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Ukraine

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Hotel Ukraine
Hotel Ukraine - dream vacation

4, Institutskaya Street, Kiev

Ibis Kiev City Center
Ibis Kiev City Center - dream vacation

Taras Shevchenko Boulevard 25, Kiev

Bratislava Hotel
Bratislava Hotel - dream vacation

Andriya Malyshko Street 1, Kiev

Ukraine (Ukrainian: ???????) is a large country in Eastern Europe. It lies at the northwest end of the Black Sea, with Russia to the east, Belarus to the north, Poland to the northwest, Slovakia and Hungary to the west, and Romania to the south west and south, with Moldova in between.

Regions

Cities

Below is a selection of nine of Ukraine's most notable cities. Other cities can be found under their specific regions.

  • Kiev — The beautiful Ukrainian capital, home to leafy hills and world-famous Orthodox and Baroque architecture.
  • Chernihiv — ancient city of Kyivan Rus', one of the oldest cities in Ukraine, has lots of Medieval architecture.
  • Chernivtsi — the capital of Bukovina offers a Balkan atmosphere mixed with fine classical Habsburg architecture.
  • Dnipro — the highlight is the mile long promenade on the river Dnipro.
  • Donetsk — an industrial city in eastern Ukraine on the Kalmius River.
  • Kharkiv — kozak metropolis, it was the capital of Soviet Ukraine for fifteen years.
  • Lviv — the second most-visited city in the country. Some Polish, some Austrian mixed with Russian almost in everything. Famous medieval old town.
  • Odessa — a harbour city on the Black Sea with a mixture of different cultures.

Other destinations

  • Carpathians
  • Chernobyl - tour the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster
  • Cherkasy
  • Ivano-Frankivsk
  • Mariupol
  • Rivne
  • Sumy
  • Zhytomyr
  • Uzhhorod
  • Uman - city in central Ukraine with the famous Sofiyivka Park.

See also:

  • UNESCO World Heritage List, Ukraine section

Understand

Most of Ukraine (the central and eastern portions) was formerly a part of the Russian Empire; after the October Revolution and the Civil War, the entire country, known as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, was a part of the Soviet Union. Ukraine is the second-largest country in Europe, albeit with one of the most rapidly declining populations of any large country due to high emigration, low immigration, early deaths (particularly amongst males) and a shrinking birthrate that was already below replacement levels.

History

Ukrainian history is long and proud, with the inception of Kyivan Rus (possibly founded by Swedish Vikings) as the most powerful state in Medieval Europe. While this state fell prey to Mongol conquest, the western part of Ukraine became part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from the 14th until the 18th century, even modern Ukraine owes it a debt of sorts. A subsequent Ukrainian state was able, in the face of pressure from the ascendant Muscovy, to remain autonomous for more than a century, but the Russian Empire absorbed much of Ukraine in the 18th century to the detriment of their culture and identity.

Soviet Union

See also: Soviet Union, World War II in Europe, Holocaust remembrance

Despite a brief, but uncertain, flash of independence at the end of the czarist regime, Ukraine was incorporated into the new USSR after the Russian Civil War in 1922 and subject to two disastrous famines (1932-33 and 1946) as well as brutal fighting during World War II. As a Soviet republic, the Ukrainian language was often 'sidelined' when compared to Russian to varying degrees; Stalinist repressions during the 1930s, attempts at decentralisation during the Khrushchev administration and the re-tightening of control during the Brezhnev-Kosygin era of the 1970s and early 1980s. In any case, the traditionally bilingual province had signs in both Russian and Ukrainian in virtually all cities, including Lviv, where Ukrainian is most prevalent. The 1986 Chernobyl accident was a further catastrophe for the republic but also widely considered as an event which, in the long run, galvanized the population's regional sentiment and led to increasing pressure on the central Soviet government to promote autonomy.

Independent Ukraine

Ukraine declared its sovereignty within the Soviet Union in July 1990 as a prelude to unfolding events in the year to come. The Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine's Parliament) again declared its independence in early December 1991 following the results of a referendum in November 1991 which indicated overwhelming popular support (90% in favour of independence). This declaration became a concrete reality as the Soviet Union formally ceased to exist on 25 December 1991. Initially, severe economic difficulties, hyperinflation, and oligarchic rule prevailed in the early years following independence. The issues of cronyism, corruption and alleged voting irregularities came to a head during the heavily-disputed 2004 Presidential election, where allegations of vote-rigging sparked what became known as the "Orange Revolution". This revolution resulted in the subsequent election of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko as President. During the ongoing five years the "Orange coalition" broke up and Viktor Yushchenko lost the support of majority of Ukrainians. Ironically, his former adversary Viktor Yanukovich was elected President; ultimately the pro-Russian Yanukovich was ousted in early 2014 after months of popular protest against his failure to complete a key trade agreement with the European Union, but his departure comes at a time when the nation's treasury is empty and the government in disarray.

Get in

Visa requirements and customs

Tourist visas are no longer required for citizens of the European Union, United States, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Andorra, Vatican City, Monaco, Iceland, Norway, San Marino, Mongolia, Serbia, Montenegro, Georgia, Hong Kong, Israel, Paraguay, Brazil, Brunei, Chile, Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Panama, Turkey, and the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (except Turkmenistan). As of 2014, Ukraine has announced plans to impose visa restrictions for travel from Russia due to that country's occupation of Crimea.

These visa exemptions apply only for tourist travel lasting less than 90 days. Visas on arrival may be obtained by citizens of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, El Salvador, Mauritius, and the Seychelles.

For other countries, visas are obtainable within a few hours of visiting a Ukrainian consulate having received a 'letter of invitation' from one's perspective lodging or business provider.

More information is available at Ukraine's embassies abroad

Always know how much currency you have with you. Customs officials might inquire about the amount being brought into the country. It is prohibited to bring large amounts of Ukrainian currency (hryvnia) in to Ukraine unless it was declared upon leaving Ukraine.

It is advisable to check in advance the customs regulations (e.g. the Boryspil Airport website, which has an English version) as rules and regulations have the habit of changing at short and unannounced notice.

When entering the country you will no longer be required to complete an immigration form.

Visiting Crimea

After the annexation of Crimea by Russia in March 2014, Russian immigration and custom agencies started operating in the peninsula's ports of entries. It was announced by the Russian authorities on April 1, 2014, that foreign citizens would need regular Russian entry visas to visit Crimea. However, Crimea's authorities plan to petition Russia's federal government for introducing a simplified visa regime for certain categories of short-term visitors, different from that applied in mainland Russia.

Since Ukraine does not recognize Russian's annexation of the peninsula, an entry to Crimea not from mainland Ukraine is considered by the Ukrainian authorities as an "illegal entry to the territory of Ukraine". If the fact of such a visit is discovered by the Ukrainian border authorities when a foreign national later tries to enter the mainland Ukraine, the foreign citizen will be subject to an "administrative punishment" (a fine, or possibly denial of entry to Ukraine). (??????? ?????? – ???? ?????? ???????? "Flying from Moscow to Crimea will now be a punishable act"; an interview with an official of the Ukrainian Border Service, in Russian).

By plane

The cheapest way to fly into Ukraine is through the Boryspil International Airport near Kiev. The main international hubs for these flights are Budapest, Frankfurt, Milan, Munich, Prague, London, Rome, Vienna and Warsaw with several flights a day of Austrian AUA, CSA Czech Airlines, LOT, Lufthansa, Alitalia, Air France, British Airways, KLM and Ukraine International, which code-shares on these routes with the respective carriers. Special offers on flights come and go, depending on the whim of the carrier.

Low-cost airline Wizzair started operations from other countries and within Ukraine as well. The only other low cost carrier serving Ukraine is AirBaltic, with flights routing through either Riga, Latvia, or Vilnius, Lithuania. Be advised that if you have a lot of baggage, Wizzair offers 30kg against the others 20kg allowances.

There are several airlines which offer direct flights to cities like Dnipropetrovsk (Lufthansa), Odessa (LOT, Austrian, CSA Czech Airlines), Kharkiv and Lviv (LOT, Austrian Airlines), but they are more expensive.

To fly inside Ukraine, the most common airline is Ukraine International Airlines. It is the unofficial national airline, and its routes cover all of Ukraine's major destinations. Planes used are newer Boeing 737 aircraft.

By train

There are daily direct overnight trains from Berlin, Vienna, Prague, Warsaw, Belgrade, Budapest, Bucharest and Sofia to Lviv or Kiev. When coming from Western Europe there will be a 2-3 hour wait at the border while the train's bogies are changed in order to adapt to a different rail gauge. It's generally quicker and cheaper to buy a ticket to the border and then change trains, rather than to wait for a through train.

From Kiev there are good international connections with central Europe and Russia. Departures from Belgrade (36h), Budapest (24h), Chi?in?u (15h), Minsk (12h), Prague (35h), Sofia (37h) via Bucharest (26h) and Warsaw (16h) are nightly. From Moscow there are a multitude of trains with the fastest one being Metropolitan Express taking just 8½ hours. Saint Petersburg is also well served with an overnight train taking 23 hours. Berlin (22h) have nightly connections during summer while departures from Vienna (34h) are nightly M-Th. There is also a connection from Venice (45h) via Ljubljana (41h) once a week, departing Thursdays.

More exotic cities with infrequent departures from Kiev include Astana (73h, Thu), Baku (64h, Wed) and Murmansk (61h, seasonal). And if you are looking for a real journey, hop on train 133E linking Kiev with Vladivostok. It's one of the longest journeys possible by train, taking eight nights!

Information about trains can be found on the website of the Ukrainian rail-roads in English and Ukrainian. The website is still 'beta' and has some issues, particularly with booking online.

By bus

There are inexpensive direct bus services to Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk from Poland. They usually offer a budget level of comfort and cost about UAH 90-100.

By boat

There are some ferries from Istanbul, Georgia, Varna (Bulgaria) to Odessa. See Ferries in the Mediterranean.

By car

The nearest significant town on the Polish side is Przemy?l, and it's easy to find by following route #4 (which passes through Przemy?l), also known as the E40 in European terms.

When you arrive, the road is fairly narrow (no motorway/autobahn this) with a queue of trucks and vans parked to the right of the road; a hard-core parking area with cafe/bar to the left. Don't stop behind the goods vehicles, slip up the side of them and then feed into the customs area when the guy flags you forward (for courteous Europeans, you're not jumping the queue - commercial traffic goes through a different process).

If you're in an EU registered car then make for the EU-passports, passport control section. Thence to Ukrainian passport control and then Ukrainian customs and then you're through. It used to be a nightmare, with apocalyptic tales of 5-6+ hours at the border, but the Ukrainians have made great advances in efficiency and it takes about an hour to make the crossing (2012). Don't expect the border police to treat you in a friendly or even respectful manner, in fact, expect anything ranging from neutral to extremely obnoxious behaviour.

Once through, just follow the main road towards Lviv on the E40 - this is the route right across Ukraine to Kiev (and thence on to the east). Stick to this - the main towns on the way are LvivRivneZhytomyr.

Watch out about 15-20km inside Ukraine, in Mostyska, as police have gone crazy about traffic calming measures here (speed bumps or "sleeping policemen"). They are like icebergs across the road, and very badly marked. There are about four or five sets of them through the village.

Other than that, take care on the road, which although the main east/west highway, and the main road route into the EU, still remains in a miserable condition (surface-wise). You will soon realise why Ukraine has such poor statistics in relation to driver and pedestrian fatalities and injuries. Drive defensively!

By foot and bike

You can walk across the 200m long bridge from Sighetu Marma?iei, Romania. Once you get to Solotvino, Ukraine, you can continue your travel in a car or a train. Bicycling is also a possibility in summer. When you have crossed the wonderful old bridge go uphill, at the church turn right. After some 50 metres there is an ATM right-hand! That's important because train tickets can be bought only in hryvnya and there is neither an exchange point nor an ATM nor the possibility to pay by credit card on the train station! Go ahead and before the rail-road crossing turn left. There is one train a day to Lviv (in the late afternoon). It stops in every village and takes about 13 hours to get to the final destination, the ticket is about €10.

You cannot cross the border at Kro?cienko (Poland) by foot or by bicycle. You must be in a vehicle. Coming from Poland by bicycle in August 2011 a cyclist only has to wait about 5 minutes to flag down a driver who was willing (and had space) to take him, a bicycle, and a full cycle touring kit. The actually crossing then took about an hour or so. There was no charge by the driver or the immigration officials.

From Slovakia

  • There are two road border crossings between Slovakia and Ukraine (Ubla and Uzhhorod). Ubla is for pedestrians and cyclists only and Uzhorod for cars only. You can, however, get into someone's car just to cross the border. There is one rail border crossing Chop.
  • There is a daily bus from Košice (except Sunday and Monday) and Prešov(Slovakia) going to Uzhhorod. There are also few daily buses from Michalovce to Uzhorod. Uzhorod has a night train connection to Lviv and Odessa.
  • As alternative, you can get by daily local train from ?ierna n.Tisou to Chop.

Get around

Be aware that all foreigners are subject to higher scrutiny by police when travelling on public transportation, especially intercity forms of it. Be prepared to show your passport and entry papers and keep your embassy/consulate number handy in case you come across a corrupt official. If you are caught outside your base city without your official documents, be prepared for a big fine.

The quickest way to get around big cities is the so-called marshrutka: the minibuses which follow routes much like the regular buses do. You can generally flag them down or ask them to stop at places other than the specified bus stops. The fare is paid as soon as you get in, and is fixed no matter how far you want to go. This is the same for the conventional buses, tram, trolley-buses and the Metro. Tell the driver that you want to get off when you are approaching the destination.

Each city has an intercity bus station from which you can go pretty much anywhere in Ukraine. Fares and quality of service vary widely.

By plane

UIA offers cheap flights that can be booked on-line and can be a time-saving alternative. For example, the flight Odesa-Kiev (one way) is USD180 (including tax and fees) and takes 1.5 hours. However, be sure to book early for the cheapest fares.

By train

Trains are operated by state-owned Ukrainian Railways. As in all CIS countries, the train classes, cars and ticket system are quite same as in Russia, see Russian train article.

Ukrainian trains are quite old and slow compared to European standards, but punctual, reliable and very cheap. For example Simferopol to Lviv for €8 on 3rd class sleeping car (platskart) taking you about 10 hours.

