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Ukraine

Welcome to Ukraine

Explore Our Best Destinations Ukraine

Big, diverse and largely undiscovered, Ukraine is one of Europe’s last genuine travel frontiers, a nation rich in colorful tradition, warm-heated people and off-the-map experiences. Ukraine is big. In fact it’s Europe’s biggest country (not counting Russia, which isn’t entirely in Europe) and packs a lot of diversity into its borders. You can be clambering around the Carpathians in search of Hutsul festivities, sipping Eastern Europe’s best coffee in sophisticated Lviv and partying on the beach in Odesa all in a few days.

Despite their often glum reticence and initial distrust of strangers, travelers to the country quickly find out that Ukrainians are, when given the chance, one of Europe’s most open and hospitable nations. Break down that reserve and you’ll soon be slurping borshch in someone’s Soviet-era kitchen, listening to a fellow train passenger’s life story or being taken on an impromptu tour of a town’s sights by the guy you asked for directions.

A diverse landscape obviously throws up a whole bunch of outdoorsy activities – from mountain biking and hill walking in the Carpathians to bird spotting in the Danube Delta, from cycling along the Dnipro in Kyiv to water sports in the Black Sea. But if the idea of burning calories on hill and wave has you fleeing for the sofa, rest assured that most Ukrainians have never tried any of the above, but love nothing more than wandering their country’s vast forests, foraging for berries and mushrooms or picnicking by a meandering river.

As we have now all sadly realised, history didn’t end around 1989, and that’s doubly true in Ukraine. Having only appeared on the map in 1991, the country has managed two revolutions and a Russian invasion already, and fighting in the Donbas is still ongoing.

History ancient and recent is all around you wherever you go in this vast land, whether it be among the Gothic churches of Lviv, the Stalinist facades of Kyiv, the remnants of the once-animated Jewish culture of west Ukraine or the Soviet high-rises just about anywhere.

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Capital of Ukraine: Kiev
Official language: As one of the largest crossroads in Europe, Ukraine has a diverse array of spoken languages. Of course, Ukraine’s official language is Ukrainian, which is spoken by roughly 67 percent of the population. Ukrainian is a Slavic language and it uses a Cyrillic alphabet when committed to written form. Foreigners may find the language incredibly difficult to understand or learn, but for those of Belarusian, Polish, Russian or Slovakian decent, certain similarities may be found since some vocabulary is shared with these neighboring nations
The currency: The currency of Ukraine is the Hryvnia (UAH)
Climate: The climate of Ukraine is temperate continental. The only exception is the southern coast of Crimea, where the climate is subtropical of the Mediterranean type. Warm low-snow winters and rainy summers are specific to the mild climate of the Zakarpatye region.

Average winter temperatures in Ukraine vary from -8 to -12oC. The temperature in the southern regions approaches 0oC (32 oF).

The average summer temperature ranges from 18 to 25oC (64.4 oF to 77oF). However, it can exceed 35 oC (95 oF) during the day.

Frequent weather fronts bring weather changes. Note, however, that clear, sunny weather is typical for Ukraine (up to 230 sunny days per year).

Precipitation falls unevenly across Ukraine. The most rainfall is recorded in the Crimean mountains and the Ukrainian Carpathian mountains.

The southern coast of Crimea is the warmest place in Ukraine. The summer temperature here reaches 39oC, while the average temperature in January is 4oC. Relative air humidity is 65-80%.
Population: 44,854,065 million (2016 census)
President: Petro Poroshenko
Prime Minister: Volodymyr Groysman
Calling code: The international calling code is + 380

LOCATION, SIZE, AND EXTENT

Ukraine, the second largest country in Europe, is located in eastern Europe, bordering the Black Sea, between Poland and Russia. Comparatively, Ukraine is slightly smaller than the state of Texas with a total area of 603,700 sq km (233,090 sq mi). Ukraine shares boundaries with Belarus on the N , Russia on the E , the Black Sea on the S , Romania, Moldova, Hungary, and Slovakia on the W , and Poland on the NW . Ukraine’s location is one of strategic importance at the crossroads between Europe and Asia. Its land boundary totals 4,663 km (2,897 mi) and its coastline is 2,782 (1,729 mi). Ukraine’s capital city, Kiev, is located in the north central part of the country.

