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.
Thanks Anil, for not sugar coating this risky location. There are a lot of very naive travelers out here that look up to experienced travelers, such as yourself. You’ve assumed responsibility, and I think you’ve done a good job relaying what’s actually going on.
The world is a huge playground for us travelers. For my part, at any given time, there are places to visit and others that should wait. Personally, as a Vietnam Vet, I’ve used up most of my “good luck”, and only travel to areas now where it is relatively safe. As in Cambodia; 25 years ago, it was not such a good idea to visit. 5 years ago, it was as safe as anywhere in Southeast Asia.
Again, risky travel is not for everyone. But, if you must go and anything happens, I would be the first to say “I told you so”. Like anything else, line up ten travelers and you’ll get ten different versions of what’s risky. You are a risk taker, but you also show that you’re responsible in how you report what you see. Thanks for that.
Thank you Steve, I appreciate your feedback. I know that my travel style, tastes, and experiences vary from most when it comes to risky destinations so I never want to give anyone the wrong impression about potentially dangerous places. As you say, “luck” can be just that, so always important to remember that just because nothing happened doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.
Nice post! I just got an email today from the company I visited Chernobyl with in 2012 – they were not only plugging their tours to Chernobyl but also new tours they are giving of Maidan and the barricades around the square. Found that quite surprising.
I have to ask why you say the Why Not Hostel is bizarre? I stayed there and found it totally fine. 🙂
It was your recommendation (thank you again, btw) that led me there and Why Not was one of the most interesting places I’ve ever stayed. I met several locals living there (using it as an apartment) and another friend who had stayed there a year ago. Apparently the previous Polish owner sold Why Not and the character has since changed. The best description I can give is it’s like Lord of the Flies, with some very young people “managing” the hostel. A great time but nothing about it was normal 🙂
Ha! I totally forgot I recommended it to you! Bummer Peter sold it – it had a very fun vibe when I was there. Wondering what he did with the Why Not Hostel in Tbilisi…
I really appreciate your sharing this info! Even tho it seems that tensions have died down recently, it’s still safe to know these things. I plan on doing Ukraine and Eastern Europe next year 🙂
Let me know if you make it out to Korea anytime soon!
I keep my travel plans updated here:
and on my Facebook page:
Korea’s not on the schedule yet, but eventually will be. Hope to meet you then.
I enjoyed your on-the-ground reporting. I find it interesting that what we see on the news is often quite different from what a person actually in a city is seeing. Clearly tensions are high but not in every corner of the city.
Thanks also for reminding us of the current scams (ATM, pickpockets, wallet drop etc) seems like those are more likely to bother the average visitor than getting caught up in the politics.
As a person living in Thailand where we have just had a coup and martial law I am glad to see you have this attitude. From watching western news outlets you would think I should leave right now. It really has been no problem and it is fascinating to watch.
In these types of situations, the specifics are very important but the news tends to, understandably, focus on the events that are out of the norm.
I visited Kiev in July, arriving a week after MH17 went down. My family were more scared than I but on arriving and exploring the city I was surprised how safe I felt even wandering the streets at night.
Kiev is beautiful and has now been cleaned up and restored to her former glory.
Get there if you can, I love the city. Slava Ukraine!
Thanks for sharing your recent experiences.
Hi, traveling to Ukraine Spring 2016 is it safe there now because of the war. Going Ivano-Frankivsk.
Yes it’s safe now but best to keep up with the news as your trip gets closer.
just wanted this question to anyone really, I am a afro- Caribbean person and are thinking about an holiday to Kiev – Ukraine, would it be ok for me to travel there? I won’t have any problem?
I don’t think you would.
what is the best place to stay near the all attractions, I am looking for 3-4-5 start hotel.
Sorry I didn’t stay at any so can’t be of help. Maybe someone else on the thread can.
Hi all, I may be moving to work to Dnipropetrovsk 360 km away from Donetsk and Luhansk dangerous places right now. I was wondering if that would be good thing to do or just not a good one at all.
I’m not sure, depends on the job?
That would be informatics.
I think it’s a decision you have to weigh for yourself ultimately – I’m not sure what the exact security situation is there specifically at the moment. If I hear anything though from those traveling through the area I’ll be sure to post it back here.