Generally, in Ukraine, for long distance the train is preferred over the bus because of their comfort and because often they are even cheaper. The "Lux" sleeping cars have a two-berth cabin. Second class are cabins with four berths. Third class have six berths through which the aisle passes.

Because trains are popular in Ukraine you might have to buy the tickets in advance. This is more often the case for third class. You can check availability and even buy tickets online or at Ukrainian Railways e-shop (website now in English, Russian and Ukrainian). The e-shop offers both domestic and international (CIS only) tickets starting in Ukraine. Note that an online purchase does not provide you with a valid travel document. You have to note the booking code (or simply print out the booking confirmation) and go to any ticket office that will issue the printed ticket. Do it at least 30min prior to departure, because queues at the ticket offices are not uncommon. Large train stations may have dedicated counters for tickets purchased online. Try to identify such a counter and go there directly, instead of waiting in line at a regular counter.

Buying tickets through a ticket office may be more difficult, though. Ladies at the counter are not very friendly and hardly speak any language other than Ukrainian or Russian. The usual strategy of writing your destination and train number on a piece of paper should normally work. However, you may find it more convenient to ask locals to buy tickets for you. Large stations have big screens that show tickets available for the upcoming trains. This may be handy for last-minute ticket purchases.

By bus

There are two major bus companies that run buses from all of the major cities to and from Kiev: they are Avtolux, and Gunsel. Prices run about UAH100-120 for service to Dnipro and Kharkiv.

The major advantage of the bus service is that it leaves from Boryspil and stops in Kiev, so if your destination is not Kiev, its easier than taking a bus to the Main Passenger Railway Station in Kiev. The buses are standard coach buses, serve cold drinks and tea, show movies, and make a stop about every 3-4 hours. They run every few hours.

Avtolux has a VIP bus to and from Odessa that has nice leather seats and is more less non-stop. It departs once a day, takes four hours or so both to and from Kiev and costs about UAH160-170.

By Marshrutka

In addition, just as in Russia, there are private minibuses called Marshrutka. These run on fixed routes and may be licensed as either buses or taxis. You can board one at the start of the route or at fixed stops. Some of them will also stop at any point between designated stops, but this largely depends on the region and even on the driver's mood. Officially, they are not supposed to drop passengers outside designated bus stops, but in reality they do it quite often. At the start of the route and at fixed routes, you may find a queue you will have to stand in. At other places, just wave your hand when you see one. if there are seats available, the minibus will stop for you. To get off, tell the driver when you reach your destination and he will stop. You need to pay the amount of your fare to the driver. You don't get a ticket, unless you ask for it. Often it's not easy to figure out which Marshrutka will take you to your destination, as in any city there are literally hundreds of different routes.

By taxi

Taxi is probably the most safe way to get around the city. You want to ask your hotel or restaurant to call you a taxi. Ukraine is largely a referral based economy, and this is how you get quality, safety and good service. Taxis are always busy. Locals will tell you to call in advance. Trying to hail a cab won't be productive at best and get you in deep trouble at worst.

It might seem unreasonable to hire a taxi to take you 100km to the next city. If you use your hotels referral, you will get a decent rate. It might be twice as expensive as train, but convenient, less time consuming, and secure. Keep in mind, you need a taxi to take you to the bus or train station. Americans will find the buses for long distance travel crowded and uncomfortable.

By car

It is possible to get around in Ukraine by car, but one must be aware of certain particulars:

The signs are all in Ukrainian (Cyrillic alphabet). Only a few signs (every 200km or so) are written in the Latin alphabet, and indicate main cities. It is recommended you have a good road map (those available are mainly in Ukrainian, but Latin alphabet maps are starting to appear), because place names aren't well posted on road signs.

You are strongly advised to respect the signs, especially speed limits. Be aware that unlike in Western countries, where limits are repeated several times, in Ukraine, an obligation or a prohibition is often indicated on a single sign, which you must not miss. And even these signs are often far off the road, covered by branches, etc. The police are always there to remind you.

Speed in cities is limited to 60km/h (40mph). However people do drive fast anyway.

Speed in "nationals" (single carriageway countryside roads) is limited to 90km/h (55mph). The poor average quality of the roads already acts as a speed checker.

Speed on highways (motorways) is limited to 110-120km/h (75mph).

Be aware that corruption is widespread among Ukrainian police, and tourists are an especially profitable target. When you are stopped for speeding or other offences, officers might aggressively try and extract ridiculous sums of money from you (€100 and up), offering "reductions" if you pay on the spot (the proposed alternative being some unpleasant and more expensive way, all made up). If you're asked anything beyond that, demand a written ticket for you to pay later instead. Don't let them intimidate you. It's very useful to have an embassy phone number handy for these cases. If you mention that, they'll let you off the hook quicker than you know it. At any rate, write down the officers' badge numbers, rank, plate number of the police car, and notify the nearest embassy/consulate in detail, to help fight these corrupt practices.

Fuel is no longer a problem in Ukraine, especially for those who remember travelling to Ukraine during the early 1990s, when petrol was considered precious. Today, there are plenty service stations. There are varying types of fuel, such as diesel, unleaded 95 octane, and (more rarely) unleaded 98 octane; one finds also 80 and 76 octane. Note that if you choose to fill-up in a rural filling station, you will need to pay first, and in cash. Even there many stations do accept credit cards, however.

The state of the roads is a huge subject:

The main roads are OK for all cars, as long as you don't go too fast. Numerous running repairs have created a patchwork road surface, and it will seriously test your suspension - even on the major dual carriageways.

Secondary roads are passable, but beware: certain zones can be full of potholes and you must treat them with extra care, or avoid them entirely. Roads between villages are often little more than dirt tracks and not metalled.

Road works have been ongoing, but the quality of the roads is shy of Western Europe (with the exception of Kiev).

Be careful when driving in towns or villages. Sometimes animals prefer to walk on the road, and they are a hazard for all drivers. You're likely to see plenty of animals hit by cars, so be prepared...

Bicycle traffic is not very common, but you will sometimes see an aged man transporting a sack of grass on an old road-bike or a cycling enthusiast in bright clothes riding a semi-professional racing bike. Those are even more likely to be met on well-maintained roads where the pavement is smooth. Also cyclists will use both lanes of the road in both directions equally i.e. you are just as likely to meet a cyclist coming towards you, riding on the verge, as you will travelling in your direction. And almost invariably without lights or bright clothing so be extra careful when driving at night and dawn/dusk.

Also, don't be surprised to see plenty of horse drawn carts - even on the dual carriageways.

By thumb

Hitchhiking in Ukraine is average. It's possible to go by hitchhiking - usually cargo trucks will take you for free - but it's still worth to try stop personal cars as well. Good people are everywhere; you may be picked up in a Lada or a Lexus. (More usually the former.)

The usual hitchhiking gesture (also used to hail taxis and marshrutkas) is to face oncoming traffic and point at the road with a straight right arm held away from the body. Sometimes, for visibility, you may add a downward waving motion of the open right hand. It's a good idea to write on a piece of paper your destination's name.

Talk

See also: Ukrainian phrasebook

Ukrainian is the official language. Near the neighbouring countries, Russian, Romanian, Polish, and Hungarian are spoken. Russian is a close relative of Ukrainian and is most often the language of choice in the south and east of Ukraine. It is safe to assume that virtually any Ukrainian will understand Russian; however, note that in the western parts people may be reluctant to help you if you speak Russian, though to foreigners, Ukrainians will be more forgiving than to Russians. Especially in Lviv, you will have the hardest time because they not only mostly speak Ukrainian but they have a special dialect of their own.

On the other hand, in the eastern parts, Russian is the most commonly spoken language. In the central and eastern parts of the country, you may also find people speaking transitional dialects (generically referred to as the surzhyk, i.e. the "mix [of languages]"). It is also common for people to talk to others in their native language, irrespective of the interlocutor’s one, so a visitor speaking Russian may be responded to in Ukrainian and vice versa.

Kiev, the capital, speaks both languages, but Russian is more commonly used. So Ukrainian is more frequently met in Central and Western Ukraine, Russian in Eastern and Southern Ukraine.

Young people are more likely to speak a little English, as it is the most widely taught foreign language in school. Most people in the tourism industry (hostels etc.) do speak English. Also, thanks to Ukraine hosting the Euro 2012, there was a lot of improvement in tourist facilities and policemen learning English to better assist the people there for the games.

In general, Ukrainian is making more ground as time goes on. Certain regions may have special rules and can have schooling in Russian like in Luhansk. Russian is in general still the lingua franca but the newer generation of people are encouraging their children to speak Ukrainian in the home. The biggest wall to Ukrainization is that there is a resistance in the East and South who would even like Russian to be an official language of the state, also a lot of the media such as books, videos, and video games are only in Russian but there have been a few titles with the option of Ukrainian subtitles on DVDs and some authors write exclusively in Ukrainian, so it is making ground. Universities used to have a choice between Ukrainian or Russian but now most of the national universities except those in special areas or private schools are exclusively taught in Ukrainian. There are plenty of people however, that believe Ukraine will always have both languages and don't feel one threatens the other's existence.

Also to be noted though, everyone there are Ukrainian by citizenship but there are more than a million who are of Russian origin, for example Kharkiv itself sports 1 million ethnic Russians, so to say. Its hard to say they are really ethnically different people but they did migrate during the Soviet Union and are proud of their roots as Russians and continue speaking Russians with their kids even though their kids are getting an education in Ukrainian. The whole language thing in Ukrainian is a touchy subject, so hopefully, the information provided seems neutral.

If you are travelling to Ukraine, learn either basic Ukrainian or basic Russian beforehand (know your phrase book well) and/or have some means of access to a bilingual speaker, a mobile/cell/handy number (almost everyone has a mobile phone) can be a godsend. Virtually nobody in any official position (train stations, police, bus drivers, information desks, etc.) will be able to speak any language other than Ukrainian and Russian. If you already know another Slavic language, you will, however, be able to communicate as the Slavic languages are closely related.

It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the Cyrillic alphabet to save you a lot of time and difficulty. Sometimes certain words if you can read the Cyrillic are close to English like telefon (telephone), you would understand if you saw it, so it helps a lot just knowing the alphabet.

See

Vast in size and diverse in culture and landscapes, Ukraine has a range of great attractions to offer. Largely unknown to the world, the country's main draws include some great and quintessentially Slavic cities, impressive cultural heritage and of course top class natural areas.

Head to the historic city of Lviv, listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site but still a bustling place and a true centre for learning and culture in the country. Its cobblestoned streets are packed with monuments going back to Medieval times, seemingly untouched by the destructive force of wars that have changed some of Ukraine's other cities so thoroughly. Even the extensive Soviet planning that has shaped many other places on the far east side of Europe have left only a minimal mark on the colourful mix of building styles. Highlights include the Korniakt Palace (right on the market square) and several beautiful churches. For an even more sophisticated taste of culture, try the fine collection of the Lviv National Art Gallery.

Then there's the must-see's of Kiev, a colourful place where the golden roofs of the Unesco World Heritage sites Saint-Sophia Cathedral and Pechersk Lavra make for some excellent highlights. Take an afternoon stroll through Andriyivsky Uzviz, the Montmartre of Kiev, where you'll find a bustling mix of artist and souvenir sellers. Follow in the footsteps of Apostle Andrew, who - according to legend - climbed the steep stairs of this bohemian neighbourhood two thousand years ago, to the top where you'll now find a church with his name. Don't miss the excellent Pyrohovo Museum of Folk Architecture. Last but not least, Kiev is one of the best spots to visit Ukraine's lively markets (but Odesa or Kharkiv have good ones too). Also, consider a trip to the Residence of Bukovinian and the Dalmatian Metropolitans in Chernivtsi.

In terms of natural attractions, the lovely Carpathian Mountains are among the best destinations this otherwise remarkably flat country has to offer. They hold beautiful panoramas of forested hills, lush valleys and snowy peaks and offer ample opportunities for hiking and biking as well as for winter sports. The rather little explored Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve is another great pick for nature lovers and bird watchers. Base yourself in the charming town of Vylkovo, with its many canals, and go boating and bird-watching during the day.

Do

  • Hike in Carpathian Mountains around Rakhiv
  • Conquer 2,061m Hoverla, part of the Chornohora mountain range
  • Kayak down Dniester and admire Kamianets-Podilskyi and Khotyn castles
  • Visit one of forty National Parks (total area more than ten thousand km²)

Buy

Money

The unit of currency is the hryvnia denoted by the symbol "?" (ISO code: UAH). It is spelt ?????? and pronounced hryvnia in Ukrainian and grivna in Russian. Just to make it a little more confusing, Russian speakers in the east often refer to it as ruble and it is sometimes shown as "?" both before and after the amount and with and without spaces. National Bank actual rates.

Every reasonably sized town will have exchanges booths and banks that will convert euro, USD or Russian rubles to UAH, just look for signs with exchange rates. British pounds are also often exchangeable, though at poor rates. In tourist areas, a much wider range of currencies can be changed. Shop around as offered rates often vary.

Booths and banks will generally not try to scam you, but count your notes to be sure. At many places bank clerks would refuse money with even minor damages or grease spots. A tear in the paper longer than five millimetres can be too much.

ATMs

ATMs (????????, bankomat) are common throughout the country and generally work with international cards. They nearly always dispense UAH, though you may find some give USD. They mostly do not charge fees to foreign cards. (unless you are withdrawing dollars).

Debit cards such as maestro do work in ATMs. Cirrus/Maestro/Plus bank cards could be most effective way to get cash in Ukraine. Not all ATMs indicate that they support the Plus system, but in most cases they do support it if they support Visa. PrivatBank ATMs indicate that they support Plus, but they do not work with North American cards.

Banks

Changing money in banks is time consuming—there is a lot of paperwork involved. Bank staff may be unwilling to go through all the procedures just to change your USD100 bill and may try to fob you off with an excuse: "sorry, we don't have the money" is common. If you absolutely must change money there, you might be able to persuade them to change their minds; but if you can go somewhere else, you'll probably save time. At a bank, you will also need to show your passport. Banks may also only let you buy UAH; they may prevent you from buying "hard" currency.

Even at larger branches, you cannot expect English-speaking staff. Doing anything other than currency exchange may require a translator or at least a lot of patience.

It is possible to get dollars from most banks using a cash advance from a Visa or MasterCard. There is a small service charge (3%) to do this in addition to whatever your bank charges.

