Is It Safe to Travel to Ukraine: 2020 Edition
Updated November 2019:
The most common question we get is:
- How do I meet Ukrainian girls?
The second most common is:
- Is it safe to travel to Ukraine?
So here it is, finally. An article fully dedicated to safety in Ukraine in 2018. Spoiler alert: It is more complicated than it seems.
We also wrote about whether is it safe to travel to Ukraine a few years ago (2016). See that article here.
Is It Safe to Travel to Ukraine Is A Bad Question
That is what everyone types into Google. But to be completely honest, there is not a single answer. It depends on two major factors:
- Where you are going
- If you have a bit of common sense
You would be surprised how uncommon common sense is these days. So while Ukraine as a whole is a safe and beautiful country, there are certain places that are not as traveller-friendly, and certain attitudes that will, without doubt, get you in trouble. Let’s look at the main ones.
The Political Situation In Ukraine
Here is a bit of backgound on Ukraine to help you understand:
- The country was a part of the Soviet Union until 1991.
- Ukraine is Europe’s second largest country and it has a lot of fertile agricultural plains.
- That being said, Stalin managed to starve between 7 million and 10 million people to death during the Holodomor, Famine-Genocide in 1932-33. Some claim it was planned to destroy Ukraine’s independence movement, while others consider it the result of ridiculously bad planning. Whatever the cause, almost a century later the Holodomor (the name is supposed to reflect how the man-made famine was close to the Holocaust) is still remembered.
Fast forward a couple of decades, and you have Ukraine under the Soviet Union. They industrialised a large part of the East and plenty of ethnic Russians moved to live there. In Crimea, an autonomous republic of the Black Sea, 60% of the population are ethnic Russians. The rest of the country is quite homogenous, with very little ethnic or religious minorities.
The Events Of 2013 And 2014
You might remember that because you saw it in the news.
As love-hate as the relationship between Ukraine and Russia may be, their government used to be heavily influenced by the Russians. In 2013, they scuttled a planned association agreement with the European Union.
The people of Ukraine were not happy.
After three months of protests, the eventual fall of the President Viktor Yanukovych (and seizing of his enormous house) came in November of 2013.
Then, in February of 2014 Russia seized Crimea once again. Crimea had been an autonomous republic since 1954 and the annexartion triggered an international conflict.
But not everybody was so unhappy about the Russians coming in. Remember how the east of Ukraine was very Russian-friendly? Well, there came a wave of pro-Russian protests in the east and south of the country. In the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of the Ukraine, together commonly called the “Donbass”, these protestors eventually turned into organised separatist forces.
The current war is between the separatists and the Ukrainian government. Russia’s involvement is quite unclear. For instance, when their “humanitarian convoy” crossed the border into Ukraine in August of 2014, there were those who asked why a humanitarian convoy would consist of tanks…
The Head of the Security Service of Ukraine, Valentyn Nalyvaichenko called the events a “direct invasion by Russia of Ukraine”.
Either way, a ceasefire was signed in 2014. Although this is an ongoing conflict, in theory the combat should be forced. That being said, in 2017 an average of one Ukrainian soldier was killed every three days in combat.
Needless to say, the Donbass region in the East is still a war zone. The latest ceasefire is of 23 December 2017 and both sides say it collapsed almost immediately.
Is it safe to travel to Ukraine and go to Donbass? No. We wouldn’t recommend it.
Is Ukraine Safe: War Zones And Such
It should be a no-brainer that regions where armed combat is still active are not your dream tourist destination.
Crimea and the Donbass region should be completely off-limits to you. You will not meet your Ukrainian girl there—but you might meet a bunch of Russians with guns. Since the war zone is limited to the east, though, the rest of Ukraine remains just as safe as it was before the conflict broke out.
That being said, the protests of 2013 and 2014 have proven that even peaceful demonstrations can turn bloody. Virtually all foreign embassies tell their citizens to be aware of protests and to avoid them at all costs. You would not want to be caught in a conflict and the situation in the country is still somewhat volatile.
