enjoyable. People sometimes stroll along the corridor looking for mischief, but just be aware as you would anywhere. If you keep your valuable objects somewhere inside your sleeping bag or close to your body you should not experience any problems with theft.
A first class cabin is a very good deal. The cabin has (staple)beds for two persons and you have privacy and safety because you can lock the door. The price from Lviv to Odesa was in 2004 round 25 Euro p.p!
It is possible to get around in Ukraine by car, but one must be aware of certain particulars:
The signs are all in Ukrainian (Cyrillic alphabet). Only a few signs (every 200km or so) are written in the Latin alphabet, and indicate main cities. It is recommended you have a good road map (those available are mainly in Ukrainian, but Latin alphabet maps are starting to appear), because place names aren't well posted on road signs.
You are strongly advised to respect the signs, especially speed limits. Be aware that unlike in Western countries, where limits are repeated several times, in Ukraine, an obligation or a prohibition is often indicated on a single sign, which you must not miss. And even these signs are often far off the road, covered by branches, etc. The police are always there to remind you.
Speed in cities is limited to 60km/h (40mph).
Speed in "nationals" is limited to 90km/h (55mph).
Speed on highways is limited to 110-120km/h (75mph).
Be aware that corruption is widespread among Ukrainian police, and tourists are an especially profitable target. When you are stopped for speeding or other offenses, officers might aggressively try and extract ridiculous sums of money from you (€100 and up), offering "reductions" if you pay on the spot (the proposed alternative being some unpleasant and more expensive way, all made up). The highest actual legal fine in Ukraine, however, is the equivalent of about $3. So if you're asked anything beyond that, demand a written ticket for you to pay later instead. Don't let them intimidate you. It's very useful to have an embassy phone number handy for these cases. If you mention that, they'll let you off the hook quicker than you know it. At any rate, write down the officers' badge numbers, rank, plate number of the police car, and notify the nearest embassy/consulate in detail, to help fight these corrupt practices.
Fuel is no longer a problem in Ukraine, especially for those who remember travelling to Ukraine during the early 1990s, when gasoline was considered precious. Today, there are plenty service stations. There are varying types of fuel, such as diesel, unleaded 95 octane, and (more rarely) unleaded 98 octane; one finds also 80 and 76 octane. Note that if you choose to fill-up in a rural filling station, you will need to pay first, and in cash. Even there many stations do accept credit cards, however.
The state of the roads is a huge subject:
The main roads are okay for all cars, as long as you don't go too fast. Numerous running repairs have created a patchwork road surface, and it will seriously test your suspension - even on the major dual carriageways.
Secondary roads are passable, but beware: certain zones can be full of potholes and you must treat them with extra care, or avoid them entirely. Roads between villages are often little more than dirt tracks and not metalled. Treat as inaccessible unless you're driving a 4x4.
Road works have been ongoing, but the quality of the roads is shy of Western Europe (with the exception of Kyiv)...
Be careful when driving in towns or villages. Sometimes pets prefer to walk on the road, and they are a hazard for all drivers. You're likely to see plenty of animals hit by cars, so be prepared...
Bicycle traffic is not very common, but you will sometimes see an aged man transporting a sack of grass on an old road-bike or a cycling enthusiast in bright clothes riding a semi-professional racing bike. Those are even more likely to be met on well-maintained roads where the pavement is smooth. Also cyclists will use both lanes of the road in both directions equally ie you are just as likely to meet a cyclist coming towards you, riding on the verge, as you will travelling in your direction. And almost invariably without lights or bright clothing so be extra careful when driving at night and dawn/dusk.
Also, don't be surprised to see plenty of horse drawn carts - even on the dual carriageways.
If you need a good GPS navigation solution for Ukraine, look here : http://www.gpsukraine.com , or just google for GPS Ukraine. It's not as much detailed as in the western countries, but it's the best available, quite precise and easy to use. Also www.rhinocarhire.com offers cheap car hire for the Ukraine.