Exchange booths

Exchange booths, while looking rather unsavoury, are generally the best places to change money. Their rates tend to be better than the banks' (but not always) and you will not need your passport. Service is quick and there's often no paperwork or receipts.

Shopping

By law, all transactions are required to be in hyrvnia, although less formal transactions may be in euros or US dollars.

If you want to buy any kind of artwork (paintings, Easter eggs) in Kiev, the place to visit is Andriivskij Uzviz (???????????? ????? in Ukrainian, ??????????? ????? in Russian).

It is illegal to take out of the country any items of historical importance. These includes badges, medals, icons, historical paintings, etc. While you are unlikely to face a bag search, don't wear any old badges or display anything that may arouse suspicion.

Eat

Ukrainian cuisine is quite tasty, with similarities to Russian cuisine. Just like other cuisines in the region it uses a lot of fat ingredients, especially in festive dishes. Traditional local food includes "salo" (salted lard) and soups like "solianka" (??????? in Ukrainian, meat soup) or "borshch" (???? in Ukrainian) a soup made of red beets. Western Ukraine also has a green version of borshch, with greens and boiled eggs. The first, salo, is perhaps something you might not make yourself try - however is a delicious side dish, as for the soups being a must-have dish.

If you are outside a big city or in doubt about food, exercise caution and common sense about where you buy food. Try to buy groceries only in supermarkets or large grocery stores, always check the expiration date, and never buy meat or dairy products on the street (you can buy them at the market but not near the market).

In most towns in Ukraine there are some very good restaurants. Read the menu boards posted by the entrance of every establishment to help you to choose.

You may also find nice places to eat not by signs, but just by the smoke of traditional wood fires. These are often places where they serve traditional Ukrainian food, including very tasty shashlyky (??????? in Ukrainian). Restaurateurs are very friendly, and, more often than not, you will be one of their first foreign visitors. Next to the "borshch", you might also ask for "varenyky" (???????? in Ukrainian, dumplings filled with meat, vegetables or fruits) or "deruny" (??????, potato pancakes). You have to try varenyky with potatoes and cottage cheese in a sautéed onion and sour cream sauce, a fantastic dish. These are just starters, but ones that might fill you up quickly.

You can also use some internet services, which will help you to find any restaurant you want. They usually have a lot of options and English translation making your search easier. These services are free and provide information about major cities. If there is no possibility of internet connection you can ask people about restaurants, but remember that knowledge of English among Ukrainians is low and you can also meet unfriendly people. But in most cases English or other foreign language makes people more amiable.

Drink

The Ukrainian speciality is horilka (the local name for vodka) with pepper. Other kinds of vodka are also quite popular - linden (tilia), honey, birch, wheat. Prices range €1-20 for 1L. Souvenir bottles are available for higher prices (some bottles reach upwards of €35 for 0.5L. There is a great choice of wine, both domestic and imported. The domestic wines mostly originate in the south, although wines from the Carpathian region of Uzhorod are also quite tasty. Ukraine is also famous for it's red sparkling wines. Prices for local wine range €2-35 per bottle of 0.75L (avoid the cheapest wines, €1 or less, as these are sometimes bottled as house wines but sold as local vintages), however, one can find genuine Italian, French, Australian wines from €50 per bottle and more in big supermarkets and most restaurants. The price of imported wines dropped significantly over the last number of years and trends indicate further reductions in price.

There are a lot of beverages (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic). Ukrainian beer is of very good quality. Beer from barrels or kegs (more common in cafes) is often watered down. Canned beer is not very common in Ukraine and sometimes not of the same quality as the same variety sold in bottles. The best beers are brewed by Lvivske, Obolon and PPB (Persha Privatna Brovarnia). Imported beers are also widely available but more expensive – for instance, a bottle of Austrian Edelweiss can cost upwards of €2 while average price of Ukrainian beer is €0.50. All told, Ukrainian beers are very tasty and gaining popularity elsewhere in Europe.

Of non-alcoholic beverages, one should try kvas – a typically Slavic drink made of rye or wheat. During the summer one can easily buy it from designated street vendors. There are a lot of yellow barrels with kvas around the city in summer. It’s better to buy it in bottles due of unknown cleanness of the barrel. Milk drinks, of all sorts, are also available, although mostly in supermarkets. Bottles of mineral water are available everywhere, as well as lemonades, beer, and strong drinks. When seeking to buy bottled water make sure to ask for "voda bez hazu" (water without gas) otherwise you are likely to be handed the carbonated drink.

Never buy vodka or konjak (the local name for brandy) except from supermarkets or liquor stores as there are many fakes. Every year a few die or go blind as a result of poisoning from methyl alcohol, a compound used to make fake vodkas.

In Ukraine it's possible to buy alcohol produced in other former Soviet republics. The Moldavian and Armenian cognacs are quite good and not expensive. Georgian wines are quite unusual and fragrant, if overly sweet.

Sleep

Hotels might be a traumatic experience for a westerner anywhere outside Kiev. The cheaper the hotel, the larger the chance of some quite unfortunate surprises, especially for those not familiar with the Soviet-style level of service which still remains in many places.

There are many mid-range (€25-45) options outside Kiev. For instance in Ivano-Frankivsk (near the Carpathians), the going rate is approximately €35 for a suite (bedroom and sitting room) in one such hotel. Many hotels have the choice between renovated rooms/suites ("western style") and not renovated rooms (East European style). The last choice is more than 50% cheaper and gives you a spacious old fashioned 2 room suite, basic but clean!

There are a number of 5-star hotels in Kiev and one in Donetsk; see guides for those cities for listings. At one such hotel in Lviv, the going rate ranges from €40-60 a night.

Another option is to rent an apartment on the internet before you leave your country. There are many to choose from in Kiev and Odessa.

What many people from ex-Soviet countries do is to go to the railway station, where they try to find people who are willing to rent a room. Prices are usually much cheaper and if there are enough people, offering the room you can make great deals.

These deals are usually not legal and they will take you to a corner before negotiating. Make sure they have warm water, and don't be afraid to say it's not what you expected when seeing the room.

Learn

There are a lot of foreign students at Ukrainian universities. Bribery is common, and you can even obtain a diploma here by having attended only twice (the first and last days of the term), if you have the money. That's hyperbole, of course, but in real life it is not much different. Of course if one wants to obtain good knowledge they will, but motivation in such a situation is low.

After graduation many students find work which is not concerned with their education, but this doesn’t mean that the educational system is bad. This happens because of economical instability. The educational system itself is comprehensive and competitive, and a lot of foreign students can be a confirmation of this fact (not only in the previously mentioned hyperbole).

Work

Getting a work permit (visa) is a necessity for foreigners if they are going to be employed by any legal entity (exceptions apply only for international institutions and representative offices of foreign companies). The work permit is more of a hiring permit. The potential employer has to apply with the labour administration for hiring an non-resident employee. With the application a complete cv, as well as documents showing an accredited education, have to be submitted.

Stay safe

Many people will tell you that you can take a copy of your visa with you. Sadly, some people experience trouble over this. It's always better to carry your passport with you. A photocopy can be refused as proof of identity. A phone call to a local who can help can prove very effective.

Get the details of your local embassy and/or consulates in advance and note their emergency numbers.

If you can it is useful to have a bilingual acquaintance who can be called in an emergency or if you encounter difficulties. If staying for any length of time, it is advisable to get a local SIM card for your mobile for emergencies and for cheaper local calls/texts. These are widely available, cheap (often free) and easy to 'top-up',

Crime issues

As in any other country, using common sense when travelling in Ukraine will minimize any chances of being victim of petty crime and theft. Try not to publicize the fact that you're a foreigner or flaunt your wealth, through your choice of clothing or otherwise. With the exception of KievOdessa, and other large cities, Western tourists are still quite rare. As in any other country, the possibility of petty theft exists. In Kiev, make sure to guard your bags and person because pickpocketing is very common, especially in crowded metro stations. Guides have told tourists to watch certain people because they heard people say: "They look like Americans: let's follow them for a while and see what we can get."

Robberies and scams on tourists are fairly common, especially the wallet scam in Kiev.

But if you are arrested by police or other law enforcement, do your best to inform them that you're a foreign visitor. Not many police officials speak foreign languages freely, but many people are eager to assist in translation.

Don't drink alcohol in the company of unknown people (which may be suggested more freely than in the West). You don't know how much they are going to drink (and convince you to drink with them) and what conflicts may arise after that. Also, many Ukrainians, known for a penchant for a good drink, can sometimes consume such an amount of vodka that would be considered lethal for the average beer-accustomed Westerner.

Financial security

Ukraine is a predominantly cash economy. The network of bank offices and ATMs (Bankomats) has grown quickly and are now readily available in all but the smallest villages. Do check the security of the machine - it would be wise to use one that is obviously at a bank, rather than in another establishment. V PAY-cards are not accepted in the country. You can use your credit cards (mostly MasterCard & Visa) or cash traveler's cheques easily. Credit and debit cards are accepted by the supermarkets. But avoid using your credit/debit cards for payments at establishments in smaller towns as retailers are not trained and controlled enough to ensure your card privacy. Instead, it is widely acceptable to pay cash. Locals (especially businesspeople) sometimes carry and pay in cash amounts considered unusually large in other countries. Don't suspect criminal activity in every such case.

Also, it is strongly recommended to avoid individual (street) currency exchangers as there are thieves among such exchangers, that may instead give you old, Soviet-era currency or also coupons that have been withdrawn from circulation since the mid 1990s. Use special exchange booths (widely available) and banks; also be wary of exchange rate tricks like 5.059/5.62 buy/sell instead of 5.59/5.62.

The euro and US dollar are generally accepted as alternative forms of currency, particularly in tourist areas. They are also the most widely accepted convertible currency at the exchange booths, with English pounds sterling in third place.

Racism

The area around the American embassy in Kiev is known for the provocateur groups targeting black people, and there have been reports of such attacks on Andriyivski, the main tourist street that runs from Mykhailivska down into Podil. Particularly in rural areas, having dark skin is often a source of prejudice. Antisemitism is still a lingering problem in some Western regions and/or other parts of Ukraine. However there are two Jewish mayors elected in Kherson and Vinnitsa.

Russophobia is on the rise as a result of the Russian annexation of Crimea in early 2014, especially in the European Union-friendly western regions of the country. Russian citizens may encounter negative perceptions due to continuing war being waged (as of 2014) against Ukraine by Russian-backed separatist rebels in the eastern portion of the country. There have been ethnic clashes between Russians and Ukrainians in Odessa. On 17 July 2014, a civilian airliner was shot down over Ukraine; this has led to an escalation of economic sanctions and polarised an already-tense situation on the ground.

Anecdotal experience suggests that in Ukraine, indeed much of the former Soviet Union, people from Middle and Central Asia and Romani/Sinti people receive much closer and more frequent attention from the militsiya (police). Always have your passport (or a photocopy of the main pages if you're concerned about losing it or if you're staying in a hotel that is holding it) as foreigners are treated more favourably than others. This is not to say that it is unsafe or threatening, but it is better to be forewarned of the realities.

Accidents

While there's a lot of swimming and diving attractions throughout Ukraine, local water rescue is tremendously underfunded. It is unlikely that you would be noticed while drowning, especially on the river. Use only officially established beaches.

Ukraine has some of the worst statistics for road related deaths and injuries in the world so act accordingly. Take care when crossing the roads; walk and drive defensively: be aware that traffic overtakes on both the inside and outside. Sometimes you even need to take care when using the footpaths, as in rush-hours the black, slab-sided Audi/BMW/Mercedes sometimes opt to avoid the traffic by using the wide pavements; pedestrians or not. Owners/drivers of expensive cars have been known, at times, to be more careless of the safety of pedestrians. Drivers rarely grant priority to pedestrians crossing a road unless there are pedestrian lights. Always watch out for your safety.

Also be warned that pavements suffer in the same way as the roads in terms of collapsing infrastructure. Take care when walking, especially in the dark and away from the downtown areas of the main cities (a torch is a useful possession) as the streets are poorly lit, as are most of the entries/stairwells to buildings, and the street and pavement surfaces are often dangerously pot-holed. Don't step on man-hole covers, as these can 'tip' dropping your leg into the hole with all the potential injuries!

Prohibitions

It is illegal to drink alcohol in public places in Ukraine. Despite the prohibition you can see some local citizens doing that, but don’t be misled. These are bad examples. Local policemen can insist on a bribe if they see a foreigner breaking the prohibition. So be wise and avoid unnecessary problems.

Emergencies

Emergency telephone numbers in Ukraine:112 - common 101 - fire brigade 102 - police 103 - ambulance 104 - gas leaks

Stay healthy

Water

As a rule, avoid drinking tap water. The major reason for this is that water in many regions is disinfected using chlorine, so taste is horrible. Whenever possible buy bottled water, which is widely available and generally OK.

Infectious Diseases

Ukraine has the highest adult HIV prevalence rate in Europe at nearly 1.5% or 1 in 66 adults. Be Safe.

Radiation

There is radiation contamination in the northeast from the accident at Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986. However the effect is negligible unless you permanently live in Chernobyl area itself. There are even tours to the town of Pripyat' which is the closest to the station. The town is famous for the haunting scenery of blocks of apartment buildings abandoned in 1986, now standing out amid the vegetation which spawned from years of neglect.

Respect

Respect the fact that Ukraine is an independent nation. You may find that people here are sensitive about being classified as "Russians". The Ukrainians have their own ethnicity and do not like being seen as Russians.

Don't say "the Ukraine," because that usage is outdated and implies that Ukraine is a peripheral region of Russia and not a country.

Ukraine is by no means a conservative country with respect to clothing or behavior.

Stances on homosexuality verge from conservative to outright hostility.

Raising the issue of Ukraine in the context as being part of the Soviet Union may not be welcomed by the locals. The Holodomor, like the Holocaust, is a sensitive issue. It is best to not praise the Soviet Union or Joseph Stalin, Soviet leader during the time of WWII and architect of the Holodomor. Nevertheless, some Ukrainians also remember the recent period of the Soviet Union as a time of economic prosperity.

Connect

Phone

Ukrtelekom is the main telecom operator. The country code for Ukraine is 380.

Mobile

The biggest mobile phone operators Kyivstar, Vodafone (formerly MTS), Lifecell.

Internet

Mobile GPRS access is available in vast majority of Ukraine's territory. 3G mobile access is steadily developing and is available now in all major cities. Public Wi-Fi hotspots are widespread throughout cities. There are plans and projects for providing mass wireless broadband access in urban open spaces, on Ukrzaliznytsia long-distance trains and in urban public transport vehicles.

