Traveler Tips, Ukraine
Traveling to Ukraine
Most international flights go to the Boryspil International Airport in Kiev, about 40km (25mi) south-east of the centre. The airport at Lviv, about 8km (5mi) west of its centre, has connections with Warsaw, Prague, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, London and Chicago. Odessa’s airport is about 12km (7mi) south-west of downtown, and has flights to and from Vienna and Moscow.
International trains enter Ukraine from seven countries at more than 10 locations. As long as you’ve got a visa, border crossings are pretty straightforward. Most major Ukrainian cities have daily services from Moscow; it’s 15 hours to Kiev and 28 hours to Lviv. You can go between Kiev and Berlin (26 hours) via Warsaw (16 hours) and Brest (10 hours). The station is on the western fringe of downtown Kiev. Lviv has rail connections with most major Eastern European and Russian cities; the station is 3km (2mi) west of the centre. A few buses a day head into Russia from Kharkiv; it takes 20 hours to reach Moscow from Kharkiv by bus.
You can travel by ship between Odessa or Yalta and various cities on the Black Sea and Mediterranean. The main year-round destinations are Haifa (Israel), Limassol (Cyprus), Piraeus (Greece) and Port Said (Egypt). The most frequent and reliable is the Odessa to Istanbul route. It’s also possible to sail down the Danube River between Odessa and a number of Eastern European river ports. There’s a car ferry running between Kerch, at the eastern tip of Crimea, and the Russian ports of Temryuk, Anapa and Novorossiysk.
All official land border crossings into Ukraine are unrestricted, though they’ll always go more smoothly if you have a visa ahead of time rather than relying on getting an emergency visa at the border, especially when entering from Russia.
Getting between major Ukrainian cities is best done by train. They’re frequent, cheap and often a convenient night’s journey. If you want to save a few grynia and don’t mind the extra time, buses serve almost every city and small town; they’re best for short trips outside main cities not served by trains.
With fuel hard to come by, spare parts rare, road conditions rugged and getting lost inevitable, driving in Ukraine is not recommended for the faint of heart. Cars can be rented at a few major hotels in Kiev and at a handful of agencies in the major cities. You’ll need an International Driving Permit; driving is on the right.
Public transportation can be found in almost every Ukrainian city and operates from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Taxi is comparatively cheap for Ukrainian/Russian speaking passengers. Probably everywhere situation with taxi is like this – if one speaks a foreign language price for a taxi goes up. There are numerous taxi services, orders are taken via phone. A taxi or a gypsy cab can be hired right on the street simply by putting out your hand. Services of gypsy cabs are less expensive but are not recommended from the safety point of view. However, if you wish to use a gypsy cab make sure there is nobody else inside but the driver and negotiate the price before you get in the car.
The best prospects for hiking, trekking and camping are in Crimea and the Carpathians in the south-west, along with a few scattered national parks. In south-west Crimea, easy hikes lead to the cave cities of Chuft-Kale and Manhup-Kale. Other Crimean trekking highlights include the 300m (985ft) Bolshoy Kanyon and the Dzhur-Dzhur and Uchansu waterfalls. With a good map you can walk anywhere in the Carpathians, where most of the territory is uninhabited and very scenic. A good place to start is the Carpathian State National Park, about 55km (35mi) south-west of Kolomyya and 500km (310mi) south-west of Kiev. Boat trips down the Dnipro from Kiev to Odessa are a fun and relaxing way to see the country.
Holidays and Events
January 1 – New Year
January 7 – Christmas
March 8 – Women’s Day
May 1, 2 – Labor Day
May 9 – Victory Day
June 23 – Whitsunday
June 28 – Constitution Day
August 24 – Independence Day
Ukrainians place gifts under fir trees and sing holiday songs for New Year’s Day.
The country celebrates Orthodox Christmas Day on 7 January.
Paskha (Easter) is the main festival of the Orthodox Church year, beginning with midnight services and continuing with parades around village churches throughout the country.
In Lviv, the National Virtuoso fills the month of May with musical and theatrical performances focussing on national themes.
The capital celebrates spring during Kiev Days, held the last weekend in May.
In August, Crimea fetes itself at Yalta’s Crimean Stars. On 28 August, religious pilgrims flock to the monastery in Pochayiv for the Feast of the Assumption. Cities and towns honour Independence Day on 24 August with performances and special events.