There are two major bus companies that run buses from all of the major cities to and from Kyiv, they are Avtolux, and Gunsel. Prices run about 55-70 Hryvnia (11-13 USD) for service to Dnipropetrovsk and Kharkiv.
The major advantage that the bus service has, is that it leaves from Boryspil and stops in Kyiv, so if your destination is not Kyiv, its easier then taking a bus to the Main Passenger Railway Station in Kyiv.
They are standard coach buses, serve cold drinks and tea, show movies, and make a stop about every 3-4 hours.
They run every few hours.
Avtolux has a VIP bus to and from Odessa that has nice leather seats and is more less non-stop. It departs once a day, takes four hours or so both to and from Kyiv, and costs about 130-150 Hryvnia.
Aerosvit offers cheap flights and is a time-saving alternative to the slow and inefficient train service. For example the flight Odesa-Kyiv (One-Way) is ~18 USD (including Tax & all fees) and takes 1.5 hours. However, be sure to book early for the cheapest fares. Be prepared to find yourself seated in a rather historic airplane (AN-24 for example).
The flights can be booked online via www.aerosvit.ua, comfortably in English.
WizzAir, as of early 2009, offers flights between Lviv, Kyiv and Simferopol at competitive prices.
Hitchhiking in Ukraine is average. It's possible to go by hitchhiking - usually cargo trucks will take you for free - but it's still worth to try stop personal cars as well. Good people are everywhere; you may be picked up in a Lada or a Lexus. (More usually the former.)
The usual hitchhiking gesture (also used to hail taxis and marshrutkas) is to face oncoming traffic and point at the road with a straight right arm held away from the body. Sometimes, for visibility, you may add a downward waving motion of the open right hand.
Ukrainian is the official language. Near the neighbouring countries, Russian, Romanian, Polish, and Hungarian are spoken. Russian is a close relative of Ukrainian and is most often the language of choice in the south and east of Ukraine. It is safe to assume that virtually any Ukrainian will understand Russian, however, beware that in the western parts people may be reluctant to help you if you speak Russian, though as a foreigner Ukrainians will be more forgiving than to Russian visitors. On the other hand, in eastern parts and especially Crimea, Russian is the most commonly spoken language. In central and eastern part of the country you may also find people using these two languages simultaneously (so called surzhyk—mix of languages). It is also common for people to talk to others in their native language, irrespective of the interlocutor’s one, so a visitor speaking Russian may be responded to in Ukrainian and vice-versa. Kyiv, the capital, speaks both languages, but Russian is more commonly used. So, Ukrainian is more frequently met in Central and Western Ukraine, Russian - in Eastern and Southern parts of the country.
Young people are more likely to speak a little English, as it is the most widely taught foreign language in school.
If you are traveling to Ukraine, learn either basic Ukrainian or basic Russian before hand (i.e. know your phrase book well) and/or have some means of access to a bi-lingual speaker - their mobile/cell/handy number (everyone has a mobile phone) can be a godsend. Virtually nobody in any official position (Train Stations, Police, Bus drivers, Information Desks, etc.) will be able to speak any language other than Ukrainian or Russian. If you already know another Slavic language you will be able to communicate sufficiently.
It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the Cyrillic alphabet; this will save you a lot of time and difficulty.
To shop you will most certainly need local currency (hryvnia). US Dollar, Euro, British Pound and other currency exchange points are very common in cities, and the exchange rate is usually very fair (except in Kyiv, where the exchange rate is higher compared to other cities). However, sometimes and in some banks there are problems with cash deposits (or that is the official version), so do not exchange too many dollars unless you're traveling to the more provincial areas. When doing person-to-person payments you might be able to pay in US dollars or Euros, as those are widely recognized, and you might in fact get better rates than in official exchange points. However, be careful, because it's not legal to make payments with foreign currency.
If you want to buy any kind of artwork (paintings, easter eggs) in Kyiv, the place to visit is Andriivsky Uzviz (Андріївський узвіз in Ukrainian, Андреевский спуск in Russian).