The Amateur Traveler talks to Jessica from Williamsburg Virgina who traveled last Summer to the Ukraine with an ethnomusicologist from Villiage Harmony to learn how to sing Ukrainian folk music. Jessica travelled both to larger cities like the capital Kiev and Ivano-Frankivsk and small country villages. She also journeyed into the Carpathian mountains on the Romanian border. Jessica relates some of the stories about the people she met, the food they ate and scary public bathrooms. Learn why you should not whistle indoors or give someone a dozen roses in the Ukraine.

It certainly wasn’t what we expected, but Oundle has been good to us. It’s sad to say goodbye to our temporary pets Dude and Audy, who showered us with affection from the first day of our stay, and we’ll also miss the town’s beautiful buildings and the long walks we’ve been taking along the river.

We’ve been here for five weeks now, and the last two weeks have been a lot more like we imagined our stay here would be — long days of work with a few events thrown in. I started each day by taking the dog for a walk, then we both settled in for a morning in front of the computer. Craig took the dog out again in the evening while I cooked dinner, then we generally watched TV until we went to bed. Pretty domestic really! The Rugby World Cup has started, so a fair proportion of our screen time has been taken up with that — seeing Japan beat South Africa was awesome, and New Zealand vs Argentina was another excellent match.

Oundle war memorial in Oundle UKOundle town centre

Excursions

We have ventured out of the house a few times, though, notably to buy delicious cheese at the weekly market and to go to the theatre. We’d seen the signs for a production of The Great Gatsby, and since £12 seemed like a pretty good price for to see a play, we bought tickets and headed along one Tuesday evening. And it was incredible! I wouldn’t quite call it a musical, but the seven actors all sang and played various musical instruments as well as each taking on several roles. The production is touring at the moment, so if you’re in the UK and have a chance to see it, I’d recommend you go.

Cows near Oundle UKInquisitive cows.

Visitors!

Another highlight was having visitors for lunch. At BlogStock I’d run into Terry and Sarah Lee, who we’ve known for years but not spent much time with, and when we realised that their house isn’t too far from Oundle, we invited them over. They were enthusiastically welcomed by Dude, who covered their legs with dog hair, and we enjoyed their company in a slightly more restrained fashion.

Dog in river near Oundle UKDog in the river.

Final days

Our last few days have been pretty crazy, as we’ve been trying to fit in all the things we wanted to do before our time ran out. First, we joined a “quirky historical tour of Oundle” with a guide who’d grown up in the town, during which we learned that almost every building used to be used for something else, whether it’s a theatre that used to be a church or a church that used to be a telephone exchange. (Or a library that used to be a morgue or a house that was once a school…. the list goes on for some time.) The next day, we finally made it to Peterborough, and though that was really just to pick up Craig’s passport, we really enjoyed our visit to the cathedral, where we learned that Peterborough is twinned with our old home of Alcalá de Henares! And our last weekend was spent packing and tidying in preparation for the handover to the next housesitters.

Cathedral in Peterborough UKPeterborough Cathedral

The next adventure is a couple of days with my brother in London before flying to Moldova via Italy. We were gutted to hear that the wine festival we were planning to attend has been cancelled, but I‘m sure we’ll find other things to do while we’re there! If you have any advice for travel in Moldova or Ukraine, please let us know in the comments below.

I learned, yesterday, that New Zealanders require a visa to enter Ukraine. I learned it from a heavily armed guard on the wrong side of the border. Since I didn’t have a visa, I was denied entry, and spent the next hour or so being gently but firmly ejected from Ukraine, and into the freezing wind.

Craig and I are fortunate travellers: most of the time, things go well. If they don’t, it’s often out of our control and we generally deal with the situation calmly, and just do what needs to be done to solve the problem. Sometimes, though, things go wrong and it’s our fault. Or, since I do most of the travel planning, it’s my fault — and I hate that. I don’t like being wrong and stuffing up travel plans hits all my buttons: I’m letting Craig down, I’m almost certainly wasting money, and I feel stupid.

So what happened?

Pin me on Pinterest!Pin me on Pinterest!I thought I’d done all my research. We were looking at visiting Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova a few years ago and all three countries required visas for New Zealand citizens. It was going to be too much work, so we postponed the trip.

Earlier this year, we decided to attend the Moldovan wine festival in October (regardless of visa hassle) and we were delighted to see that Moldova had changed their requirements and Kiwis could get in visa-free. And Ukraine was the same… or so I thought.

Arriving in Moldova was trouble-free, and we had a great couple of weeks tasting wine and exploring the country. When it was time to move on, we booked our first few nights’ accommodation in Odessa, and hopped on the early-morning train Ukraine-wards. Half an hour or so before we hit the border, I had the horrible thought that I hadn’t double-checked the visa situation. We’d bought a Moldovan SIM card a few days previously, so I could use my phone to look online, just as I had on the way to the airport to fly to Moldova. But this time, instead of a wave of relief, I felt a physical jolt in my stomach — New Zealanders DID need a visa, after all.

There weren't many passengers on the train that day.There weren’t many passengers on the train that day.

There was nothing we could do until we’d reached the border, or rather, the first stop after the border. Several armed guards boarded the train and one smiled at me as he sat down next to me on my wooden bench seat to enter my details in his hand-held device. “Nova Zelandiya,” he murmured, flicking through the pages of my passport and failing to find a visa. He made a couple of phone calls, called over another (sterner) guard, made another call, gave my passport to his colleague. A fellow passenger came over to translate for us. The second guard asked if I was a student; I said I had been studying in Spain. He took my student card and went away, and came back with bad news: I was denied entry.

We gathered our things and shivered on the platform, watched by a third, silent, guard, who held my passport in a gloved hand. When the train left 15 minutes later, my teeth were chattering, and I welcomed the return of the stern guard, who pointed at us and then at the silent guard, and declared: “Office. You go.” We went. The silent guard led us across the tracks to a car, and drove us several kilometres along potholed roads, back to the border. He led us down a dark corridor and ducked his head around a door to pass my passport on to the occupants of the room behind, before gesturing at a row of dilapidated chairs and indicating that we sit, and then left without another word.

New Zealanders need a visa to enter UkraineOne of these passports allows you to enter the Ukraine without a visa. The other doesn’t.

Processing

It was cold in the corridor too. I pulled clothes out of my bag to layer over the ones I was already wearing and rubbed my hands together. The only light came from under a door at one end of the corridor, which occasionally opened to let a heavily armed guard pass by. The door we had entered by was thrown wide several times too, bringing light and a gust of freezing wind. People came out of the room where my passport was and walked away; we waited some more.

Finally we were invited into the tiny office, which spilled its warmth into the corridor as we entered. We sat on a wooden bench seat and defrosted while the female border guard whose office it must have been argued in Russian with another woman. The border guard scanned documents, entered details into her computer, printed things, folded paper, indicated that the argumentative woman could leave.

Then it was my turn. Another guard came in and they looked at my passport together; they asked me a question that I didn’t understand. The female guard started entering my details into the computer, muttering my name under her breath. I recognised the word for “surname.”

“Da,” I said. “Martin, familia.” That was probably right, because she repeated what I’d said with a questioning inflexion and nodded when I said “da.” (That’s “yes” around here.)

The second guard left the room and returned with a third person, whose name tag said Sergey. He said: “I’m going to translate for you, all right?”

All right? It was spectacular. Even though the final outcome was that I was “formally denied entry to Ukraine,” having someone there who could explain it to me in English made all the difference.

The border guard asked me to sign a document that basically said I’d been denied entry for not having a visa (Sergey translated), then printed me off a copy, gave me back my passport and smiled a goodbye. We thanked Sergey, then the other guard walked us to a passport control booth so Craig could get an exit stamp (HE was allowed into Ukraine, with his British passport; for some reason he decided to stay with me rather than going on), and we walked across a bridge to Transnistria.

We weren't expecting to be back in Transnistria!We weren’t expecting to be back in Transnistria!

Transnistria

This breakaway republic is seen as part of Moldova by everyone except Transnistrians themselves, and they have quite strict border controls. We’d visited a week or so earlier, and hadn’t expected to be back, apart from crossing through on the train. The border guard directed us across a puddly carpark to another booth; the guard there looked at our passports and sent us back again. By this time the guard had changed and the new one let us through without demur. The vouchers she gave us indicated we had to leave Transnistria before 9.57pm that evening. Fine.

Not far from the border, we found an exchange office and changed $20 from our stash of emergency US currency into Transnistria roubles. At the ticket booth, we were told that there weren’t any direct buses back to Chișinău for a while, but we could buy tickets to Bender and return to Moldova from there. At Bender, we had enough time to buy tickets, get a coffee, and spend our remaining roubles on a bottle of Kvint cognac at the bus station store before the minibus jerked its way out of the station. The border with Moldova wasn’t far away and posed no problems: a guard boarded the bus, took our vouchers, and got back off again.

Transnistrian money.Transnistrian money.

Back in Moldova

I used my phone to start looking for accommodation in Chișinău, and sent messages to our AirBnB host in Odessa and our Ukrainian friend Yuriy, asking if he could find out if I needed a letter of invitation to get my visa. He promptly set off on a mission across his city to write the letter himself, but was foiled by bureaucracy. “We don’t have any invitation blanks,” he was told. “We might get some after the elections.” The elections are in two weeks: not so helpful.

By the time we’d checked into our new apartment in Chișinău, it was too late to go to the Ukrainian embassy to start the visa application process. More online research suggested that New Zealand citizens didn’t need an invitation letter after all; perhaps I’d read that all those months ago and misremembered “no invitation required” as “no visa required”. I still felt wretched.

Victory arch in Chisinau MoldovaI wasn’t expecting to be back in Chisinau, either…

To the Ukrainian embassy!

This morning, I saved all relevant documents onto a pen drive and set off across town to Get My Visa. I printed off my insurance, flight and accommodation documents in a hotel, and arrived at the embassy to find a locked gate. The security guard indicated an intercom and I embarked on a friendly conversation with a disembodied voice. The voice informed me that the embassy was closed, today and tomorrow, as it was a Moldovan holiday. However, if I came back on Thursday at 9am, I’d probably have my visa on Friday morning.

“How much will it cost?” I asked.

“Umm, eighty… no, I don’t know. Come back on Thursday.”

“Yes, but, how much money should I bring? Will a hundred dollars be enough?”

“Yes, eighty, a hundred, one twenty. Like that.”

“And do I need to bring anything?”

“No, just you.”

“Me, my passport, and money, right?”

“Yes. See you Thursday.”

I felt inexplicably cheerful as I strode away towards the bus stop for a ride back to the centre of Chisinau. I might not have gotten my visa, but at least I knew where I stood: I was embarking on another Adventure in Bureaucracy.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Moldova has been on our dream destination list since before we even left New Zealand in 2006. In fact, we read “Playing the Moldovans at Tennis” while on honeymoon in 2002, and since then it’s inspired a strange fascination in us. And when we heard that they have an annual wine festival, we were convinced.

It took several years and a change of visa regulations to get us here, but 2015 was our year. We booked tickets, turned down housesits, and prepared to fly east to attend the wine festival, which is held during the first weekend in October.

Then, it was cancelled.

Pin me on Pinterest!Pin me on Pinterest!We were gutted, but Moldova was still worth a visit, festival or no festival. We farewelled my brother and his fiancée, who we’d been staying with, and started the journey from London to Chisinau. Direct flights were pricy so we spent a night in a wobbly B&B in Bergamo, Italy, and arrived in Moldova‘s capital 24 hours after we’d left Simon’s flat — to the sound of music.

On the far side of security a folk band were playing enthusiastically while staff handed out small bottles of local wine to arriving tourists. We were interviewed twice by TV crews and given brochures and advice about how to celebrate the festival, which hadn’t been cancelled after all, just modified. Rather than a big event in the city center, many wineries were holding small events, and free transport was provided.

Bloggers

I’d found it difficult to find good information about Moldova; sources even disagreed about the dates of the wine festival. However, I’d managed to make contact with a woman called Natalia, who worked for Moldova Holiday (which, incidentally, is the best source of online information about the country) and we arranged to meet for a coffee. She’d organized a press trip for Moldovan and Romanian bloggers, and she invited us to join them for a day, and then for all three of the remaining days in their itinerary. We said yes.

Moldovan and Romanian bloggers at Asconi Winery in a href=An excellent group of people!

Our three days with the group were a fantastic introduction to Moldova. On the first day, we visited Asconi and Castel Mimi wineries for tours and tastings, and tried Gitana wines at an evening event in the central city. The second day was Saturday, and we headed to Butuceni, where the small wine producers were holding a mini festival with stalls for wine tasting; after trying a few we walked along to Butuceni Eco-resort to try our hand at preparing local dishes like placinte and cherry dumplings; we then stopped in at the nearby monastery.

Craig at Butuceni Eco Resort in MoldovaCraig learns how to make placinte.

Day three involved another winery visit, this time to Cricova and their 120km of underground cellars. It was sad to say goodbye to the other bloggers after lunch, but at least we got to meet up with them for a drink later in our stay, along with Katiusha, the woman who’d interviewed us at the airport. It’s a small country, this one.

Goat and monastery in MoldovaGoat and monastery.

In fact, it’s so small that it’s easy to base yourself in Chisinau and just do day trips to the other places of interest. We booked an AirBnB for another week and planned trips to Transnistria and Soroca, as well as scheduling in a couple of solid work days.

Transnistria

Transnistria is a breakaway republic with a heavy military presence; we’d heard it was dangerous and weren’t planning to visit, but changed our minds after arriving. The mini bus from Chisinau to the capital, Tiraspol, took about 90 minutes, and we spent an hour or so wandering around, changing money and visiting the markets and monuments. We had lunch at Andy’s Pizza, a Moldovan chain restaurant that had become our go-to, and took our coffees to go. The highlight of our time in Tiraspol was the visit to the Kvint cognac distillery; we were guided around the museum, the bottling room, and the storage areas before a tasting of five delicious cognacs, or “divins” as they are called here.

Inside the Kvint museum in Tiraspol, Transnistria.Inside the Kvint museum in Tiraspol, Transnistria.