Currency: Ukraine gryvnia
The Hryvnia, also spelled sometimes as Hryvna or Grivna (UHR) was introduced September 2, 1996 by the National Bank of Ukraine. It replaces the old ‘Coupon’ (or ‘Karbovanets’) which was a temporary currency used in Ukraine during the period of separation from the rouble zone. Coupons were later exchanged at the fixed rate of 100,000 coupons to 1 Hryvnia and as of September 15, 1997 the Hryvnia remains the only legal tender in Ukraine.
There are bills for 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 Hryvnias. There are coins called ‘kopiyka’ for 1, 2 ,5 10, 25, and 50 kopiykas. (1 kopiyka is equal to 1/100 of Hryvnia.) Alo there are 1, 2 and 5 Hryvnia coins as well as some commemorative collectible coins.
You will be impressed with quantity and quality of restaurants here – national Ukrainian cuisine, European entrees, Italian Pizzerias or just fast food. Most restaurants have affordable prices even for a traveler of modest means.
Ukrainian cuisine restaurants become more and more popular with traditional Borsch – red and green, several kinds of Ukrainian Vareniki (dumplings) stuffed with potatoes, mushrooms, all kinds of meat or cheese, Golubtsy (cabbage rolls) – cabbage leaves stuffed with rice, meat, carrot and fried onion, usually served with sour-cream, jellied meat with horse-radish, suckling pig, stuffed fish and plenty of other Ukrainian specialties. Ukrainian cuisine is rich of natural components grown in the fertile Ukrainian soil. Tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet onion, lettuce, peaches, watermelons, apples, grapes – all vegetable and fruits produced in Ukraine taste marvelous.
Tap water in Kyiv is chemically safe but may contain elevated levels of lead from the pipes. This problem is remedied by letting the tap run for 10 seconds before collecting the water. There is also no detectable radiation in the water.
You should be aware that hot water is typically turned off for a month during the summer so the pipes can be cleaned.
Speaking about drinking water, the majority of food stores and supermarkets in Ukraine have a big choice of bottled water: carbonated and non-carbonated, mineral or simple potable water.
Throughout Ukraine alcohol is quite inexpensive and easily accessible.
Ukraine is a Zero Tolerance country, so please do not drink and drive. The penalties are severe and you are never sure what may happen in such incidents involving the Police.
It is advisable to purchase liquor in the better shops rather than small kiosks; this reduces the risk of weak, fake or dangerous products.
Adaptor with round plugs is necessary if your appliances are for US/Canada electric net.
Floors in buildings
In official buildings the entrance hall is considered the “Ground Floor” The next flight up takes you to the “First” floor. This is the standard floor numbering system used in all European countries. For private apartments the “First” floor is usually exactly that – the first floor.
An eight-hour day is considered a normal work day, Monday through Friday. A lunch break is taken between the hours of 1:00pm and 2:00pm. Most banks are open without breaks, Monday through Friday from 9:00am to 1:00pm. As for food stores, many of them work 24 hours 7 days a week, a few – from 8a.m. to 8p.m.
The time in Ukraine is set 2 hours ahead of GMT (3 hours ahead during day-light time). When it is 12:00 in Kiev it is 11:00 in Warsaw and Berlin, 10:00 in London and 5:00 in New York. Clocks go forward one hour on the last Sunday in March and one hour back on the last Sunday of October.
Weights & measures
Ukraine is famous for its high-quality textile, as well as food products and drinks: delicatessen, caviar, confectionery, chocolate, juices, beer, vodka, Crimea wines and plenty of others. Shops and markets trade via Hryvna only. However, some of shops accept Visa, MasterCard/EuroCard. You can identify such places by credit cards signs on the entrance door.
Buying a souvenir, a painting, a sculpture or other handcrafts it is a good idea to get a certificate identifying historical value (its absence) of the purchased good. This document might be useful when going through the customs upon departure from Ukraine.
Ukraine is a mostly Orthodox Country. You will enjoy Ukrainian churches; some of which were built almost a thousand years ago. Kiev-Pechersk Monastery is a complex where many religious people gather to celebrate religious holidays. Catholics will find St. Alexander’s Cathedral along Kostyolna Street next to Independence Square. The Kiev Central Synagogue on Shota Rustavely Street represents the Jewish community.
Protestant, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu communities are represented by their churches, worshipping centers, mosques and temples.