BE AWARE THAT IT IS ILLEGAL TO TAKE OUT OF THE COUNTRY ANY ITEMS OF HISTORICAL IMPORTANCE including badges, medals, icons, historical paintings, etc... This law is strictly enforced at all exit points of the country and one risks heavy fines and/or imprisonment.
- As of March 2009
1 UAH = 0.125 USD (1 USD = 7.99 UAH)
1 UAH = 0.092 EUR (1 EUR = 10.86 UAH)
1 UAH= 0.086 (1 GBP = 11.58 UAH)
Ukrainian cuisine is quite tasty, but just as other cuisines in the region uses a lot of fat ingredients, especially in the festive dishes. Traditional local food includes "salo" (salted lard) and soups like "borshch" (борщ in Ukr.) made of red beets or "solianka" (солянка in Ukr.) which is a delicious vegetable soup. The first, salo, is perhaps something you might not make yourself try - however is a delicious side dish, as for the soups being a must-have dish.
If you are outside a big city or in doubt about food, exercise caution and common sense about where you buy food. Try to buy groceries only in supermarkets or large grocery stores, always check the expiration date, and never buy meat or dairy products on the street (you can buy them on the market, but not near the market).
When choosing a restaurant at which to eat, you will find one that you like based on the menu posted by the entrance of every establishment. This may sound strange, but in most towns in Ukraine there are some very good restaurants, sometimes even luxurious ones, and these restaurants do serve properly made food. If you like traveling to more remote parts of the country and are in doubt about what to eat, remember that vegetables are always a safe choice.
Along the way you may find nice places to eat not by following the rare signs, but just by tracing the sky for the smoke of traditional wood fires. These are often places where they serve traditional Ukrainian food, including very tasty shashlyky (шашлики in Ukr.). Restauranteurs are very friendly, and more often than not you will be one of their first foreign visitors. Next to the "borshch" you might also ask for "varenyky" (вареники in Ukr. - dumplings filled with meat or vegetables) or "deruny" (деруни - potato pancakes). You have to try varenyky with potatoes and cottage cheese in a sautéed onion and sourcream sauce - it's a fantastic dish. These are just starters, but ones that might fill you up quickly.
The Ukrainian specialty is horilka (the local name for vodka) with pepper. Other kinds of vodka are also quite popular - linden (tilia), honey, birch, wheat. Prices range from $1 to $10 (1-7€)/0,5 l. Souvenir bottles are available for higher prices (some bottles reach upwards of $50 (35€)/0.5 l). There is a great choice of wine, both domestic and imported. The domestic wines mostly originate in the south, in the Crimean region - known for wine making dating back to early Greek settlement over 2,000 years ago, although wines from the Carpathian region of Uzhorod are also quite tasty. Prices for local wine range between $2 to $50 (2-35€) per bottle of 0,75 l (avoid the cheapest wines, $1 or less, as these are sometimes bottled as house wines but sold as local vintages), however, one can find genuine Italian, French, Australian wines from $50 per bottle and more in big supermarkets and most restaurants. The price of imported wines dropped significantly over the last number of years and trends indicate further reductions in price.
There are a lot of beverages (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic). Ukrainian beer is of very good quality. Beer from barrels or kegs (more common in cafes) is often watered down. Canned beer is not very common in Ukraine and sometimes not of the same quality as the same variety sold in bottles. The best beers are brewed by Lvivske, Obolon and PPB (Persha Privatna Brovarnia). Imported beers are also widely available but more expensive – for instance, a bottle of Austrian Edelweiss can cost upwards of $2USD while average price of Ukrainian beer is 50¢. All told, Ukrainian beers are very tasty and gaining popularity elsewhere in Europe.
Of non-alcoholic beverages one should try kvas – a typically slavic drink made of rye or wheat. During the summer one can easily buy it from designated street vendors. It’s better to buy it in bottles due of unknown cleanness of the barrel. Dairy drinks, of all sorts, are also available, although mostly in supermarkets. Bottles of mineral water are available everywhere, as well as lemonades, beer, and strong drinks. When seeking to buy bottled water make sure to ask for "voda bez hazu" (water without gas) otherwise you are likely to be handed the carbonated drink.