Soroca

Our Soroca trip a couple of days later involved a spectacularly uncomfortable three-hour mini bus trip (and correspondingly uncomfortable return journey later in the day). In an attempt to try all the Andy’s Pizzas in the country, we lunched at the Soroca branch before heading to the fortress. It was built in 1499 and sits on the banks of the Dniester River, looking across to Ukraine on the other side. It was smaller than we’d expected, but still interesting, and full of wedding parties having photos taken. We saw other brides and grooms at the Candle of Gratitude monument, which we walked to the long way around, taking the detour through Gypsy Hill; this area of Soroca is filled with unfinished over-the-top mansions and principally populated by Roma, hence the name.

Soroca fortress in MoldovaIt was smaller than we expected, but so, so old.

Day trip to Ukraine

After a cold, wet Sunday, we caught an Odessa-bound train early on a freezing Monday morning. Just before we crossed the border, I decided to check that I really didn’t need a visa for Ukraine — and found that actually, I did. What followed was a long, cold, uncomfortable backtrack to Chisinau, where we checked into new accommodation and started the process of getting me a visa.

The Ukraine embassy was closed for two days because Wednesday was Chisinau City Day, but I finally got my visa on Thursday afternoon after spending all morning waiting in lines and filling in forms. I was pleasantly surprised by the same-day service; not so much by the price!

At least we got to take part in the City Day celebrations: the main street was closed to vehicles and packed with stalls, stages and spectators. We joined the throng and had a delicious lunch of barbecued ribs and locally brewed beers, while listening to folk music being played on a nearby stage.

Chisinau city day in a href=Chisinau city day: seemed like the whole city came out to celebrate.

Back to Ukraine

We didn’t want to rush the visa process, so we ended up spending a couple of extra nights in Chisinau before heading back to Ukraine. And since it was on the way, we decided to stop at Purcari winery for a night — definitely a good choice!

The mini-bus dropped us right by the gate and we checked into our room before being taken on a fantastic tour of the estate, which included trying out an ingenious well mechanism shaped like a stork. Back at the main house, we embarked on a full tasting of their 16 wines, which flowed naturally on to dinner with our tasting companions, three friendly Polish guys.

Wine tasting at Purcari Winery in a href=Now THAT’S a tasting.

The next morning we caught a taxi the 15km or so to Et Cetera, where we met Katiusha (the woman who welcomed us into the country) who was there with an American editor called Abbie. The owner, Igor, showed us around his winery with understandable pride, gave us tastings direct from the vat, and served home-made placinte prepared by his mother.

Then, it was finally on to Ukraine! Igor drove us down to the main road and waited with us for a bus to arrive. This time, there were no problems crossing the border (for me, anyway, the Russian guy I was sitting next to was left behind), and we arrived in Odessa in the late afternoon.

We were sad to leave Moldova, we definitely enjoyed our stay. The people were friendly, the food was good, and the wine will without doubt draw us back again.

The first time I remember hearing about Moldova was the day after my wedding. I was in a second-hand store, buying books to take with me on honeymoon, and I picked up Tony Hawks’s Playing Tennis with the Moldovans. It looked amusing, and I bought it, but I wasn’t sure if the Moldova of the title was a real country or an invented one, like Krakozhia or Tazbekistan.

A small amount of research revealed that it was indeed real, and in eastern Europe, but that travelling there would involve a tedious amount of form filling and back-and-forth to get a visa. Unless, of course, we visited in early October for the annual wine festival, when getting a visa would be slightly easier (but still annoying).

Moldova pinterest pin.Pin me on Pinterest!Moldova sat at the back of our minds for years, always just slightly out of reach for one reason or another. Every year, we examined our calendar to see if this October could be the October we drank wine in Moldova, but it never happened — until this year. When once again researching travel options, I discovered that Moldova had changed its visa requirements, and that Kiwis no longer needed a visa. The decision was made; we’d go.

Sources disagreed as to when the wine festival would be and flights weren’t as cheap as we’d have liked, but we worked it out and finally arrived in Chișinău on October 1, 2015. Unfortunately, the wine festival we’d been wanting to attend for about ten years had been canceled. Well, modified. Instead of a large event in the centre of Chișinău, there were many smaller events, hosted by the wineries themselves; free transport was provided from the city centre and there would still be plenty of wine involved.

To listen, hit play below or find episode 309 in iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud:

In the end, we loved Moldova. The laid-back atmosphere of central Chișinău, the dilapidated grandeur of the government buildings, the ridiculous state of the pavements (apparently vastly improved from when Tony Hawks was there… no uncovered manholes now!). And, of course, the wine. We drank a fair bit of it under the guise of research, and it’s fantastic. In fact, it’s almost enough of a drawcard to convince us to spend considerably more time in this country.

Fact box

Name: Moldova. Location: In eastern Europe, between Romania and Ukraine. Population: 3.46 million. Language: Romanian. Russian is widely spoken in Transnistria. Capital: Chișinău. Known for: Wine. Temperatures: Lows go below 0 in winter and highs in summer hover around 27-30. It’s mostly dry, with rainfalls in early summer and in October. Airport: Chișinău International Airport (KIV), 13km from Chișinău. Takes about half an hour to get into the centre of town by public transport. Currency: Moldovan lei. €1 = 22.4 lei, US$1 = 19.8 lei. Price of a pint: 17-30 lei. Price of a dorm bed: From €8/US$9. Price of a double room: From €15/US$17. Price of a public transport ticket: 2 or 3 lei

Tell me more about Moldova!

If you’re considering a trip to Moldova, do it! The old cliche of somewhere being unspoiled by tourism is true here, so we really felt like we were experiencing the country the way a local might. Many people speak English, especially in hotels, though you’ll need a few words of Romanian to buy bus tickets and in restaurants, though choosing food shouldn’t be a problem; many of the restaurants we went to had a picture menu as standard or included English translations.

The local currency is the lei, and it’s easy to change money in the many exchange bureaus. The booth at the airport gave a very fair rate, though we found a slightly better one at a bank in central Chișinău. That’s pronounced “KISH – ee – now” by the way; we’ve been saying it wrong for years!

Moldovan wine

Wine is an important part of the Moldovan economy, and has been since the country was part of the USSR. In fact, one in every two bottles of table wine, and one in three bottles of sparkling wine consumed in the Soviet Union was made here. Now it’s primarily produced for export, as many Moldovans make wine at home and don’t have any need for the fancy stuff made by the big names. We enjoyed stopping into the small shops to buy a one-litre plastic bottle or two of brandless local wine, but make sure to taste the good stuff too.

The easiest way to do that is to plan your visit to coincide with the annual wine festival in the first weekend of October. It’s usually held in the Great National Assembly Square in the centre of Chișinău; all of the wineries are represented and you can wander from stall to stall tasting as many wines as you like, for free. In 2015 protesters were occupying the square so the festival was modified — free transport was provided to many of the wineries, which each put on free or paid events. Our favourite was the event at Butuceni, which most closely resembled the ordinary festival: the small wineries got together to put on a mini-festival for the small charge of 40 lei.

Mini wine festival in MoldovaThe mini wine festival event was just getting underway when we arrived.

If you can’t visit in October, many of the wineries run tours of their factories that end with a tasting. You’ll have to email the wineries directly for information about times and prices as their websites are all lacking in that regards, though almost all will organise a tour in English at a time that’s convenient for you. Asconi and Cricova are both an easy day trip from Chisinau, and we visited both Purcari and Et Cetera on our way to Odessa.

There are a lot of wines to taste -- Purcari has 16 on offer!Purcari has 16 wines on offer!

Getting to Moldova

Arriving by air means flying into Chișinău International Airport (KIV), about 13km to the southeast of Chișinău. You can catch a taxi into the city if you like, but the cheapest option is minibus number 165. Turn right out of the airport terminal and you’ll find a cluster of vans at the far end of the building. It costs 3 lei per person (with an extra charge for a large bag) and you’ll be dropped on Ismail Street, or earlier if you prefer.

You can also arrive by land from Ukraine and Romania. There’s a once-daily train to and from Odessa, but buses are more frequent. There are three bus terminals in Chișinău: Central, North and South-West. International buses tend to arrive at the North station, which is (confusingly) located on the east side of the city.

Get around Chișinău

Public transport is made up of mini-buses, buses and trolleybuses, and is easy to use if you’re going in a straight line; it’s not so great for connecting odd areas of the city. Mini buses cost 3 lei per journey, pay the driver as you enter. Trolley buses and regular buses cost 2 and 3 lei respectively. You can board from any door and a conductor will find you to take your money; make sure to have small change. You can also walk around the centre of Chișinău without too many problems, though the pavements are in a sorry state.

Victory arch in Chisinau MoldovaThe Victory Arch is one of the symbols of Chisinau.

Get around Moldova

To really explore the country, hiring a car is probably your best option. You can get to many destinations by bus or minibus, but finding out where to catch them, how much they cost, and how long the journey is, can be challenge! Tour companies such as TatraBis provide fairly-priced day tours, which can take a lot of the hassle out of planning, or see below for some day trip ideas.

Accommodation in Moldova

There’s a wide range of accommodation options in Chișinău, from couchsurfing hosts to five-star hotels, and everything in between; since the country is so small, you can base yourself in Chișinău and do day trips to most destinations. We mostly used AirBnB for our stay and had a great experience. You’re more likely to find an English-speaking receptionist at a a hostel or a larger hotel; our one night in a tiny hotel was amusing for the lack of communication that went on.

If you want to explore more of the country, you could consider staying overnight in Soroca, at the Butuceni Eco-resort, or at one of the wineries that offer accommodation (like Purcari winery or Chateau Vartely; Asconi, Castel Mimi and Et Cetera are in the process of creating accommodation).

If you stay at Butuceni, you'll have the chance to try your hand at making traditional food.If you stay at Butuceni, you’ll have the chance to try your hand at making traditional food.

What to do in Chișinău

Pick up a “Hello Chișinău” map from the information desk at the airport, as well as a similarly branded country map. The Chișinău map has the key sights clearly marked, and there’s even a one-hour “city monument tour” marked on it. If you take a photo of each of the key sights, then visit a certain souvenir shop, you’ll be given a small gift — cheesy but fun! There are a range of museums to visit, dedicated to (among other things) ethnography, art, beer, and coffee; take your pick! You should also wander through the central market and shop like the locals for everything from fresh fruit and vegetables, to stationery, clothes and toys.

Delicious and beautiful fruit in the market of Chisinau.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Oct 12, 2015 at 1:56pm PDT

Day trip to Transnistria

Transnistria is an unrecognised breakaway republic in Moldova, propped up by Russian separatists and, in the words of one person we met, “still living in the USSR”. We were warned it was dangerous, but — if anything — our two day trips were a little boring. Of course, one trip wasn’t quite planned.

Make sure to visit the Kvint cognac distillery while you’re in Transnistria: it was our highlight, both for the tour and the extremely high quality and value of the ‘divin’ (cognac) on offer. Other highlights in Tiraspol, the capital, are the soviet-style monuments to war heroes, randomly placed tanks and military installations, and the beautiful churches and Orthodox shrines.

To get to Transnistria you can catch a minibus towards Tiraspol from the Central bus station; tickets cost 37 lei and you can buy them from a small booth before you board the bus. Getting back can be a challenge as return buses to Chișinău don’t leave from the Tiraspol bus station but from a parallel street; we caught a local bus to Bender to see the fortress (bright yellow bus 19, 3 roubles) and then returned to Chișinău from the Bender bus station, which was pretty easy to find. Return tickets cost 30 roubles each.

Inside the Kvint museum in Tiraspol, Transnistria.Inside the Kvint museum in Tiraspol, Transnistria.

Final thoughts

We highly recommend a trip to Moldova, especially if you’re interested in wine — in which case, go in October for the wine festival. To us, it seems like one of those magical places that are almost untouched by tourism, it retains its charm while looking to the future. Of course, this may change now that it’s opening up, so go now! Or at least, next October — maybe we’ll see you there.

To listen to us talk about Moldova, hit play above or check in iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud.

We all make stupid mistakes sometimes. That’s what I kept telling myself after being denied entry into Ukraine because I didn’t have a visa: it was a perfectly normal, perfectly human error. Unfortunately, this didn’t make me feel much better about the time and money we’d wasted backtracking to Moldova to get one.

Odessa

Pinterest pin of Ukraine travel diary.Pin me on Pinterest!We finally arrived in Odessa five days behind schedule, weighted down with Moldovan wine accumulated over our three weeks there. We checked into a hotel and did absolutely nothing for the rest of the day; the following day was soon enough to explore.

We’ve been enjoying using Instagram recently, and it proved particularly valuable during our time in Odessa, since one of our followers, Snezhana, lives there. We met up for a drink and she ended up giving us a guided tour of Odessa by night; we saw the flat house, the mother-in-law bridge, the Potemkin steps, the port — all the main sights! We had such a good time with her that we arranged to meet again on our last night; she saw us off on our overnight train to Kiev.

Our few days in Odessa were mostly filled with work, but we made sure to go to the ballet at the opera house, eat borscht and vareniki dumplings, and go to the beach with a Ukrainian couple who were also staying at our hotel. It was a freezing day but we warmed ourselves with the cognac and chocolate that Natalia and Gregoire had bought on the way. “We invite you,” they said when we tried to pay. “You are the guests in our country, it’s our tradition to make you welcome.” We certainly felt welcome, if a little chilled by the wind blowing off the Black Sea.

Odessa's opera house is beautiful!Odessa’s opera house is beautiful!

Overnight train to Kiev

Before our overnight train to Kiev, I visited the Pryvoz Market to get some supplies: dried apricots, some grapes, chocolate, a bottle of water. The train journey was comfortable enough, though an odd rattling in one of the panels disturbed my rest for the first couple of hours; eventually the train changed direction and I fell asleep. We’d splashed out on first class tickets, which ensured a private cabin, so that certainly helped too.

Kiev

Craig was holding a three-day mini-conference with the two Ukranian developers who work for Performance Foundry, and we’d hoped to book an Airbnb apartment for the event. Unfortunately, the apartments we were interested in weren’t interested in us, so we changed plans and booked three rooms on a boat. Well, boat hotel. On the whole, we had a good experience there, but some management policies left us baffled: it cost extra to sit in the library, sheets for Yuriy’s son’s bed were an additional charge… it didn’t make any sense.

Kiev was gorgeous -- St. Sophia Cathedral blew us away. Kiev was gorgeous — Santa Sophia Cathedral blew us away.