Weather & climate

Best time to visit

Ukraine has a temperate continental climate with cold, snowy winters and warm summers. Summer is generally the best time to visit (between June and September), although it can occasionally be uncomfortably hot and many hotels do not have air conditioning. July and August are peak holiday months in Crimea and its resorts can become crowded with domestic and Russian tourists. Spring and autumn are both fairly short and both tend to be reasonably mild. The best season for trekking in the Carpathian Mountains is May and October when it is driest.

The northeast of Ukraine has the coldest winters and the Crimean peninsula has the warmest temperatures. The wettest part of Ukraine is the Carpathian Mountains region of the far west.

Required clothing

Lightweight clothes needed in summer, light- to mediumweight in the spring and autumn and heavyweight in the winter.

Geography

Ukraine is bordered by the Russian Federation to the north and east; Belarus to the north; Poland, the Slovak Republic and Hungary to the west; and Romania and Moldova to the southwest. It is a varied country with mountains in the west, plains in the centre and the Black Sea views to the south. The north of the state is dominated by forests. Its other two main features are wooded steppe with beech and oak forests and the treeless steppe. The River Dnieper divides Ukraine roughly in half, and flows into the Black Sea.

Required clothing

Those visiting over summer should pack a mixture of lightweight and mediumweight clothing – natural fibres such as cotton and linen are best. For the winter visitor, meanwhile – layers, layers, layers. Wools and cashmeres are great material for keeping in the warmth. Sturdy shoes are always a good idea, no matter what time of year.

Ukraine History, Language and Culture

History of Ukraine

Ukraine has long been associated with its much larger and more powerful neighbour Russia and first came under Russian control in the 1650s when the only real alternative was invasion by the Poles.

By the 19th century, although the western part of Ukraine was under Austro-Hungarian control, most of the country became part of the Russian Empire. After various attempts at independence around the period of the 1917 Russian Revolution, Ukraine became a republic within the USSR and its territory enlarged slightly around the time of World War 2. Crimea became part of Ukraine in 1954 and, due to its predominantly Russian population and strategic position on the Black Sea, is still the subject of on-going dispute between Ukraine and Russia especially since the 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia.

In 1986, in the final years of the Soviet era and during the Perestroika period of President Gorbachev, the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in northern Ukraine brought worldwide attention and was arguably a significant factor in accelerating the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Full independence came with the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, but Ukraine’s foreign relations are still dominated by the Russian Federation, a fact which displeases many of the country’s ethnic Ukrainian population, particularly those in the west of the country.

Rigged presidential elections in 2004 that declared Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych the victor sparked bitter public outcry and resulted in the so-called Orange Revolution and the subsequent 2005 election of pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko as President, with Yulia Tymoshenko as his Prime Minister. However, Yanukovych soon returned to power as Prime Minister in 2006 and in 2010 was elected President once more. Ousted by Parliament in 2014, he fled the country and according to some reports was granted Russian citizenship in a ‘secret decree’ by Vladimir Putin. In January 2015 he was placed on Interpol’s wanted list.

The current President Petro Poroshenki was elected by an outright majority in 2014 and in 2016 took Ukraine into the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area with the EU in an attempt to modernise and develop its economy, political structure and rule of law by gradually increasing its connection to the EU’s internal market.

Did you know?

• The National Police Force of Ukraine was formed on 3 July 2015 to replace the discredited and unpopular Militsiya.

• The University of Lviv, founded in 1661, is the oldest in Ukraine.