WARNING. Never buy vodka or cognac (the local name for brandy) outside supermarkets or liquor stores, for there are a lot of fakes. Every year a few die as a result of methyl poisoning - a compound used to make fake vodkas.
Hotels might be a traumatic experience for a westerner anywhere outside Kyiv. The cheaper the hotel, the larger the chance of some quite unfortunate surprises, especially for those not familiar with the Soviet-style level of service which still remains in many places.
There are many mid- range (E 25-45) options outside Kyiv. For instance in IvanoFrankivsk (near the Carpathians), the going rate is approximately 35 euro for a suite (bedroom and sitting room)in Hotel Nadia. Many hotels have the choice between renovated rooms/suites ("western style") and not renovated rooms (easteuropean style). The last choice is more than 50% cheaper and gives you a spacious old fashioned 2 room suite, basic but clean!
There are only three 5-star hotels: in Kyiv called the Premier Palace and Opera, and another one in Doneck called Donbass Palace, but they are very expensive. Two western hotels recently opened, Radisson SAS and Hyatt. They are not on the cheap side either and are usually full, so make reservations in advance.
Another option is to rent an apartment on the Internet before you leave your country. There's many to choose from in Kyiv and Odessa. Tip: Read Kyiv in your pocket on Internet!
What many people from ex-soviet countries do is to go to the railway station, where they try to find people who are willing to rent a room. Prices are usually much cheaper and if there are enough people offering the room you can make great deals (in Yalta people are almost fighting to be able to talk to you).
These deals are usually not legal and they will take you to a corner before negotiating. Make sure they have warm water, and don't be afraid to say it's not what you expected when seeing the room.
There are a lot of foreign students in Ukrainian universities. Bribery is huge, you can obtain a diploma here having attended just twice (the first and last days of study) if you have money. That's a hyperbole, of course, but the real life is not much different. Of course if one wants to obtain good knowledge they will, but motivation in such a situation is low.
Many people will tell you that you can take a copy of your visa with you. Sadly, some people experience trouble over this. It's always better to carry your passport with you. A photocopy can be refused as proof of identity. A phone call to a local that can help you will often prove very effective to help you.
Get the details of your local embassy and/or consulates in advance and note their emergency numbers.
If you can it is useful to have a bi-lingual acquaintance who can be called in an emergency or if you encounter difficulties. If staying for any length of time it is advisable to get a local SIM card for your mobile for emergencies, and for cheaper local calls/texts. These are widely available, cheap and easy to 'top-up'
As in any other country, using common sense when traveling in Ukraine will minimize any chances of being victim of petty crime and theft. Try not to publicize the fact that you're a foreigner or flaunt your wealth - by clothing or otherwise. With the exception of Kyiv, Odessa and other large cities, foreign tourists are still quite rare. As in any country the possibility of petty theft exists. In Kyiv make sure to guard your bags and person because pickpocketing is very common. Guides have told tourists to watch certain people because they heard them say, "They look like Americans, let's follow them for a while and see what we can get."
Opposite, if being arrested by police or other law enforcement - do your best to inform them that you're a foreign visitor. Not many police officials speak foreign languages freely, however many people are eager to assist in translation.
Don't drink alcohol in a company of unknown people (which may be suggested more freely than in the West). You don't know how much are they going to drink (and convince you to drink with them), and what conflicts may arise after that. Also, many Ukrainians, known for a penchant for a good drink, can sometimes consume such an amount of vodka that would be considered lethal for the average beer-accustomed Westerner.
