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First Time Traveller to Ukraine? Read this.

Although most things in Ukraine work similarly as in other European countries, there are some differences and practicalities which you should be aware of. In fact, knowing them will help you to experience Ukraine more as locals do.

 

Transport

 

The bad…

The bad things in Ukraine start with the bad roads. To be more accurate, the quality of Ukrainian roads varies greatly. The roads of national importance are usually okay. But otherwise, you never know when a stretch of a new asphalt can finish and the holes begin.

 

Interestingly, it doesn’t stop Ukrainians to drive without a safety belt (our safety is guarded by a small picture of a saint figure anyway).

 

 

Saints serve as a replacement for a safety belt
Saints serve as a replacement for a safety belt

 

The bad roads mean that a car road trip may be challenging, especially if you haven’t used to the local roads. And if you are really unlucky, you may get a fine for some bizarre reason. It’s not much different if you take a bus. Particularly a regional one. Often it will be overcrowded and hot (forget about the air-conditioning).

 

The good…

The flip side of Ukrainian transport is its railway system. Ukrainian trains are perhaps the best trains in Europe. At least in terms of their charm. They haven’t changed much in the last 50 years or so. Most trains are equipped with berths where you can sleep, and you get fresh linear sealed in a plastic bag (ask for it when you buy your train ticket).

 

Passengers are served Turkish style tea but in (proper) large glasses. So you can just relax, and enjoy the views of Ukrainian countryside from the window.

 

Tea in The Ukrainian Trains. Photo by Oksana Nazarchuk
Tea in The Ukrainian Trains. Photo by Oksana Nazarchuk

 

Or, you may opt to strike a conversation with a fellow passenger. Beware though, sometimes it’s hard to stop a conversation. Especially with those folks eager to practice their English skills. But hey, it’s an opportunity to make new friends too.

 

Internet

 

The bad…

Mobile Internet in Ukraine is still very slow. This is perhaps the last country in Europe to get 3G. But its coverage is only available in major cities for now. Very often, it’s impossible to get a reliable mobile Internet in the countryside. And although, there is a library in every single town and village in the country, only a handful of them provide Internet access.

 

Great view.  But the chances are, you won't get 3G signal here. Flickr CC license photo by Peter Fenďa.
Great view. But the chances are, you won’t get 3G signal here. Flickr CC license photo by Peter Fenďa.

 

The good…

Fast broadband Internet is available throughout the country in cities, towns, and surrounding villages. Many cafes provide free Wi-Fi. In addition, the modern co-working spaces, and media libraries have become increasingly popular in cities, as a substitution to the largely outdated national libraries. In general, you won’t have many troubles getting online.

 

Money

 

The bad…

The Ukrainian economy has been in crisis since 2009, and it got only worse after the war with Russia has broken up on the east of the country in 2014. The local currency, Hryvnia, has plummeted. So now, most people earn in between €80 to €200 per month.

 

The good…

The currency exchange rate has never been better for the travellers. Perhaps, now you can afford more in Ukraine, than in any other European country. A cup of coffee on average will cost you €0.80, a decent meal in a restaurant – €4, a train journey between Kyiv and Lviv – €9.

 

Enjoy Lviv's famous coffee for a great price.
Enjoy Lviv’s famous coffee for a great price.

 

Most people would welcome tourists in the country, as they feed money into the local economy.

 

People

 

The horrible…

Ukrainians at large are concerned about the war on the east of the country. Many young men have been recruited to the army. Some voluntarily, and some as part of the compulsory military service. The casualties on the Ukrainian side has reached above 7,000 people (2014-2015). This is twice as much as total fatalities of the coalition forces in Afghanistan to date (3489 casualties).

 

The good…

On another side of the disaster, the life goes on. The majority of the country runs a business as usual. This summer Ukrainians prefer to spend their holidays in their home country (with the current exchange rate most can’t afford trips abroad). Carpathian’s and Lviv are among the most popular holiday destinations.

 

Street book market in Lviv. Flickr CC license photo by xiquinhosilva
Street book market in Lviv. Flickr CC license photo by xiquinhosilva

 

So it’s a good chance for foreigners to make friends with locals who are in holidays mood as well.

 

Food

 

The bad…

It’s true that many Ukrainians love pig fat with spices (aka Salo).

 

The delicious…

It’s not true, that Ukrainians eat only pig fat. Ukrainian food is delicious and versatile. We say that it’s better to try once, than to hear about it a hundred times. So I won’t go much into details here. However, there are two Ukrainian foods you must try when visiting in summer.

 

The first one is a drink called Kvass. It’s a cold served summer drink made from rye bread. You can buy it from the street vendors across the country. Many consider it better tasting than Coca-Cola, and it’s definitely healthier too.

 

And, the ice-cream made from the real stuff. Ukrainian ice-cream is perhaps the best ice-cream in Europe. I have been trying to find a good much for it in other countries. But so far I haven’t had any luck.

 

Ukrainian cadets enjoy their ice cream in Kyiv. Gleb Garanich/Reuters photo
Ukrainian cadets enjoy their ice cream in Kyiv. Gleb Garanich/Reuters photo

 

Please share your favourite tips for the first time travellers to Ukraine in the comments section below.

 

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