Couple of days ago I came back from a really good trip to Ukraine and Moldova. When I was telling everyone about my plans they were really suspicious and concerned about my safety, just like it was with my recent trip to Iran. After all media keep telling us how Ukraine is a war zone these days and we all remember the tragic story of Malaysian Airlines flight shot down. So is it safe to travel to Ukraine?
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The situation in Ukraine
Yes, there’s a war in Ukraine. Eastern part of the country (around cities of Donetsk and Lugansk) is a big “don’t go there” zone. If your common sense doesn’t give you enough signs check the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there’ll be a warning issued for sure.
But Ukraine is a huge country, one of the biggest in Europe and if you plan to go to Kiev or west there’s nothing to be worried about (actually from Kiev it’s closer to Poland than to Donetsk). Life goes normally there, people stroll down the streets and walk around in parks, cafes are full, a disturbingly big number of huge fancy weddings take place around and you don’t notice that the country you’re in has so much troubles. Sometimes you only stumble across the exhibition of pictures from Maidan – tragic events in winter 2014 in Kiev or are ask people to donate money for the army.
Is it safe to travel to Ukraine?
In short: YES!
I always thought that Ukraine is one of the safest countries I’ve been to. I actually have a very similar opinion about most of the former USSR states: Belarus, Georgia or Armenia. I don’t have a good explanation for that but I’d guess it’s due to the bigger presence of police and the fact that these countries aren’t that spoiled yet, people are simply normal, good and less busy there (ok, I know it’s just simplifying but that’s how I see it).
While in the Western world people spend their free time in shopping centers or behind the computer screens in Eastern Europe it’s more about being outdoors and hanging out with friends/family.
Anyway, I’ve been to Ukraine over 10 times now and I don’t recall even one situation when I thought something is wrong and when I felt in danger. And while it was perfectly safe before the revolution now it seemed to be even safer and the presence of the police of army was even bigger but they didn’t disturb anyone.
Of course, like always and everywhere, use your common sense in every situation, if you feel unsafe don’t push yourself to keep going. I, for example, don’t feel very comfortable walking in the evening in new places but never had this problem in Ukraine (I’m talking about 8-10pm walks, not in the middle of the night).
No one really bothered me on the streets but when I asked for directions or the right bus there were at least few people around willing to help me, sometimes I didn’t even have to ask and they were already helping. Ukraine really is a normal country, only maybe with bigger problems that anywhere else. But tourists won’t feel the difference from other places in the region.
Every now and then I read news about some protests or attacks in Ukrainian cities that are supposed to be safe. Well, of course these kind of things will be happening as the situation in the country is very tense, the local people are tired and just want to live normally. It’s best for tourists to avoid any kind of events that might result in some troubles.
But places that used to be a scene of tragic events a year ago now just sit quietly in the corner of everyday life and no one really seem to pay attention to them. When I went by the Trade Union House in Odessa – the building where in May 2014 48 people died in the fire during the clashes – I couldn’t see anything distinctive, it was just a building in the park, closed and surrounded by the fence painted in blue and yellow, colors of the Ukrainian flag. Only when I looked closer I’ve noticed rosaries and burnt out candles hidden around small trees. The city has its dark and tragic days of revolution behind and now it is perfectly safe to visit Odessa.
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How is travelling around Ukraine?
During my recent trip I took both trains and buses, both day and night ones. And it was all fine. Of course on the big and busy train stations, like the one in Odessa, you need to be extra cautious and keep your belongings close but still I haven’t seen any suspicious people. Same goes for the bus stations where it’s more tricky as you also need to find your bus (but there’ll be always someone willing to help you).
From Odessa to Lviv I took a night train and traveled in the cheapest class, my ticket for 12.5 hours journey cost around 160uah/7€/8$/28zł so almost nothing (and that also included bed linen and tea).
I don’t know how familiar you’re with platskart – it’s the type of the carriage when you don’t have compartments but it’s kind of like open space with beds. You’d think it’s unsafe to travel in this kind of train but I took it before in other former USSR countries too and never had problems. Actually it feels much safer as there’re so many people around it’s almost impossible to steal something, besides every carriage has its own guard.
My train was fully booked but already at 8pm everyone was in bed and at 9.30pm all the lights were turned off and people went to sleep. My only concern there was how safe sleeping on the upper bed it as there were no protection and I was paranoid I will fall down. But after all I had a really good sleep there!