To quote the US embassy:
Exercise increased caution in Ukraine due to crime and civil unrest. Some areas have increased risk. Read the entire Travel Advisory.
Do not travel to:
Crimea due to foreign occupation and abuses by occupation authorities.
The eastern parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, especially the non-government controlled areas, due to armed conflict.
Crime targeting foreigners and property is common. Demonstrations, which have turned violent at times, regularly occur throughout Ukraine, including in Kyiv. Politically targeted assassinations and bombings have also occurred.
Terrorist Threat In Ukraine
Although global terrorism seems to be completely unpredictable, there are certain steps you can take to protect yourself. And yes, I know this is not something you want to be thinking about before you board your plane to Kyiv.
Ukrainian officials have reported some disrupted attacks, including ones in the capital. These have been aimed at official targets and not foreign visitors, however they could still affect Westerners. What is more, there is a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against Western interests and Western nationals due to the conflict in the Middle East.
This should not stop you from travelling, but it should make you extra vigilant.
Be mindful of your surroundings, especially when you are in areas frequented by tourists. Report any suspicious activity to the authorities. In airports, try to spend less time in the public area and go through check-in and security as soon as you arrive. Finally, always know where the emergency exits are and have an escape route in mind.
Is Ukraine Safe: Criminal Activity
If you have already traveled to Eastern Europe, you know that petty crime is common, yet completely preventable if you follow the right steps. Pickpockets have been on the increase in Kyiv, and they tend to target foreigners. Beware of anyone striking up a conversation with you in public and never carry more than $50-100 worth of cash at a time.
I usually prefer to pay with card, and most places accept that. Don’t lose sight of your credit card, though, and make sure you know the company’s number by heart. This way if it gets stolen you will be able to block it immediately. Many modern credit cards from western banks also have apps where you can simply toggle the card “off” or “on”.
Ukraine At Night
You would probably want to go on a couple of nights out while in Ukraine. There are a bunch of safety rules here (and yes, all of them are common sense).
Firstly, make sure you only use official cabs, as unregistered taxis tend to overcharge tourists (by a lot!). The name and telephone number of the company should be clearly displayed on the car. It’s best to ask the hotel or restaurant to get a taxi for you and recommend a safe, reputable company to use on the way back.
Uber is also becoming more available.
In the club, don’t leave your drink unattended—though I’d also say this is the case ANYWHERE in the world. You might think roofies just happen to girls but you are wrong. Stay safe while you are having fun!
Is Ukraine Safe: Health Issues
It should be obvious that a medical insurance is a must when you travel. Check with your healthcare provider if you need any shots or if there is any other reason not to travel and do it 4 to 6 weeks prior to your trip. This way, if you do need vaccination you will have enough time to schedule the appointment and get the shots.
State hospitals tend to be quite poor in Ukraine, while private clinics have better standards. If you are in a medical emergency, you will likely be rushed into a state hospital. The two major issues are communication, and how the place looks. Contrary to popular foreign belief, Ukrainian medical doctors are very well trained. The hospitals, however, are usually pretty run down.
If you are in an accident, try to stay calm and trust the doctors. You can arrange your transfer to a private clinic once you have received first aid. If you happen to need an ambulance, the number is 103. While in some cases an ambulance is a must, try not to call for anything and everything. For instance, although it hurts like hell, a broken leg is not a medical emergency. Ambulances may be quite slow to arrive, so in this case it might be better to hail a cab.
So, Is It Safe to Travel to Ukraine? Conclusion…
So there is war, a terrorist threat, and plenty of petty crime in Ukraine. Nice…
I know I scared you a bit. Truth be told, 9 out of 10 times, your stay in Ukraine will be safer than the country you come from. But it’s worth being extra cautious even if you are just doing it for the extra peace of mind.