Ukraine is the country in Eastern Europe. Most of its land mass is agricultural. Ukraine has the largest geographical area in Europe (excluding the European portion of Russia). A majority of the agricultural land is invested in grain production. Consequently, the Ukraine is known as the breadbasket of the world.
In spite of a growing economy, the population of Ukraine is steadily decreasing. Increased mortality rates and reduced birth rates are causing the population reduction. In other words, there is a negative population growth in this country.
Places to See in Ukraine
Ukraine’s fantastic capital, Kyiv, is the principal center of the economy. The area around this city is known as central Ukraine. Kyiv is the most beautiful in spring when chestnuts are in blossom. However, even if you come ar any other time, you will always find something to do in the city.
Saint Michael Golden-Dome Monastery is a magnificent example of architecture. Saint Sofia is an 11th-century cathedral, which has survived all wars and city devastations for over a thousand years, preserves a collection of ancient murals and mosaics, as well as a beautiful garden. The Cathedral of St. Vladimir is the main cathedral of the rival pro-Ukrainian church, as well as the home for the beautiful 19th-century religious artwork.
You can also walk along the banks of the Dnipro River, take a boat ride or take advantage of a vivid nightlife for every taste. Pechersk Lavra, an ancient cave monastery, is a must-visit too. The fascinating Golden Gate is the last remnant of the 10th-century walls of the city. The celebrations of Kyiv Day are held every last weekend of May. The events include numerous performances by musicians and actors, multiple exhibitions and fireworks display.
Situated just 1,5 hours away from Kyiv, there is another ancient city, a home to the medieval Kyiv Rus architecture, as well as numerous forests and parks. Chernihiv truly floods in greenery and boasts 5 of the 30 Ukrainian cathedrals of the pre-Tatar-invasion period (before mid-13th century). When in Kyiv, don’t miss an opportunity to take a daily trip to this cozy quite green city, which was first mentioned in a written document 1100 years ago. By the way, just recently, CNN listed Chernihiv among Ukraine’s 11 must-visit places.
The Western part of Ukraine has a plethora of culture. You can find a taste of Austria, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania there. Lviv is a pearl of Western Ukraine. It is also often referred to as a cultural capital of Ukraine. It is like an open-air museum of fascinating architecture.
The Old Town of Lviv is one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites and centeres around the beautiful Rynok Square. The plenty of gothic, classical and baroque architecture, cozy cafes and coffee shops, narrow ancient streets and unique venues will make a trip to Lviv truly unforgettable. And for a dazing evening, visit famous Lviv Opera House, see an opera or a ballet performance, and enjoy the fascinating, richly decorated insides of the theatre.
The Crimean peninsula, which is globally considered to be Ukraine’s territory occupied by Russian military forces, is now banned for tourists. However, when the situation changes, you should come and visit the area, popular for both its fabulous mountains and the warm sea. Crimea is also known for extraordinary wine and wine tasting opportunities.
Still, if you want to have a look at the gorgeous views of the Black Sea, vivid coastlines and beaches, you can move to the south of the country. Odesa offers you a Black Sea coastline. It is not a well-known region, but it is as incredible as the Crimea. Also, the Potemkin Stairs in Odesa is a fascinating example of an optical illusion.
Chernivtsi city is called “the Ukrainian Paris”. The city is most popular for its university ensemble, built by the same architect, who worked on the famous Opera House of Vienne. However, the city itself is worth visiting. See all of its squares and sculptures, get lost in the narrow streets have a nice cup of coffee in one of the numerous coffee shops! In any case, the city will leave an unforgettable impression on you.
Situated just 2 hours away from Chernivtsi, the city is a tourist mecca for travelers from all over Ukraine, as well as Europe. Its marvelous medieval fortress was described as “a stone flower on the rock” by famous Ukrainian poetess Lesya Ukrainka. Also, for adventure lovers, the city offers the country’s highest bridge for bungee jumping – approximately 75 meters high over the river.
The Carpathian mountains are a real paradise for winter sports enthusiasts. Numerous ski resorts will suit every taste, from luxury lovers to budget travelers. The leading resorts are Bukovel, Slavske, and Drahobrat. Bukovel is probably the closest to international standards. On the other hand, Drahobrat has the most reliable snow cover.
Various tour operators now organize trips to Chernobyl zone, with all the necessary permissions and precautions for both Ukrainian citizens and foreigners. Keep in mind, that it will be much more expensive for you as a foreigner. The prices start from around 150 USD for a daily tour. On the other hand, you shouldn’t worry about radiological safety. Numerous studies and tests nowadays prove that one trip to Chernobyl will give you no more radiological danger, than an X-ray exam.