Your Financial Security
Ukraine is a predominantly cash economy. The network of bank offices and ATMs (Bankomats) has grown quickly and are now readily available in all but the smallest villages. Do check the security of the machine - it would be wise to use one that is obviously at a bank, rather than in another establishment. You can use your credit cards (mostly MasterCard & Visa) or cash travel checks easily. Credit and debit cards are accepted by the supermarkets. But avoid using your credit/debit cards for payments at establishments in smaller towns as retailers are not trained and controlled enough to ensure your card privacy. Instead, it is widely acceptable to pay cash. Locals (especially businesspeople) sometimes carry, and pay in cash amounts considered unusually large in other countries. Don't suspect criminal activity in every such case.
Also, it is strongly recommended to avoid individual (street) currency exchangers as there are thieves among such exchangers, that may instead give you old, Soviet-era currency or also coupons that have been withdrawn from circulation since the mid 1990's. Use special exchange booths (widely available) and banks; also be wary of exchange rate tricks like 5.059/5.62 buy/sell instead of 5.59/5.62.
The Euro and US dollar are generally accepted as alternative forms of currency, particularly in tourist areas. They are also the most widely accepted convertible currency at the exchange booths, with British pounds in third place.
The area around the U.S. embassy in Keiv is known for the provocateur groups targeting black people, and there have been reports of such attacks on Andriyivski, the main tourist street that runs from Mykhailivska down into Podil.
Anecdotal experience is that there is some underlying racism in Ukraine, indeed much of the former Soviet Union. Migrants from Middle and Central Asia and gypsies receive much closer and frequent attention from the militsiya (police). Always have your passport (or a photocopy of the main pages if you're concerned about losing it or if you're staying in a hotel that is holding it) as foreigners are treated more favorably than others. This is not to say that it is unsafe or threatening, but it is better to be forewarned of the realities.
While there's a lot of swimming and diving attractions throughout Ukraine, local water rescue is tremendously underfunded. It is unlikely that you would be noticed while drowning, especially on the river. Use only officially established beaches.
Ukraine has some of the worst statistics for road related deaths and injuries in the world - so act accordingly. Take care when crossing the roads; walk and drive defensively - be aware that traffic overtakes on both the inside and outside. Sometimes you even need to take care when using the sidewalks, as in rush-hours the black, slab-sided Audi/BMW/Mercedes sometimes opt to avoid the traffic by using the wide sidewalks; pedestrians or not. Owners/drivers of expensive cars have been known, at times, to be more careless of the safety of pedestrians. Drivers rarely grant priority to pedestrians crossing a road unless there are pedestrian lights. Always watch out for your safety.
Also be warned that pavements suffer in the same way as the roads in terms of collapsing infrastructure. Take care when walking, especially in the dark and away from the downtown areas of the main cities (a torch/flashlight is a useful possession) as the streets are poorly lit, as are most of the entries/stairwells to buildings, and the street and sidewalk surfaces are often dangerously pot-holed. Don't step on man-hole covers, as these can 'tip' dropping your leg into the hole with all the potential injuries!
There is radiation contamination in the northeast from the accident at Chornobyl nuclear power plant in 1986. However the effect is negligible unless you permanently live in Chornobyl area itself. There are even tours to the town of Prypyat' which is the closest to the station. The town is famous for the haunting scenery of blocks of apartment buildings abandoned in 1986, now standing out amid the vegetation which spawned from years of neglect.
Do not drink tap water. Major reason of this is that water is disinfected using chlorine, so taste is horrible. Whenever possible buy bottled water, which is freely available and generally OK.
Ukraine has the highest adult HIV prevalence rate in Europe at nearly 1.5% or 1 in 66 adults. Be Safe.
Respect the fact that Ukraine is an independent nation. You may find that people are sensitive about being grouped as "Russians".
Ukraine is by no means a conservative country with respect to clothing, behaviour, overcharging you if they can get by with it, getting what you paid for (quality). It is very different from our western perspective in some of these cases.
This page was last edited at 17:32, on 24 March 2009 by Jim Nicholson. Based on work by David Willey, Peter Fitzgerald and Ian Sergeant, Wikitravel user(s) Iowamutt, Hotelein.com, Vidimian and Superrod29, Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel and others.