The guys spent the mornings working, and after lunch Dmitriy put on his tour guide hat and showed us around Kiev — he used to live there, so he knew where to go. We rode the funicular a couple of times and visited most of the main sights, including St Sophia Cathedral, the Lavra monastery, the Golden Gate, the Mother Motherland Monument, and Maidan square. Craig’s been working with Yuriy for almost a year and with Dmitriy for several months, so it nice to spend time with them in person, as well as with Yuriy’s wife and son.

The Mother Motherland monument  in a href=The Mother Motherland monument is pretty epic.

Too soon, though, we had to say goodbye when they headed home, and a day later it was time for us to leave too. We had one more bowl of dumplings, one more dill-seasoned salad, one more glass of kompot, and made our way to the airport for our flight to London.

It was great to spend time with people in Ukraine!It was great to spend time with people in Ukraine!

I feel like I have unfinished business with Ukraine. We were mostly there to meet Yuriy and Dmitriy and to work, so we didn’t do a lot of tourism. Our visit to Lviv was cancelled due to lack of time, and a half-formed idea of a trip to Chernobyl never took hold because we were just too tired. Plus, it’s a big country, there’s a lot more to it than just Odessa and Kiev. So, we’ll be back… Perhaps when Kiwis no longer need a visa to enter.

Ukraine has been in the news a lot recently, with Russia taking over Crimea and a passenger plane being shot down in Ukrainian airspace, not to mention the revolution last year. They say all publicity is good, but this kind of news is certainly keeping tourists from the country.

However, our ten days in Ukraine showed us a country that was just going about its business; a pleasant place with friendly people who are angry about how corrupt their nation is. There’s plenty to see and do, and we didn’t feel unsafe at all during our time there.

We only visited Odessa and Kiev, and we spent a lot of our time working, so we can’t talk about Ukraine as a whole. However, we certainly got a taste for the country and are keen to return when I no longer need a visa!

Ukraine podcast

To listen, hit play below or find episode 310 in iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud:

Before you go

Make sure to check if you need a visa or not. US, UK and EU citizens don’t, so Craig was fine, but New Zealanders do. Citizens of many countries require an invitation letter or tourist voucher, which makes the process that much more difficult, but New Zealanders and Australians don’t require this.

Pin me on Pinterest!Pin me on Pinterest!You can apply at a Ukranian embassy at home or while you’re travelling, and the cheapest option takes two weeks to process — it was double the price for a fast service (same-day or overnight). Bring proof of travel insurance, the address of where you’re going to stay, a passport photo, and your flight details if you have them.

We also highly recommend learning to read Cyrillic script. Get an app for your phone or copy out the letters and their equivalent in Latin script, and practice as much as possible. Many things are written in English, but a fair amount is in Ukrainian or Russian only, and if you can at least understand the sounds of the words, you’re halfway there.

Getting there

There are direct flights to Kiev from London and a host of other European destinations; ours were surprisingly affordable. You can also travel overland from many countries, including Russia, Poland, Romania and Moldova. To travel between the airport and Kiev, you can take public transport, but taxis are affordable: we paid 250 UAH door to door. Don’t just hop in any taxi, though, have someone call for you, or call yourself if you speak Russian.

Get around

Both Odessa and Kiev have good public transport systems, though Odessa is small enough to walk around. Kiev has a good metro system; one ride costs 4 UAH (the currency is called the hrivna, pronounced greevna) and you purchase tokens from a ticket counter or a machine before going through a turnstile.

There are also many options for travelling within the country; train seems to be the most popular among locals and method we chose. We went with an overnight train that had three classes, and since a first-class private cabin with two beds only cost 400 UAH (US$18) per person, we decided to travel in comparative luxury. Second class cabins have four couchettes, and third-class is open plan, with four beds on one side of the aisle and two on the other. It’s cheap, but I prefer to be able to lock my door. It’s possible to book online, but we decided to buy our tickets in person at the train station; be aware that credit cards were not accepted, despite the Visa sign on the window.

Kiev funicular UkraineKiev’s funicular is worth a ride if you’re in the area.

What to see in Odessa

Odessa is a beautiful city, charming with its faded grandeur. The city itself is the main attraction, so make sure to have time to wander around to see its buildings and parks. We loved the flat house, the mother-in-law bridge, and the City Gardens. The Potemkin steps require a visit, made famous through a scene in the movie Battleship Potemkin; apparently many of the events in the movie are based on historical fact, but the scene on the steps is fictional. Wander around to the Marine Terminal after going down the steps, and if you’re feeling lazy, you can go back up by funicular.

Whatever you do, don’t miss a visit to the opera. Ticket prices cost less than a cup of coffee in many places, so there’s no excuse! Just seeing the opulent interior is worth the entrance fee, but you also get a high-class performance into the bargain. We saw a fantastic ballet, but all sorts of plays and concerts are put on there. You could also visit the Odessa Philharmonic for another beautiful experience; tickets start at 80 UAH.

Odessa's opera house is beautiful!Odessa’s opera house is beautiful inside and out.

Eat

The place to eat is Deribasovskaya street, with its miles of restaurants and street-food stalls. We loved Kompot, a local mini-chain which serves local food at fair prices and is named after a local fruit drink they serve.

If you like markets, you’ll love Privoz market, which is one of the biggest in the former USSR. It has everything from meat, to clothes, to fruit and vegetables, and was a great place to stock up for our overnight train trip.

There are also a wealth of museums; we didn’t visit any this time, but you can choose from art museums, a literature museum, a maritime museum, an art gallery or two, an archaeology museum or a museum of the cinema. Or stay local and visit the Odessa region museum.

We were excited to go to the beach while in Odessa, and there are at least six to choose from, including party spots and nudist beaches. The weather wasn’t right for swimming while we were there, though, so we just visited one that was close to our hotel.

The flat house is a must-visit in a href=The flat house is a must-visit in Odessa.

Kiev

We were amazed by the beauty of Odessa’s churches, and more than one person told us “just wait until you’re in Kiev.” They were right. The religious buildings in Kiev were spectacular, from the sprawling Lavra monastery, to the elegant St. Sophia cathedral, to the blue and gold of St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Cathedral.

We always enjoy cities with metro systems — so much easier to navigate than bus routes! All of the stations are signposted in Latin as well as Cyrillic script and it’s ridiculously cheap. There are three lines, and interchange stations each have two names, one per line. We used the funicular a couple of times, too, as it was on our route: one ride costs 3 UAH and it runs from Podil (by the river) to the upper city.

On our wanders around the city, we visited the main sights: the Mother Motherland monument, the Friendship Arch, Maidan square in the centre of town, Khreshchatyk Street, and a whole bunch of churches and monasteries.

The Mother Motherland monument in a href=The Mother Motherland monument.

Lavra

Possibly the highlight of our trip was the visit to the Kiev Pechersk Lavra (cave monastery) which is commonly called “Lavra”. It’s a sprawling complex of buildings, built around a network of caves that were dug out by priests hundreds of years ago. Entrance fees vary according to which buildings you want to enter, and we paid extra to be able to take photographs.

It’s definitely worth heading to the bottom of the hill to have a look in the caves, where you’ll find the mummified bodies of several priests on display. Most of them are covered with heavily decorated shrouds within their glass coffins, but here and there a hand is visible. You’ll have to buy a thin candle for 1 UAH and women must cover their head and legs (skirts and shawls are available for this purpose). It’s a bit of a fire hazard but definitely an unforgettable experience.

Lavra  a href=We couldn’t take photos in the caves, but this is the view from within the Lavra complex.

St Sophia and St Michael’s

These two impressive churches are located within view of each other across a large square. We paid 10 UAH to enter the grounds of St Sophia, and it’s also possible to pay extra to enter the church and climb the bell tower. St Sophia is no longer a functioning church, and is a UNESCO world heritage site for good reason.

Kiev was gorgeous -- Santa Sophia Cathedral blew us away.St. Sophia Cathedral is one of the most spectacular buildings we’ve ever seen — and we’ve seen a few.

Eat and sleep

There’s a full range of accommodation options in Kiev, from hostels to five-star luxury. We found a good deal on booking.com for a boat hotel (yep, a boatel), which was an interesting experience! We ate at small local restaurants, and particularly enjoyed going to Pusata Hata with our Ukrainian friends.

Final thoughts

While we don’t recommend visiting Eastern Ukraine at the moment due to the conflict with Russia, there’s no reason to put off a trip to Odessa or Kiev. Both of these cities have a lot to offer in terms of architecture, food, and a warm welcome from local inhabitants. So check if you need a visa, and go!

To listen, hit play above or check in iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud.

Would you like to visit Ukraine? Have you ever been? Leave a comment below.

I was recently stupid enough to try to enter Ukraine without a visa. Read the first part of the story here.

The embassy

There was already a small crowd clustered around the entrance to the Ukrainian embassy in Chisinau when I arrived, well before the 9am opening time. Three old ladies in long skirts and flowered headscarves gripped the bars of the locked gate, middle-aged men and women held passports in gloved hands. More people arrived, asked questions of the others in Russian, received a shake of the head in reply. The cold seemed to intensify as we waited, the group slowly expanding to include a young couple, a mother and her toddler son, a well-dressed woman in her thirties.

Ukrainian visa problemsPin me on Pinterest!Finally the guard’s boots sounded along the concrete path behind the iron double gate. He pulled out keys and unlocked the doors, but didn’t stand back to let us pass as I’d expected, but rather started reading names from a photocopied list. About twelve people, half the group, were allowed through; my name was not called. The guard started to pull the gate closed, to a chorus of complaints. I pulled out my passport and made my way to the front of the group, waiting for a pause in the arguments to show it to the guard.

“Ah, you’re from New Zealand?” He said in English, gesturing for me to pass through. He locked the gates behind me and followed me down the path into the now-crowded office, where he sat at a desk and pulled out a ledger book to record everyone’s details. I was last; he disappeared into a back room and came back with an application form in English.

“Fill this out then go to window number one,” he told me. There was no one behind window one, or two, or three for that matter, but eventually staff arrived and paperwork started being processed. Slowly.

I finally made it to window one after about an hour, and found that the smartly-dressed clerk behind the desk spoke English. I didn’t like what he had to say, though.

“You’re travelling for tourism?” He asked, looking at the box I’d ticked to indicate my reason for visiting Ukraine.

“Yes.”

“Where’s your tourist voucher?”

I’d been told not to bring anything except my passport and some money with me to the embassy, and I’d double-checked that I didn’t need an invitation letter. So what was this voucher?

“Travelling for tourism means you’ve booked a tour, with a guide. They should give you a voucher.”

“But I’m just going to travel around independently.”

“Ah, just change that to “private” then.”

Crisis averted. He then asked if I had a copy of my passport, and proof of travel insurance, and I passed over the documents I’d had printed two days earlier just in case. After what felt like an interminable wait, he said my visa would be ready at 3pm that same day, I just had to pay for it first.

Moldova bank.It looks so innocent, but I spent a lot of time in this bank.

The bank

The bank was easy to find; I followed a cluster of head-scarfed old ladies up the broken steps and into the branch. There weren’t too many people waiting to be served, but it took a full hour to get to the front of the queue. After negotiating about paying by credit card, handing over 5 lei for no apparent reason, and receiving my three receipts off the dot-matrix printer, I was good to go. I returned to the embassy, elbowed my way to the front of the queue, handed over some of the papers I’d been given.

“See you this afternoon,” said the clerk.

When I returned at 3pm, my passport was ready, complete with shiny, new, expensive visa. Now I just had to get across the border.

The border

As it happened, my nervousness was unfounded. Unlike last time, I barely even saw the border guards: one boarded our mini bus to collect our passports and look at us intently to compare our faces to our passport photos, and our documents were passed back down the bus by the other passengers after processing. No worries at all.

Well, for me, at least. My seatmate, a Russian guy in his early twenties, was left behind at the border, perhaps to have a similar experience to mine the week before. He waved sadly as the bus pulled away, taking me, finally, into Ukraine.

Have you ever had a problem entering or leaving a country? Leave a comment below.

Moldova’s one of those countries that doesn’t get much press, though that has been changing recently with the high-profile arrest of its president for corruption. It’s poor and misunderstood, but is rapidly forming new connections with Western Europe and is sharing its spectacular wine with the world.

Geography

Questions about a href=Pin me on Pinterest!

Where is Moldova?

Moldova is located in eastern Europe. It’s a land-locked country that’s shaped roughly like a semi-circle, with Romania to the west and Ukraine to the north, east and south. Its southeastern point almost touches the Black Sea.

Which country is close to Moldova? Which country is to the west of Moldova?

Romania borders Moldova to the west, and Ukraine is to the east. Bulgaria isn’t far away, it’s easily reached through Romania; and Turkey is to the south and south-east, reached through Romania and Bulgaria by bus, or across the Black Sea.

What is the landmass of Moldova? How big is Moldova?

Moldova is quite a small country, especially in comparison to its neighbours Ukraine and Romania. It has a landmass of 33.843 sq km.

What is the capital city of Moldova?

The capital city of Moldova is Chișinău, which is located in the center-south of the country. You pronounce Chișinău “KISH-ee-now”.

Victory arch in Chisinau MoldovaThe Victory Arch is one of the symbols of Chisinau.

General facts

What is the currency of Moldova?

The currency of Moldova is the leu (singular), or lei (plural). One euro = 22.5 lei, one US dollar = 19.8 lei. Credit cards are accepted in many restaurants and in major hotels, but you’ll need cash for most transactions. ATMs are widespread and currency exchanges are located almost every 50m in Chișinău. The exchange office in the airport gives a fair exchange rate.

What language is spoken in Moldova? What is the native language of Moldova?

The official language of Moldova is Romanian, and Russian is also widely spoken. A Turkish dialect called Gaguaz is spoken in some areas.

English is not widespread, though it is now being taught at school from the first year of study. Many younger people and people in the tourism industry speak good English, but it is not common among older people.

You will see English on some signs, like this one at Asconi Winery.You will see English on some signs, like this one at Asconi Winery.

What is the climate like in Moldova?

Moldova has a temperate climate, with hot summers and winters that can be quite cold. Lows go below 0 in winter and highs in summer hover around 27-30. It’s mostly dry, with rainfalls in early summer and in October.

How safe is Moldova?

We found Moldova to be a very safe country. Corruption is a problem at a state level, and there is a big anti-corruption press campaign going on at the moment, as well as frequent protests. Pickpocketing is as common as in other European countries, and because of poor street lighting it’s important to be careful at night. You’re most likely to have problems with the uneven pavements!