When to Go
The climate of the country can get humid as you move south. Rainfall is not evenly distributed. The western area is wetter than the eastern part of the country. Winters are generally cold and snowy, and summers are warm. Summer is probably the best time to visit Ukraine, although sometimes it can get too hot.
July and August are top holiday season in the seaside and can be crowded with tourists. Spring and autumn are also nice time to visit, being rather mild, although rather short. The best time to go trekking in the Carpathians is May to October. On the other hand, November till March is the best season for mountain skiing.
What to Wear
Lightweight clothes are necessary during summer season. However, be careful, if you are planning to stay a long time. Weather can be rather changeable in Ukraine, so even in July you might need a sweatshirt and a raincoat. During winter, layers are your way to go. Mountain wear may prove helpful not only when skiing in the Carpathians, but wandering around the cities during frosty weather as well.
The official language of the country is Ukrainian. In the Eastern and Northern part of Ukraine, as well as in Kyiv, Russian is widely spoken. However, every year, more and more people choose Ukrainian over Russian, though still understanding the last. Young people speak English quite well nowadays, so ask them if you need something. Of course, people involved in tourist industry speak English freely.
One Ukrainian Hryvnia (UAH) is approximately equal 0.04 USD. The currency exchange is available at banks and exchange offices in cities and towns. Changing money on the black market is illegal. Although Ukraine still has a mostly cash economy, credit cards are widely acceptable in cities and towns. There are ATMs available in most banks and throughout the country.
Local SIM Card & Free WiFi
European GSM phones usually work in Ukraine. Mobile coverage is great in cities and towns. However, in rural areas, the connection can be unreliable. If you want a local SIM card, you can get one without any trouble. Pay-as-you-go SIM cards are available for sale in mobile company offices, some shopping malls, supermarkets, petrol stations, and street retailers. Later, you can get recharge cards, use the Internet, or multiple terminals to recharge your phone.
The main mobile companies are Life, Kyivstar, and Vodafone. Fares are similar and relatively low. However, inside one mobile company, packages can vary greatly. Some give a lot of data for 3G Internet connection. Others are great for calling abroad. You should figure out, what you need, before registering for one.
Keep in mind, all calls to the same company numbers are free. Most people in Ukraine, particularly youngsters, prefer Life mobile company. However, if you are planning to call people in Ukraine a lot, first figure out, what numbers they have. It would also be a great idea to check the quality of mobile coverage in some remote rural or mountain area if you are planning to go there. The situation when some area has the coverage of only one particular mobile provider is quite common.
As for the Internet, most hotels, hostels, and other accommodations offer free Wi-Fi connection to their guests. So do most restaurants and cafes. There are also places, called “open space”, “co-working”, or just a hub, where you can use free Wi-Fi, have tea or coffee and pay for the time you are there. Some even provide their clients with computers. Prices vary from 15 to 50 UAH per hour.
Internet cafes are available in most cities and towns, although they are not as common as they used to be in the past. Connection speed is usually rather fast. But keep in mind, Internet cafes usually serve as game centers too and can be rather noisy. Also, all major mobile companies now provide fast 3G mobile Internet connection in cities and big towns.
Cultural traditions in Ukraine date back to the ancient Kyiv Rus state and later centuries, including the Soviet period, which influenced the society much. The predominant religion in Ukraine is Orthodox Christianity. Religious minorities include Roman and Greek Catholics, Protestants and Muslims (mainly, Crimean Tatars).
People in Ukraine are generally hospitable, warm and friendly. It is common for them to invite strangers into their homes. Formal clothing is rare, although people usually dress nice to theatres and other cultural events. You should remove your shoes, when entering someone’s home. Most probably, you will be offered a pair of sleepers. When entering an orthodox church, women are required to cover their heads. Men, on the opposite, should remove their hats.
During business meetings, hand shaking is common. However, it is customary for a woman to offer her hand as a greeting first.
Traditional Ukrainian cuisine is various and delicious. The main basics are potatoes, cereals and sour cream. Vegetables are seasonal: they are great and fresh in summers, while during cold season bottled fruit, pickled and preserved vegetables are predominant. Local specialties are borshch, vareniki, deruny, and Chicken Kyiv.
In big cities, pizza and sushi places are multiple. Sometimes, you can find Asian, Turkish, Indian, French and Italian cuisines in large urban areas. A 10% tip is appreciated in restaurants, cafes and bars. However, if you are not satisfied with the service, don’t leave any tips.
Local drinks also vary. Crimean wines are delicious. Wines from other regions of the country, as well as Georgian, French, Italian and Chilian wines are widely available in shops and supermarkets. Sparkly wines, called champagne, are common during banquets and other events. Home-made wines, made of different fruit and berries, are tasty and very common.