• Traditional Ukrainian Easter eggs, known as pysanky, are thought to at least 1000 years old and pre-date the Christian era.

Ukraine Culture

Religion

About 60% of Ukraine’s population claim to be either not religious or do not identify with a particular church. Around 15% are members of the Kyiv Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church while 11% belong to the Moscow Patriarchate. Another 5%, mostly in western Ukraine, adhere to the Uniate (Eastern-rite) or Ukrainian Greek Catholic tradition. Other minorities include the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church and various Protestant groups. There is also a Muslim minority (mainly consisting of Tatars in Crimea), which makes up 12% of the population.

Social Conventions

Ukrainian people are generally warm and friendly to visitors. It is not at all uncommon for Ukrainians to invite strangers into their own homes. Shoes should be removed on entering a home. Formal attire is rarely required, though people dress smartly for the theatre. Visitors should avoid ostentatious displays of wealth in public places. Men should not shake a woman’s hand unless it is offered to them. Women should cover their heads when entering a church or mosque.

Language in Ukraine

Ukrainian is the sole official state language. It is still widely spoken in western and central Ukraine, although Russian is spoken by virtually everyone. Russian is the main language spoken in Kiev, eastern Ukraine and Crimea.

Travel to Ukraine

Flying to Ukraine

The national carrier is Ukraine International Airlines (www.flyuia.com), whose routes include direct flights from the UK and the USA. British Airways (www.ba.com) also operates direct flights from the UK to Ukraine. Prices tend to be higher in July and August.

Flight times

To Kiev: from London – 3 hours 20 minutes: New York – 9 hours 50 minutes.

Travel by Rail

Ukraine’s railways link most towns and cities within the republic and further links extend from Kiev to all other CIS member states. The main stations are Kiev and Lviv, with regular daily services connecting these stations with Moscow. There are international trains to many other major European cities although trains north to the Baltic countries pass through Belarus and require a transit visa.

If travelling from the UK, the easiest route is via Eurostar to Brussels, ICE train to Cologne, overnight sleeper from Cologne to Warsaw, and overnight sleeper from Warsaw to Kiev. Fast ‘firmeny’ trains are the most rapid, modern and comfortable trains. Tickets are cheap by UK standards. If travelling by overnight train, do not leave the compartment unattended.

Timetables for trains to Ukraine, as well as approximate fares, are available in English at www.poezda.net. Inter Rail or Eurail passes are not valid in Ukraine.

Getting to Ukraine by boat

Main ports: Ilyichevsk, Izmail and Odessa.

Ukrferry (tel: +380 482 344 059; www.ukrferry.com) operates ferries from Ilyichevsk to Poti and Batumi, Georgia; from Ilyichevsk to Varna, Bulgaria; from Ilyichevsk to Haydarpasa, Turkey; and from Ilyichevsk to Constantza, Romania.

Ferries run by Gess Tur between Sevastopol and Istanbul, Turkey are currently suspended.

Where to stay in Ukraine

Hotels

Not long ago, most hotels in Ukraine were former Soviet institutions where little had changed for decades. These days, many of the older establishments have been either closed or refurbished to a decent standard offering a range of rooms of varying quality and price. In larger towns and cities, especially in Kiev, Odessa, Lviv and Yalta, there is also a new generation of hotels offering the same high standards found elsewhere in Europe.

Camping

Campsites are sometimes available on the outskirts of cities but the sites tend to be rather institutional affairs. In the Carpathian Mountains, and occasionally elsewhere, campsites often have wooden chalet-like huts available for rent. A few of the better-equipped camping and caravaning sites have swimming pools, but most are quite basic. Wild camping is possible in mountainous rural areas, although some areas are restricted. Some adventure travel agencies are able to rent out camping gear to visitors.

Other accommodation

Backpacker hostels: These are on the increase in Ukraine, especially in Kiev, Lviv, Odessa, Crimea and the west of the country, where many have appeared in recent years. Most of these are cheap and cheerful converted city apartments that offer centrally located dormitory accommodation, kitchen and shared facilities for a low price.