Economy and government

What type of government does Moldova have?

Moldova is a parliamentary republic. It was part of Romania until the Second World War, when it became part of the USSR. It declared independence in 1991 and joined the UN in 1992. In 2014 it signed the Association Agreement with the European Union.

What is the economy like in Moldova?

Moldova is the poorest country in Europe and is plagued by corruption. A major part of its production is produce, and since Russia banned produce imports from Moldova in 2014, the fruit and vegetable industry is having major problems at present.

What is the average salary in Moldova?

The current average monthly salary is increasing, it’s currently around 4,900 lei or US$250. The GDP is US$3500.

Why is Moldova not part of the European Union?

Moldova is a relatively new country that is rapidly opening up. It signed the Association Agreement with the European Union in 2014, so although it’s not a member it is associated with the EU, and may be able to join in the future.

Why is Moldova so poor?

It’s a largely agricultural society plagued by corruption. Things seem to be changing now, though, with more connection with the western world and more opportunities for young people to choose alternative jobs.

Et Cetera winery is conveniently located on the road from Chisinau to Odessa, so we visited this morning before finally making it to Ukraine! The highlight was trying wine straight from the vat.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Oct 18, 2015 at 6:37am PDT

Tourism

Do I need a visa for Moldova?

Probably not! On April 28, 2014, Moldova made a huge change to their visa regime which means that citizens of many countries don’t need a visa to enter. So if you’re from the EU, US, Canada, New Zealand, or Australia, no visa is required. South Africans still require a visa. Check the official website for more information.

What is Moldova famous for? What is Moldova best known for?

Moldova is perhaps best known for its wine, which is absolutely delicious. Most Moldovan families make wine at home, so the wineries chiefly produce wines for export. This is a relatively new industry and it’s growing fast.

There are also a lot of amazing religious buildings and institutions in Moldova, including churches and monasteries. There are castles and fortresses dating back to medieval times, as well as historical monuments to visit.

Soroca fortress in MoldovaSoroca Fortress in the north of the country is worth a visit.

What to do in Moldova?

Since wine is such an important part of the culture, visit during the first weekend of October to take part in the annual wine festival. This festival has been running for 15 years and now that citizens of most countries don’t need a visa to enter the country, it’s a lot easier to get to.

There are a lot of wines to taste -- Purcari has 16 on offer!There are a lot of wines to taste — Purcari has 16 on offer!

How much is a beer in Moldova?

In a local restaurant, expect to pay around 20 lei for a small beer (less than €1 or US$1). Check out Andy’s Pizza’s menu for more food and drink prices.

There are a couple of boutique breweries that are worth checking out, though the beer is a little more expensive.

Should I visit Moldova?

If you like wine, definitely. If you want to visit somewhere that’s relatively untouched by western tourism, it’s also a good choice; and if you’re into architecture you’ll also like it. It isn’t full of tourist attractions and getting around by public transport can be a challenge, but I think it’s certainly worth a visit.

Where should I stay in Moldova?

Moldova is a small country and most of its attractions are easily reached within two hours’ drive from Chișinău. You’re best to base yourself there, and you’ll find a full range of accommodation options, from apartment rentals to five-star hotels. Check out Hostelbookers for hostels or Booking.com for hotels.

If you want to get out of the city, consider an overnight stay at Butuceni Eco-resort, or at one of the wineries that offer accommodation (like Purcari or Chateau Vartely; Asconi, Castel Mimi, and Et Cetera are in the process of creating accommodation).

If you stay at Butuceni, you'll have the chance to try your hand at making traditional food.If you stay at Butuceni, you’ll have the chance to try your hand at making traditional food.

How to get to Moldova?

There are direct flights from many European cities, such as London and Milan. Wizz Air is a good budget choice: check options on Skyscanner. You can also arrive by bus or (infrequent) train from Romania or Ukraine.

Which Moldova guidebook should I buy?

Online information about Moldova is scarce (though Moldova Holiday is quite useful) so a guidebook could be a good option. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many available. If you’re travelling there as part of a larger trip, Lonely Planet’s Europe on a shoestring and Eastern Europe guidebooks both include basic information, but their Romania and Moldova guide was last published in 2007.

Do I need insurance for Moldova?

Yes, it’s always a good idea to have travel insurance. We use World Nomads, which allows you to extend your policy and make claims online.

Do you have any questions about Moldova? Ask in the comments below.

Some of the links in this post are affiliates.

Wine, culture, food, religion, wine… I’ll be honest. It was wine that brought us to Moldova, and wine that kept us keen. Every year, during the first weekend of October, this eastern European country hosts a wine festival to promote its (very tasty) wine.

Pin me on Pinterest!Pin me on Pinterest!This year, protests forced a change in proceedings, and instead of setting up stalls in the main square, the organisers transported visitors to the wineries themselves, for tours, tastings, and special events.

We based ourselves in the capital city of Chișinău, and did day trips to small towns and wineries throughout the country. While wine logically held pride of place, we also enjoyed our visits to the breakaway republic of Transnistria and the northern town of Soroca, famous for its fortress.

Moldova once formed part of the USSR, and declared independence on its dissolution in 1991. Since then, it has been largely unnoticed by the rest of the world, but that’s starting to change. It signed an Association Agreement with the European Union in 2014 (causing problems with Russia) and is rapidly opening up. Budget flights even fly there now — so you have no excuse not to head there next October to take part in the wine festival.

In the meantime, enjoy these Moldova Instagram photos. While you check them out, take a listen to our Moldova podcast: hit play below or find episode 309 in iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud:

Chișinău

The victory arch is one of the symbols of Chisinau, in this photo it comes complete with Moldovan flag and protesters behind. Goodbye Chisinau! It's been fun, and I'm sure we'll be back. Now, we're on the train, heading to Odessa.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Oct 11, 2015 at 9:38pm PDT

This statue of Stephen the Great has pride of place in the center of Chisinau. The main street of the city is named after him too!

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Oct 15, 2015 at 10:12am PDT

This protest in the center of Chisinau is the reason the wine festival has been canceled. However, there are still plenty of things going on: when we flew in this morning a folk band was playing music to welcome passengers and we were given a mini bottle of wine to try. In other news WE ARE IN MOLDOVA. I don't know if I've ever been quite as excited about visiting a country, I've been looking forward to this for so long.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Oct 1, 2015 at 12:27pm PDT

Delicious and beautiful fruit in the market of Chisinau.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Oct 12, 2015 at 1:56pm PDT

So, I got slightly lost on my way back from the supermarket this afternoon. Upside: I got to see this monastery. I thought all of Moldova's monasteries were in the countryside, but this one is right in the middle of Chisinau.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Oct 6, 2015 at 10:27am PDT

Balloons at Chisinau city day celebrations yesterday. Happy birthday, Chisinau!

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Oct 14, 2015 at 9:51pm PDT

Happy City Day, Chisinau! Our lunch today was ribs and sausages with a locally brewed beer, from a street stall in the main street of the city. It was blocked off from traffic and bustling with people, and stalls were selling honey, crafts, food… All sorts of things. It was awesome, and tasty.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Oct 14, 2015 at 12:14pm PDT

As we drove back into the city after a day of wine tasting, traditional food preparation and a winery visit, we were treated to a stunning sunset behind the Chisinau sign. I like Moldova.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Oct 3, 2015 at 1:16pm PDT

Wine

We might have made it to Ukraine but we arrived tired and a bit sick, so we crashed out in the hotel to watch the Rugby World Cup quarter finals. Hence, no photos of Odessa yet, instead you get one of Moldovan grapes that will be Moldovan wine when they grow up.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Oct 19, 2015 at 12:04am PDT

Et Cetera winery is conveniently located on the road from Chisinau to Odessa, so we visited this morning before finally making it to Ukraine! The highlight was trying wine straight from the vat.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Oct 18, 2015 at 6:37am PDT

Although the wine festival in the main square of Chisinau has been canceled this year, the small producers have gotten together to have a mini festival near the town of Orhei, Moldova. We've tried a few wines so far — all delicious. We are most excited about a local grape, the Rara Neagra.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Oct 3, 2015 at 5:37am PDT

Old wine vats and flowers at Asconi Winery, Moldova.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Oct 2, 2015 at 12:43pm PDT

Cheers from Moldova! This is young wine (must) similar to sturm in Austria and Germany.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Oct 5, 2015 at 11:54pm PDT

Of all the cellars we've seen over the last couple of weeks, I think this one is the most beautiful. You can't see the two wings in this photo, but it's shaped like a cross, and it was recently refurbished.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Oct 18, 2015 at 11:08am PDT

Soroca

The Soroca fortress was a lot smaller than we expected it to be, but gorgeous. There were fantastic views of the river from the towers and two wedding parties were having their photos taken there.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Oct 11, 2015 at 12:43am PDT

Our Moldovan adventure for the day was a trip to Soroca in the north of the country to visit the fortress. There are some great views from inside, like this hobbit-hole window. Seems appropriate, since we're from New Zealand!

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Oct 10, 2015 at 10:18am PDT

Here's another photo of the Soroca Fortress, which we visited a few days ago, this time from the inside. This building was built around 1499 — that's some time ago!

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Oct 13, 2015 at 9:30am PDT

This is the Candle of Gratitude monument in Soroca, Moldova, which we visited a few days ago. It's at the top of a hill and accessed by many steps, but we came the long way around, through Gypsy Hill, to see the unfinished Roma mansions.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Oct 12, 2015 at 11:27pm PDT

Transnistria

I love this little shrine in the center of Tiraspol, it's so pretty. We were there a few days ago on our way back from the Ukrainian border.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Oct 16, 2015 at 12:41pm PDT

The churches in this part of the world are so beautiful, inside and out. This is the Nativity Church in Tiraspol, Transnistria.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Oct 15, 2015 at 11:31pm PDT

I love stained glass windows, but it's not common to see them relating to cognac production. But in the museum of the Kvint factory in Tiraspol, Transnistria, that's exactly what this window depicts. (Later we tasted cognac, yum.)

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Oct 8, 2015 at 11:41pm PDT

We might have arrived too late to go into the Bender fortress in Transnistria, but at least we got a beautiful sunset. And then, a mad mini bus drive back to Chisinau, but that's another story.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Oct 8, 2015 at 11:06am PDT

Orheiul Vechi

Yesterday, after visiting the mini wine festival at Butuceni, we wandered up to the monastery at Orheiul Vechi. There's a little hermitage cave in the rock that we visited, and then we went to the main building on the top of the cliff. The view was great and the building gorgeous, but the smell of incense and the sound of the monks singing was amazing.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Oct 3, 2015 at 11:38pm PDT

A goat at the Orheiul Vechi monastery in Moldova.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Oct 5, 2015 at 12:14am PDT

Incense spilled out the door and the sound of monks singing filled the air as I took this photo at the monastery at Orheiul Vechi. A magic moment.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Oct 6, 2015 at 4:08am PDT

Another angle of the monastery at Orheiul Vechi, Moldova… Such a beautiful place.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Oct 6, 2015 at 11:48pm PDT

Come join us on Instagram by searching for indietravel — we’re having heaps of fun!

Lonely Planet Ukraine (Travel Guide)

Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet: The world's leading travel guide publisher

Lonely Planet Ukraine is your passport to all the most relevant and up-to-date advice on what to see, what to skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Descend into catacombs to see mummies in Kyiv, hike to Ukraine's highest peak - Mt. Hoverla, or watch the old Soviet-era trams rumble past in Lviv; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Ukraine and begin your journey now!

Inside Lonely Planet's Ukraine Travel Guide:

Colour maps and images throughout Highlights and itineraries show you the simplest way to tailor your trip to your own personal needs and interests Insider tips save you time and money, and help you get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots Essential info at your fingertips - including hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, and prices Honest reviews for all budgets - including eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, and hidden gems that most guidebooks miss Cultural insights give you a richer and more rewarding travel experience - including customs, history, Chernobyl, art, literature, sport, music, architecture, politics, and cuisine Over 45 maps Coverage of Kyiv, Crimea, Lviv, Odesa, Yalta, Kamyanets-Podilsky,  Chernihiv, Uman, Poltava, Transcarpathia, Podillya, Polissya, Ternopil, Kolomyya, Bakhchysaray, Sudak, Ploshcha Rynok, Andriyivsky Uzviz, Bukovyna,  Lutsk, Southern Bessarabia, and more

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet Ukraine, our most comprehensive guide to Ukraine, is perfect for those planning to both explore the top sights and take the road less travelled. Looking for more extensive coverage? Check out Lonely Planet's Eastern Europe guide for a comprehensive look at all the region has to offer.

Authors: Written and researched by Lonely Planet, Marc Di Duca and Leonid Ragozin

About Lonely Planet: Started in 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel guide publisher with guidebooks to every destination on the planet, as well as an award-winning website, a suite of mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveller community. Lonely Planet's mission is to enable curious travellers to experience the world and to truly get to the heart of the places they find themselves in.

TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice Awards 2012 and 2013 winner in Favorite Travel Guide category

'Lonely Planet guides are, quite simply, like no other.' - New York Times

'Lonely Planet. It's on everyone's bookshelves; it's in every traveller's hands. It's on mobile phones. It's on the Internet. It's everywhere, and it's telling entire generations of people how to travel the world.' - Fairfax Media (Australia)

Ukraine: Europe's Best-Kept Secret: An Insider's Guide

Maria Kachmar

- offers many tourist tips to prepare you for a trip to Ukraine - provides insight into the culture and way of life Having lived in Ukraine for almost 10 years, the author offers a concise, easy-to-read insider's travel and living guide with practical advice for enhancing your stay. Part I introduces you to many of the delights the country has to offer and Part II contains city guides for Lviv and Kyiv, with helpful information on tourist attractions, entertainment options, places to eat, unique Ukrainian experiences and family-friendly activities. For those planning to stay longer, Part III offers practical advice on medical facilities, best places to shop, local transportation, tips on meeting locals, getting to know the Ukrainian way of life and much more.