Also, during private banquets, particularly in rural areas, home-made vodka, called samohonka, is a common drink. Be careful, as it is rather strong, and you should be sure about the person, who made it. However, vodka bought in a shop is not proved to be 100% safe as well, so beware.
Different kinds of beer are available in supermarkets. However, beer made by private breweries and served in particular restaurants is generally better. Keep in mind that beer in Ukraine may be much stronger, than in the USA or other countries, so be careful with it.
Drinking age starts at 18. You might be asked to show your identity in a supermarket, when buying alcohol, and sometimes, although rarely, in a bar. Non-alcohol drinks include juice, home-made juice, named kompot or uzvar, tea and coffee. Herbal tea is quite popular, as the country is rich in different plants, trees and herbs, which can be used to make tea. However, the combination of herbs varies, depending on the region.
The national airline is Ukraine International Airlines, which operates operates within Ukraine, as well as to many destinations abroad. There are also small local air companies, which you can use to fly around the country, including Motor Sich, which has become more popular in the recent years. However, flying around can be rather expensive, so taking other means of transportation will be more reasonable.
The rail system in Ukraine is various and well-operated. Trains are quite reliable. Tickets can be booked online with www.uz.gov.ua website or a mobile app. This is also where you can check the timetable.
Most long-distance overnight trains provide sleeping compartments of different class. If you are not strictly limited in budget, pick second or first class, because third class can be rather uncomfortable and unusual for you at first. It provides beds in common compartments and bathrooms are not very clean. However, if you are not afraid of new experiences, you can try.
Fast intercity trains with seats are also available. They take less time to get from one point to another. But they are twice or even three times more expensive, than the third class in a sleeping car. They have also been reported about breaking down quite often, while on the way.
Although Ukraine has a wide network of rivers and lakes, getting around by water is not popular. Sea and river cruises are more common as entertainment than a way of getting around.
Getting around by road is fast in Ukraine, but can be difficult outside of the cities. Petrol stations and repair garages are common on highways, but not as much on remote rural roads. If you are going off road, take a supply of gas with you and be sure that your car is in good technical condition.
The road quality varies, but generally it is not the best. Although main highways are regularly maintained and repaired, smaller roads are plentiful with potholes and bumps. Some village roads can even be inaccessible after winter and during the rainy weather. Also, driving standards vary and many drivers tend to be careless and risky, so beware.
Renting vs Bus, Train, Taxi
Taxis are multiple in cities and towns, while not so much in rural areas. Hiring a driver for long-distance journeys is also possible. Taxis can be official and private. If you call a cab by phone, you will find out the price immediately. However, when picking up a cab on the street, you should always negotiate the fare.
Hiring a car is not difficult in Kyiv. You just need to be over 21 years old and hold a valid international driving license to do that. In other cities, car rental service may not be as readily accessible, although still available.
Right or Left Driving
Cars drive on the right side of the road here.
Ukraine Trip Cost
Your expenses will be reasonable if you plan properly. Due to the low exchange rate of the national currency, traveling to Ukraine with US Dollars, Euros, Pounds Sterling and other internationally acknowledged currencies has become rather cheap.
Booking a bed in a hostel dormitory can cost as little as US$4. A double room in a hotel starts from US$10 in small towns and US$15 in cities. Renting a flat for a family or a group of travelers will be cheaper and more convenient. It will cost around US$10 – US$20 and will be able to host 2-6 people.
Lunch in a budget national cuisine restaurant will cost as little as US$2 – US$3. A drink in a bar will cost you around US$1-US$2. A glass of beer is US$1, so is the glass of wine. However, spending an evening in a top-end night club will cost a minimum of US$20 – US$40.
Subway ride in Kyiv is US$0,2, as well as other means of transportation in other cities and towns. Long-distance bus ticket will cost you US$4 – US$15, depending on the distance. Third-class rail ticket price in a sleeping car starts from US$4 – US$6. Second class is twice as expensive, and first class is three times more pricy. Second-class seat in an intercity train will cost you around US$10.
Excursions around the country with an English-speaking guide can be rather pricy. For example, a day trip to Chernobyl will cost approximately US$150.
Electricity & Plug Type
As for electricity, Ukraine uses types C and F sockets, as most countries in Europe. You need to bring a travel adapter to fit the proper socket type. Check out the above-linked page to see the photos and other useful information. The standard voltage is 220 V. Many of your devices may need a step-up transformer to match the electrical voltage.
How to Reach
The main airline is Ukraine International Airlines and it operates direct flights from many European cities, as well as from the USA. It takes around 10 hours to get to Kyiv from New York. Also, British Airways operate flights from the UK. It takes 3, 5 hours to fly to Ukraine from London. Prices tend to be higher in July and August, keep that in mind.
With Ukrainian Railway you can move all around the country. By rail, you can also get to Ukraine. Trains connect different Ukrainian cities, mainly Kyiv, with different cities in Russia, Belarus, and Poland, as well as with the capitals of Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania.