Rural farm stay accommodation: This is an evolving sector in some parts of the country, especially in the Carpathian Mountains of the west and in Crimea. They offer bed and breakfast accommodation in rural areas at low prices and are ideal for those interested in hiking or in observing traditional rural life. English is rarely spoken and so communications with host families may not always be straightforward. Nevertheless, they do offer a unique experience and the opportunity to observe traditional rural life at close quarters.

Self catering: A good way to save money on a long city stay, renting an apartment usually offers much better value for money than an extended budget hotel stay. Private companies advertise short-term apartment stays and at railway stations there are often women offering an apartment (kvartira) or room (komnata) to rent. Always insist on inspecting the property first before handing over money.

Youth hostels: There are a growing number of youth hostels in Kiev, Lviv, Odessa, Chernivitsi, Uzhgorod, and Balaclava (Sevastopol). They are all run by the Youth Hostel Association of Ukraine, and while not all are of Western standard for hostels, they offer excellent value. These can be pre-booked online at the Hostelling International website (www.hihostels.com.ua). Breakfast is usually available and all have self-catering facilities.

Homestay: A room in a private home is an excellent accommodation option in Ukraine as the people are friendly and hospitable, and prices tend to be far more reasonable. However, there is no organisation as such that arranges rooms in private homes. Instead, visitors can ask around, as the savings and greater comfort may be well worth the effort (as long as due caution is observed). Bus and train stations are usually the best places to find people advertising ‘kvartiry‘ (flats) or ‘komnati ‘(rooms).

Things to see & do in Ukraine

Attractions in Ukraine

Mystetskyi Arsenal

Once an abandoned military arsenal building in the middle of the city, Mystetskyi Arsenal has been transformed into Kiev’s premier arts and cultural space. At over 53,000 sq m, it is one of the largest museums in Europe, housing art laboratories, libraries and classrooms as well as exhibition space.

Kiev

Discover Kiev, both the ancient cradle of Russian civilization and the city from which the Orthodox faith spread throughout Eastern Europe. The extraordinary Golden Gate of Kiev is the last remnant of the 10th-century walls built to defend the city. Take part in the Kiev Days celebrations, held annually during the last weekend of May. Events include performances by actors and musicians, as well as fireworks displays.

Caves Monastery

Explore Kiev’s religious heritage at the Caves Monastery. This ancient institution is the focal point of the early Orthodox Church. You’ll need to carry candles to see the church relics, which are set in a maze of spooky catacombs.

St Sofia Cathedral

See the 11th-century St Sofia Cathedral, which contains splendid icons and frescoes and is situated in beautiful grounds. The Cathedral of St Vladimir is the headquarters of the rival pro-Ukrainian church.

Kamyanets-Podilsky

Marvel at the stunning Western Ukrainian town of Kamyanets-Podilsky, a medieval stunner set on a tall rock outcrop that has beguiled travellers for centuries and was famously described as ‘a stone flower on the rock’ by poet Lesya Ukrayinka.

Lviv

Discover gorgeous Lviv, an open-air museum of extraordinary architectural wealth. The Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is centered on the glorious Market Square, stuffed full of dazzling gothic, baroque, Renaissance and rococo buildings. For a dazzing evening, see a theatre or operatic performance at The Ivan Franko Opera House: an extravagantly built, richly decorated structure, classed among the best theatres in Europe.

Odessa

Relive the world’s most famous cinema scene in Odessa, the site of the famous Potemkin Stairway from Sergei Eisenstein’s film, Battleship Potemkin. Odessa is the country’s most cosmopolitan city, with a thriving Jewish population and boundless confidence.

Yalta

Make a trip south to Yalta, the ‘Pearl of the Crimea’. Nearby is the Livadia Palace, where Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin met in 1945 to reshape the map of Europe, and where the tsars spent their summer holidays before the Bolshevik Revolution.

