Although friends and family may think you’re crazy to keep travel plans to Ukraine, you’ll find the blanket of depressing news from that country doesn’t quite cover its capital, Kiev. Any trip to Ukraine is as complex as the political situation on the ground but understanding the conflict’s landscape reveals a number of places left to safely explore.
Expect A Cool Welcome
When I first landed in Kiev two months ago, the passport control officer asked me behind a cold eastern European expression, “Kiev, are you sure?” Twice. Admittedly her reluctance to accept my sanity made me apprehensive, a feeling amplified by some trouble I had with the first thing an unprepared traveler should prepare for. Dodging sidewalk caverns while getting lost in a city that’s not the prettiest (it’s no Porto) made it initially hard to tell whether the wear was a reflection of revolution or symptomatic of a country Transparency International rates as more corrupt than Pakistan.
Though you’ll quickly realize as Maserati’s race past Lada’s along Saksaganskogo Street that life hasn’t visibly changed much despite the national turmoil.
A visit to Kiev shouldn’t be on any nervous traveler’s itinerary but those of you beyond jitters considering a trip must visit Maidan Nezalezhnosti (“Independence Square”). The one square kilometer city center is where Ukraine’s revolutionary demonstrations began and is one of the most powerful, overwhelming places I have ever seen. All most locals can talk about is the chaos that surrounds them so with war on their minds, many recommend you as a foreigner not to visit. I mentioned in my recent live chat from Kiev, Maidan has essentially turned into a somber park for the average traveler passing through with your biggest concern being the indigenous pickpocket.
The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) considers the overall crime rate in Kiev to be similar to that of other large eastern European cities. Common threats are petty theft, ATM skimming, and that criminal meme where you pick up a “dropped” wallet, then are accused of stealing the money inside.
As you can see in my photos and video from Kiev’s Maidan, the intimidating entrances enclose most of the visual evidence that a revolution began here.
Missing The Usual Travel Trouble Benefits
When any place transitions from relative stability to disorder (or simply seems to in media reports) prices for travelers usually drop as suffering business look to maintain or recover tourism revenue. In countries like Egypt, a rare travel window of opportunity opened up 4 months after Hosni Mubarek was ousted, when the Pyramids of Giza were devoid of anyone else except lonely touts in 2011.
Unfortunately for your wallet, prices are relatively unaffected in Ukraine. It’s not a bargain but it was never too expensive to begin with. Budget accommodations at the bizarre Why Not? Hostel run about $5 for a dorm and $30 for a private room. You can get a better idea of overall costs for things like food at Expatistan and obviously, the sky is the limit.
What About The Rest Of The Country?
There is a major east-west split in terms of stability and security in Ukraine. Having spent several weeks in eastern cities like Donetsk near the Russian border right before separatists held votes for autonomy, I can tell you a trip there now wouldn’t be without a healthy dose of risk. For the rest of the country, I asked friend and expert Oksana Arkhypchuk from Active Ukraine about the situation elsewhere:
“In the west it is completely safe to travel and get around everywhere. During ‘high-pressure’ holidays like May 9th – Victory Day, seen as a tragic moment in the history of Western Ukraine, we had extra block posts, police check along the road right outside of Lviv. But that’s only true for major stressful events like controversial holidays or the upcoming Presidential elections. Other than that, you can feel free to go anywhere, within Lviv and outside to the countryside. You won’t feel any politics at all.“
There are a few critical criteria to evaluate before canceling any travel plans due to safety concerns but ultimately, it’s a personal decision you should be comfortable with either way, based on the latest reliable information.