Getting to Ukraine by car is not that difficult. Border points are various on the border line. If you need to pay a road tax, you can do it, when crossing the border.
Ukrferry company operates ferry connections with Poti and Batumi in Georgia, Varna in Bulgaria, Haydarpasa in Turkey, and Constantza in Romania. Main Ukrainian ports are, of course, in the south, on the Black Sea coast. They are Ilychevsk, Izmail, and Odessa. Before Crimea occupation, ferries came to the peninsula as well.
Where to Stay
Most hotels in Ukraine are the heritage from Soviet past. However, big cities now have multiple new generation facilities as well. Prices vary, although the choice is worth in small cities and towns. In cities such as Kyiv, Odesa, and Lviv, even hotels from famous international chains are present.
Campsites are sometimes available outside of cities, although not frequent. However, wild camping is possible widely in Ukraine. Some travel agencies and sports shops provide camping gear for rent. You can camp in any forest, mountain range or rural area. Just remember the basic safety rules and you’ll be fine.
The amount of hostels has risen greatly in Ukraine, before the European football championship of 2012. Most of them still operate in Kyiv, Lviv, Odesa, Chernivtsi and many other cities. Most of them are cheap, clean and fun to stay in. They offer mixed or same-sex dormitories, kitchen and bathroom facilities, TV sets, common rooms with various opportunities for entertainment.
Rural Farmstay Accommodations
This is a rising sector in accommodation industry in Ukraine. Eco tourism is gaining more and more popularity and so the number of eco accommodations grows. It’s a great way to enjoy the natural wonders of Ukraine, try some delicious national cuisine, observe traditional customs and traditions and gain some unique experience. If you can’t find accommodation online, you can possibly rent a room in a house just by asking people in the streets of village or small town. This practice is particularly popular in the Carpathian region. However, keep in mind, people in this kind of accommodation may speak no or very little English.
If you can’t find accommodation online, you can possibly rent a room in a house just by asking people in the streets of the village or small town. This practice is particularly popular in the Carpathian region. However, keep in mind, people in this kind of accommodation may speak no or very little English.
A great way to save money, especially on a long-term stay, is renting an apartment. It is particularly wise if you travel with a family or a group of friends. Apartment rental can be arranged online or by phone. There are numerous places online to do that, both local advertising websites, and international services, such as Airbnb.
How Safe is Ukraine
It is not safe to travel to the Eastern part of the country at this time, because of military conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Russia occupied the Crimean peninsula in 2014, and it is not recommended to go there either. That aside, it is a beautiful country with a proud history and magnificent architecture.
Most tourists experience no trouble in Ukraine. Serious crime against foreigners is rare, but you should remember about basic safety rules. Don’t flash your valuables in public, don’t walk along at night, don’t use the service of private taxis, don’t accept lifts from strangers, watch your possessions and your pockets in crowded places, etc. If an accident occurs, call police by dialing 102. However, police is not very reliable in Ukraine so far.
If you get around by car, you should also be careful. Don’t leave documents, money and other possessions inside a vehicle. It is advised to not leave any bag inside, visible from the outside, to prevent the breaking in. If you need a taxi, use only official ones, which can be recognized in the street by particular caps or call one by phone. You can also ask hotel receptionist to do that.
In the night clubs, beware accepting drinks from strangers, because they can be spiked. Also, don’t leave your food and drinks unattended.
Food and Water Safety
Generally, food and water in Ukraine are safe. However, water used for drinking should be sterilized or filtered. Bottled water is cheap and available in any shop or supermarket. Meat, fish and vegetables should be well-cooked, and fruit peeled. You should only accept freshwater fish, mushrooms and berries from people you fully trust, however.
Before coming to Ukraine, you will need to have vaccinations against the following disease: tetanus, hepatitis A, diphtheria, and sometimes hepatitis B, tuberculosis, typhoid, and rabies.
Ticks are common in forests and countryside of Ukraine during spring and summer time. You should take precautions if you are planning to enjoy nature: wear high boots, long pants and sleeves, hats. Examine your body and hair carefully after coming back. If you find a tick or a sign of it, contact doctor immediately. You might need to take a course of antibiotics, as these creatures are known for spreading different dangerous disease, including Encephalitis and Lyme disease.
Medical service is free of charge, in theory. However, as in most countries of the former Soviet Union, medicine in Ukraine is not in the best condition. It is highly advised to have medical insurance and, if possible, use service of private clinics and hospitals, which are plentiful in big cities. Emergencies are usually short in even the most common medicine. That’s why, it is also recommended to take a first-aid kit and a supply of medicine you may need.
July 31, 2016 12:00 am 2 Comments