Sevastopol

Explore the fascinating catacombs of Sevastopol (www.sevdig.sevastopol.ws), for over two centuries the secret naval headquarters on the Black Sea. Discover the extraordinary underground submarine base and be James Bond for the day.

Wine tasting

The region’s vineyards produce good-quality wine which can be tasted locally quite cheaply. The Wine Tasting Hall in Yalta is as good a place as any.

Carpathian Mountains

Ski or snowboard in the Carpathian Mountains in the west. The leading resorts are Bukovel, Slavsko, Drahobrat and Tysovets. Bukovel is the only resort of international standard, although Drahobrat has the most reliable snow.

Chernobyl

Take a macabre guided tour to Chernobyl, scene of the world’s worst ever nuclear disaster, just a day trip from Kiev. It’s safe to visit for short periods and doubtless one of the more unique Ukrainian experiences.

River swimming

Join the locals who swim in summer in the Dnieper River in Kiev and climb onto its ice in winter to fish. Even better, come here for Orthodox Epiphany and be splashed with icy water during the celebrations.

Getting Around Ukraine

Air:

The national carrier is Ukraine International Airlines (www.flyuia.com), whose routes include direct flights from the UK and the USA. British Airways (www.ba.com) also operates direct flights from the UK to Ukraine. Prices tend to be higher in July and August.

Road

Getting around by road can be difficult outside the main cities. Roads are often potholed and driving standards can be poor. Outside urban areas, Ukrainian roads can be badly lit and in poor condition. Border points are at Chop, Mostiska and Uzhgorod. A road tax is payable at the border. Petrol stations and repair garages are becoming more common, but it is recommended to carry spare parts.

Side of the road

Self-drive hire cars are available from both local and international car hire operators in major towns, especially Kiev. The minimum age for hiring a car is 21 years.

Taxis

Hiring a driver for a long-distance journey is a realistic and affordable option.

Coaches

The main coach companies in Ukraine are Avtolux (tel: +380 44 536 0055; autolux.ua) and Gunsel (tel: 0800 303 010, in Ukraine only; www.gunsel.com.ua), both of which have services throughout the country.

Regulations

The minimum driving age is 18. Seatbelts must be worn. Children under 12 cannot travel in the front seat. There is a zero tolerance policy on drink driving. Speed limits are 60kph (37mph) in built-up areas, 90kph (55mph) in outside areas and 130kph (80mph) on the motorways. Police may stop foreign cars and issue on-the-spot fines for minor infringements. Right-hand drive cars are prohibited.

Breakdown Service

European breakdown cover valid for Ukraine should be arranged at home in advance for drivers with their own cars. Car hire companies should have their own breakdown assistance but it is important to check.

Documentation

An International Driving Permit is required. Third-party insurance is compulsory.

Towns and cities

All towns and cities have a comprehensive network of buses and trolleybuses that tend to be slow, crowded but very cheap. These are supplemented by fleets of battered minibuses (marshrutky) that will stop or put down anywhere along fixed routes. Official taxis, found in cities and larger towns, are metered and can be identified by a yellow and black sign on the roof. Fares should be negotiated in advance for private taxis.

Kharkiv, Kiev and Dnipropetrovsk have clean, efficient and cheap metro systems. You can buy tickets at vending machines inside the stations or use reloadable smartcards. Hitchhiking is very common, although not recommended. Passengers are expected to pay for the ride and the price, usually about the same as the bus fare, should be agreed upon before boarding.

Rail

Trains are more reliable than air travel in winter, when aircraft are sometimes grounded. Timetables for trains in CIS states, including trains within Ukraine, are available in English online (www.poezda.net). Or you can check times through Ukrainian Railways (tel: +380 44 503 7005; www.uz.gov.ua). There are no domestic rail passes.

Water

Cruises between Kiev and Odessa are very popular and can be booked through various tour operators.