As for driving: roads aren’t in the best conditions, the same goes for buses. But it was all fine. The drivers aren’t crazy there (like in Georgia or the Balkans) and even if I’m really afraid of cars and buses all the bus journeys I took there were just random ones, not worth remembering. Only the comfort could have been better in some marshrutkas but on the other hand that makes travelling in Eastern Europe more adventurous.
Accommodation in Ukraine
In Chernivtsi and Odessa I stayed in the hostels and I had a feeling I’m the only tourist (and especially foreign tourist) there yet both places were full. It looked like people are living there, that’s also what I figured from some kitchen conversations. But then I read somewhere that in bigger cities in Ukraine these days it’s cheaper to stay in the hostel dorm that to rent a room in the flat so many people who come to work live in those tourist-orientated places. Kind of unusual situation for people travelling but I didn’t have a problem with that.
I always stayed in single rooms and the highest price I paid was in Kamianets Podilskyi (that was a hotel though) – 300 uah/14$/12.5€/53zł and that was a really good room! In the hostels you can get a bed in the dorm for half of that price. I always book my accommodation through Booking.com.
Where to stay in Ukraine?
In Kiev I recommend you staying in the center, somewhere near Khreschatyk. You will be close to all the attractions and with a very good public transport connections just about everywhere! Click here to check out to best deals on accommodation in Kiev!
In Lviv there is no better place to stay than Hotel George. It’s the oldest hotel in Lviv, still having the charm of old days when most important people in the world stayed there. The location is perfect and it’s much more affordable than you think! Since my first visit I’m not staying anywhere else in Lviv! Click here to check out prices and more details about Hotel George!
In Odessa it depends what you’re interested in. If you’re after relaxing at the beach then part of the town called Arkadia would be the best for you but if you’re into sightseeing then the center – area between the train station and the harbour – is where you should stay! Click here to check out the best deals on accommodation in Odessa!
If you decide to go to Chernivtsi (highly recommended!!) stay in the center – you will be within walking distance to all the attractions! Click here to check the best deals on accommodation in Chernivtsi!
In Kamyanets-Podilskyi try to stay in the part close to the fortress, in kind of the peninsula surrounded by Smotrych river. The majority of the attractions are there! Click here to check out the best deals on accommodation in Kamyanets-Podilskyi!
Finally, if you go in Ivano-Frankivsk book yourself at Atrium Hotel. It’s located directly at the Main Square, rooms are brand new and spacious, the breakfast is included and it is very affordable! I really liked it there! Click here to check out the prices and details!
Solo female travel in Ukraine
This recent trip was my first one as a solo female traveler in Ukraine and to be honest it wasn’t any different from my previous visits with friends there or from my solo travels to any other country. There’s nothing special you should consider there, just follow the general rules for women traveling on their own, use your common sense and you will be fine!
Should I go to Ukraine?
If you keep asking yourself this question as well as is it safe to travel to Ukraine my only answer is YES! Just stick to the central and western part of the country and you will be fine and you will have a great time! Ukraine is really beautiful and has so much to offer: underrated Kiev (here you can find my top 5 places to see there), Odessa – now the main resort, Kamianets Podilskyi with its spectacular fortress, Chernivtsi and its multicultural past or Lviv – one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and one of my absolute favorites (and it’s beautiful all year long, just look!).
Also, I don’t think you will find any other country in Europe that is such a bargain these days! Due to the war Ukraine deals with a big crisis and the currency – hrivna – is really weak. But that means travelers can get a really good value for almost no money (I never paid more than 50 uah / 2.5$ / 2€ / 10zł for a big lunch with drinks, you could see prices of transport and accommodation above). Not only you will spend next to nothing for your holidays, you will also bring some money to Ukraine, and that’s always a big help for the country and its people.
Just one last word: this post shows my impressions and experience from the visit in Ukraine in mid August 2015. The situation can always change and before going I’d recommend checking with your Ministry of Foreign Affairs if there’re any warnings issued. With the current political situation there things can change fast. But if you decide to go I can guarantee you won’t regret it! Ukraine is really amazing! I’m already trying to plan my next trip there, I want to return to Kiev really badly and explore the cafe culture of Lviv better!
EDIT: I visited Ukraine numerous times since writing this post, it has become my most frequently visited country. I’ve been to Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Kiev, Dnipro, Kharkiv and Odessa. Each trip is amazing, I always felt super safe and everything is even cheaper! Still, check with your Ministry of Foreign Affairs but I believe the situation will be only improving there!
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