Country Guides

Ukraine Travel Tips

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Comedian wins landslide victory in Ukrainian presidential election.

I decided to visit Ukraine after reading that headline. It sounded like the sort of place I would enjoy. A couple of months after Volodymyr Zelensky took office, I touched down at Kyiv Boryspil Airport. And I did enjoy my Ukraine experience.

I travelled to Ukraine as a solo independent traveller so this Ukraine travel tips post is a guide for those who wish to travel there using the same method of travel.

TRAVEL ESSENTIALS

VISA: Citizens of a number of countries, including EU and US citizens, can enter Ukraine visa-free for a 90 day stay in a 180 day period so check with your nearest Ukrainian Embassy.

As Russia had annexed Crimea at the time of my visit, a special visa from the Ukrainian government would have been required to visit that region. As a foreign tourist I was ineligible for this visa. My government advised me to steer clear of annexed regions.

LANGUAGE: Ukrainian will obviously be spoken everywhere but, according to locals, Russian speakers live in Kyiv and Eastern Ukraine. I heard a lot of Russian spoken in Odesa. Don’t holiday in Ukraine independently if you cannot read the Cyrillic alphabet. Very little English is spoken and even less of it written.

CURRENCY: The Hryvnia or UAH for short. I was unable to purchase any hryvnia in Ireland prior to my holiday in Ukraine so picked up some at the ATM on arrival at Kyiv Boryspil. The exchange rate at the latter wasn’t great. City centre ATMs had better value.

COSTS: Ukraine is great value for money. Eating out is very budget-friendly and alcohol is possibly too cheap. The Kyiv metro was a bargain considering it’s one of the deepest in the world. Many sites are free or only have a small charge.

GEOGRAPHY: Ukraine is the second-largest country in Europe – European Russia is the largest. With the exception of the Carpathian Mountains in the west, Ukraine is relatively flat. Those flying into Ukraine during the Spring to Autumn seasons will see miles upon miles of crops growing. Ukraine is nicknamed the Breadbasket of Europe.

BEST TIME TO VISIT: I visited in September and experienced daily peak temperatures of approximately 20°C (68F). July and August are ideal times for swimming in the Black Sea although expect large crowds considering Crimea is off-limits for most tourists. Sub-zero temperatures can be experienced from November to January.

ELECTRICAL PLUGS: The standard continental European type which is the two round pin plug/socket of 220V-240V.

IS IT SAFE TO VISIT UKRAINE: During my visit, the war in the east between Ukraine and Russian separatists was ongoing and my government advised me to avoid this area. My holiday in Ukraine was done solo and I felt safe at all times, taking the usual precautions. I saw no anti-social behaviour but a few pickpockets around metro stations.

HISTORY: Many tribes and empires have fought over Ukraine and the country has seen millions die in wars and famine. The man-made famine during the 1932-’33 period is known as the Holodomor.

Ukraine declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. It has seen two revolutions since then: the Orange Revolution in 2004 and the Maidan Revolution in 2013.

Ukraine is famous for its engineering endeavours. The world’s largest cargo plane, the Antonov-225, is made in Ukraine. Helicopter engineer, Igor Sikorsky, was Ukrainian.

TRANSPORT

GETTING AROUND: In Kyiv, the metro was a godsend – cheap, efficient, safe and clean. Odesa city centre was very walkable. The Kyiv apartment I was staying in (St. Sophia Cathedral area) arranged for a taxi pick-up at Boryspil Airport. This cost of this taxi was the hryvnia equivalent of €20. I saw Uber, Yandex and Bolt taxi services in Kyiv but didn’t need to use them.

As the country is so big, one of the key Ukraine travel tips I can give is to consider internal flights if short on time. I flew one-way from Kyiv to Odesa with Ukrainian International Airlines using their smartphone app to book the flight. The flight time was approximately one hour.

Trains and buses serve the Kyiv to Odesa route but the journey takes pretty much a whole day given the large distance to cover. Rideshares are popular in Ukraine as well.

GETTING TO UKRAINE: Ukraine shares its border with Russia, Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova. The country is becoming increasingly connected with the rest of Europe thanks to the arrival of budget airlines Wizz Air and Ryanair. I flew with Ryanair from Dublin to Kyiv Boryspil Airport (KBP). Wizz Air uses Kyiv Zhuliany Airport (IEV).

DESTINATIONS

Capital city Kyiv was my first stop. While there, I did a Chernobyl Day Trip. My final stop in Ukraine was Odesa. My guides to Kyiv and Odesa will be published in the next few weeks.

UKRAINE TRAVEL TIPS: FURTHER ADVICE

Ukraine is a new kid on the low-cost airline block and, with the exception of the Chernobyl Tour, I met few tourists. I experienced no cultural barriers as a result of being female or solo.

Apart from the security personnel in the domestic flight area of Kyiv’s Boryspil Airport, I found people in Ukraine to be helpful and friendly. Like neighbouring Russia, courtesy is very much a thing in Ukraine.

Women will need to cover their heads when visiting Orthodox Churches. A light scarf will suffice.

So will I return to Ukraine? Absolutely. Lviv in the east is on my to-do list as is Crimea. But it remains to be seen whether I’ll be able to reach the latter, as it currently stands.

Is it Kyiv or Kiev? And is it Odessa or Odesa? Kiev and Odessa are the Russian versions and Kyiv and Odesa the Ukrainian versions so use the latter.  

And finally, the name of the country is Ukraine not The Ukraine!

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