Borderland: A Journey Through The History Of Ukraine

Anna Reid

Borderland tells the story of Ukraine. A thousand years ago it was the center of the first great Slav civilization, Kievan Rus. In 1240, the Mongols invaded from the east, and for the next seven centureies, Ukraine was split between warring neighbors: Lithuanians, Poles, Russians, Austrians, and Tatars. Again and again, borderland turned into battlefield: during the Cossack risings of the seventeenth century, Russia's wars with Sweden in the eighteenth, the Civil War of 1918–1920, and under Nazi occupation. Ukraine finally won independence in 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Bigger than France and a populous as Britain, it has the potential to become one of the most powerful states in Europe.In this finely written and penetrating book, Anna Reid combines research and her own experiences to chart Ukraine's tragic past. Talking to peasants and politicians, rabbis and racketeers, dissidents and paramilitaries, survivors of Stalin's famine and of Nazi labor camps, she reveals the layers of myth and propaganda that wrap this divided land. From the Polish churches of Lviv to the coal mines of the Russian-speaking Donbass, from the Galician shtetlech to the Tatar shantytowns of Crimea, the book explores Ukraine's struggle to build itself a national identity, and identity that faces up to a bloody past, and embraces all the peoples within its borders.

Ukraine, 4th Edition

Andrew Dr Evans

Ukraine is the largest country in Europe. Evolving rapidly, the country offers visitors an unrivalled combination of old and new. Updated throughout, Ukraine highlights towns and villages well off the beaten track, and goes into greater depth than its competitors, with more detail on the history, culture and sights, and more entertaining reviews of hotels and restaurants. The practical information highlights how to get there by bus, rail and boat. The culture section features new writers of independent Ukraine and the history section has been updated to cover all the events that followed Yanukovych's election in 2010.

 

In Wartime: Stories from Ukraine

Tim Judah

From one of the finest journalists of our time comes a definitive, boots-on-the-ground dispatch from the front lines of the conflict in Ukraine.   Ever since Ukraine’s violent 2014 revolution, followed by Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the country has been at war. Misinformation reigns, more than two million people have been displaced, and Ukrainians fight one another on a second front—the crucial war against corruption.With In Wartime, Tim Judah lays bare the events that have turned neighbors against one another and mired Europe’s second-largest country in a conflict seemingly without end.In Lviv, Ukraine’s western cultural capital, mothers tend the graves of sons killed on the other side of the country. On the Maidan, the square where the protests that deposed President Yanukovych began, pamphleteers, recruiters, buskers, and mascots compete for attention. In Donetsk, civilians who cheered Russia’s President Putin find their hopes crushed as they realize they have been trapped in the twilight zone of a frozen conflict. Judah talks to everyone from politicians to poets, pensioners, and historians. Listening to their clashing explanations, he interweaves their stories to create a sweeping, tragic portrait of a country fighting a war of independence from Russia—twenty-five years after the collapse of the USSR.

Ukraine

Reise Know-How Verlag

Folded, indexed, road map of the Ukraine, showing all major and many minor roads, cities and towns, at a scale of 1,000,000 (1 " to 16 miles). Map shows national parks, mountains, castles, places of interest, rivers, churches, railways, and lakes. Legend is in German and English.

Black Square: Adventures in Post-Soviet Ukraine

Sophie Pinkham

A distinctive writer’s fascinating journey into the heart of a troubled region.

Ukraine has rebuilt itself over and over again in the last century, plagued by the same conflicts: corruption, poverty, substance abuse, ethnic clashes, and Russian aggression. Sophie Pinkham saw all this and more in the course of ten years working, traveling, and reporting in Ukraine and Russia, over a period that included the Maidan revolution of 2013–14, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and the ensuing war in eastern Ukraine.

With a keen eye for the dark absurdities of post-Soviet society, Pinkham presents a dynamic account of contemporary Ukrainian life. She meets―among others―a charismatic doctor helping to smooth the transition to democracy even as he struggles with his own drug addiction, a Bolano-esque art gallerist prone to public nudity, and a Russian Jewish clarinetist agitating for Ukrainian liberation. These fascinating personalities, rendered in a bold, original style, deliver an indelible impression of a country on the brink.

Black Square is necessary reading for anyone who wishes to learn not only the political roots of the current conflict in Ukraine but also the personal stories of the people who live it every day.

2 maps

Ukraine - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture

Anna Shevchenko

This revised and updated edition of Culture Smart! Ukraine reveals a country in the throes of change. The euphoria of the famous Orange Revolution has vanished. The momentum for reform has been checked and the forces of authoritarianism have returned. Even so, modernization continues apace and people are eager to be seen as European. The recent political instability highlights the contradictions of Ukrainian society. Ukrainians are proud of their roots, and reticent about the traumas of their past; the country participates in international space programs and produces the world’s largest aircraft, but still lives in a world of superstitions. The Ukrainian way of life is intertwined with ancient customs, the old Soviet legacy, and the search for a new European identity. What strikes visitors to this fascinating and important country is the heady mix of ancient history and youthful energy, the resilience of the people, and their generosity of spirit. For the twentieth anniversary of its independence, Ukraine received quite a present—hosting the key matches of Euro 2012. Now it has a game of its own: to show the world that it is a serious player. This new edition of Culture Smart! Ukraine will enable you to visit the country with open eyes. It describes the history that has shaped the Ukrainian psyche, explains present-day values and attitudes, and offers practical advice on what to expect and how to behave. It aims to make you feel at ease, whether you are shopping in a market, dining out, or attending a business meeting.

Exercise a high degree of caution; see also regional advisories.

The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The Government of Canada takes the safety and security of Canadians abroad very seriously and provides credible and timely information in its Travel Advice. In the event of a crisis situation that requires evacuation, the Government of Canada’s policy is to provide safe transportation to the closest safe location. The Government of Canada will assist you in leaving a country or a region as a last resort, when all means of commercial or personal transportation have been exhausted. This service is provided on a cost-recovery basis. Onward travel is at your personal expense. Situations vary from one location to another, and there may be constraints on government resources that will limit the ability of the Government of Canada to provide assistance, particularly in countries or regions where the potential for violent conflict or political instability is high.

Crimea

On February 27, 2014, an armed group took control of the Crimean Parliament, and on February 28, armed groups seized control of two airports in the region. There is a serious threat of further escalation, and the potential for violence and military action is ongoing in the region. The security situation is currently unpredictable and may deteriorate further with little or no warning.

If you are presently in Crimea, consider leaving while it is safe to do so. If you are unable to exit the country safely, remain indoors and avoid large crowds and demonstrations. The airports in Crimea are not currently operational.

Kyiv, DonetskKharkiv and Luhansk Oblasts

Demonstrations in Kyiv, DonetskKharkiv and Luhansk have intensified since February 18, 2014. These demonstrations have disrupted transportation and blocked major intersections, including those in close proximity to the Embassy of Canada in Kyiv. There have been multiple incidents of violence associated with these protests, which have resulted in injuries and fatalities, including in areas adjacent to popular tourist sites and commercial centres.

Crime

Street crime (pickpocketing and scamming) is common, particularly in crowded places, in tourist areas, in bars and nightclubs and on public transportation. Pickpocketing has increased on the Kyiv metro.

Armed robbery can also occur, especially in the larger cities. Racially motivated violence and harassment occur without corrective action by local authorities.

Ensure that your personal belongings, passports and other travel documents are secure at all times. Avoid showing signs of affluence and carrying large sums of cash.

Demonstrations

Daily demonstrations have been occurring throughout Ukraine since the end of November 2013, following the Ukrainian government’s decision to suspend preparations for the signing of an agreement with the European Union. While the situation in Kyiv and other cities has calmed significantly as of February 23, 2014, the possibility of demonstrations remains during the transition period. Demonstrations and marches are most likely to take place in the center of Kyiv, including, but not limited to Independence Square, European Square, Hrushevskogo Street, Kreshchatyk Street, Instytutska Street and in front government buildings in the downtown area. Clashes have also taken place in Donetsk and Kharkiv. There continues to be a significant crowd presence in these locations, including groups carrying weapons, and barricades and checkpoints in these areas remain in place. Avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings, follow the advice of local authorities and monitor local media.

Fraud and scams

Debit and credit card fraud occurs. Pay careful attention when your cards are being handled by others during payment processing. The use of on-street automated banking machines (ABMs) is not recommended.

One common scam involves a person dropping a wallet or a bundle of money in front of a tourist, hoping the tourist will pick it up. The scam artist then accuses the tourist of stealing some of the money. These scams can involve several crooks, some posing as police officers. Should this happen to you, do not pick up the dropped items; simply walk away without engaging in conversation.

Be aware of potential Internet fraud by persons claiming to live in Ukraine who offer goods for sale or profess companionship, romantic interest or marriage proposals. Neither the Embassy of Canada nor Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada is in a position to help recover lost funds or property in such cases.

See our Overseas Fraud page for more information on scams abroad.

Spiked food and drinks

Never leave food or drinks unattended or in the care of strangers. Be wary of accepting snacks, beverages, gum or cigarettes from new acquaintances, as they may contain drugs that could put you at risk of sexual assault and robbery.

Road travel

Travel by road can be hazardous. Most roads outside major cities are poorly maintained. Drivers are often aggressive and have little regard for traffic regulations. Pedestrians should be particularly careful.

Avoid driving after dark outside major cities, as limited road visibility, poor vehicle maintenance and intoxicated drivers pose threats.

Motorists should not stop or camp overnight in isolated areas.

While roadside services such as gas stations and repair facilities are increasingly common, they remain inadequate.

Public transportation

Buses are usually overcrowded and in poor condition. Vehicles can be rented at rental agencies in major cities and at some major hotels in Kyiv. Only use officially marked taxis and do not share them with strangers.

Exercise caution on trains, particularly at night, due to the risk of robbery and muggings. Store personal belongings and travel documents in a safe place and do not leave the compartment unattended. Ensure that the door is secured from the inside. Avoid travelling alone.

The main ports for sea travel are Izmail, on the Danube Delta, and Odessa. Ferry service is available to the Russian Federation as well as to a number of cities on the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. A ferry service connects Sevastopol and Istanbul, Turkey.

Consult our Transportation Safety page in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.

General safety information

Exercise a high degree of caution in all places. Ensure that your personal belongings, passports and other travel documents are secure at all times. Avoid showing signs of affluence and carrying large sums of cash.

Tourist facilities outside the major centres of Kyiv, Lviv and Odessa are not highly developed. Mobile phone coverage outside major cities is unpredictable.

Emergency services

Dial 101 to reach firefighters, 102 for police and 103 for an ambulance.

Health

Related Travel Health Notices
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
Vaccines

Routine Vaccines

Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.

Vaccines to Consider

You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread by contaminated food or water. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.

Influenza

Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or through personal contact with unwashed hands. Get the flu shot.

Measles

Measles occurs worldwide but is a common disease in developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles is a highly contagious disease. Be sure your vaccination against measles is up-to-date regardless of the travel destination.
 

Rabies

Rabies is a disease that attacks the central nervous system spread to humans through a bite, scratch or lick from a rabid animal. Vaccination should be considered for travellers going to areas where rabies exists and who have a high risk of exposure (i.e., close contact with animals, occupational risk, and children).

Tick-borne encephalitis

Tick-borne encephalitis is a viral disease that can cause swelling of the brain. It is spread to humans by the bite of an infected tick. Vaccination should be considered for those who may be exposed to tick bites (e.g., those spending time outdoors in wooded areas) while travelling in regions with risk of tick-borne encephalitis.

Yellow Fever Vaccination

Yellow fever is a disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.

* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Risk
  • There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
  • Proof of vaccination is not required to enter this country.
Recommendation
  • Vaccination is not recommended.
Food/Water

Food and Water-borne Diseases

Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.

In some areas in Eastern Europe, food and water can also carry diseases like hepatitis A. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in Eastern Europe. When in doubt, remember…boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!

Travellers' diarrhea
  • Travellers' diarrhea is the most common illness affecting travellers. It is spread from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.
  • Risk of developing travellers’ diarrhea increases when travelling in regions with poor sanitation. Practise safe food and water precautions.
  • The most important treatment for travellers' diarrhea is rehydration (drinking lots of fluids). Carry oral rehydration salts when travelling.

Insects

Insects and Illness

In some areas in Eastern Europe, certain insects carry and spread diseases like Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, leishmaniasis, Lyme disease, tick-borne encephalitis, and West Nile virus.

Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.


Malaria

Malaria

There is no risk of malaria in this country.


Animals

Animals and Illness

Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, snakes, rodents, and bats. Certain infections found in Eastern Europe, like rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.


Person-to-Person

Person-to-Person Infections

Crowded conditions can increase your risk of certain illnesses. Remember to wash your hands often and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to avoid colds, the flu and other illnesses.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are spread through blood and bodily fluids; practise safer sex.

Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is an infection caused by bacteria and usually affects the lungs.

For most travellers the risk of tuberculosis is low.

Travellers who may be at high risk while travelling in regions with risk of tuberculosis should discuss pre- and post-travel options with a health care provider.

High-risk travellers include those visiting or working in prisons, refugee camps, homeless shelters, or hospitals, or travellers visiting friends and relatives.


Medical services and facilities

Medical services and facilities

Medical facilities are limited. Shortages of basic medical supplies are common. The medical insurance policy provided by the state-owned company Ukrainmedstrakh covers all expenses for medical care and provides medical supplies in case of emergency.

Keep in Mind...

The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.

Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.

You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and detention page for more information.

A serious violation may lead to a jail sentence. The sentence will be served in local prisons.

Identification

Carry adequate identification at all times. Keep a photocopy of your passport in case of loss or seizure.

Local police may ask to see your passport and visa at any time. Always cooperate with local authorities. Be aware that you may be detained for up to three hours while your identification documents are being verified. Racially motivated mistreatment or harassment by Ukrainian authorities occurs.

Illegal drugs

Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs are strict. Convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.

Driving laws

An International Driving Permit or a Ukrainian driver's licence is required, and car insurance is mandatory.

There is zero tolerance for driving under the influence of alcohol. Police are permitted to fine you on the spot.

Money

The currency is the hryvnia (UAH).

The economy operates primarily on a cash basis. However, credit cards are accepted in most major cities. Foreign currency can be exchanged at banks, hotels and licensed exchange booths. Carry crisp bills, as well-worn or used U.S. banknotes may not be accepted. Automated banking machines (ABMs) are available, but new bank cards with a microchip cannot be used.

Customs

There are strict customs regulations and procedures regarding the export of antiquities and items of historical interest.

Climate

Forest fires can occur in eastern and southern Ukraine during the hottest summer months of July and August. In the event of a major fire, stay away from affected areas, follow the advice of local emergency services personnel, and monitor local media for up-to-date information. The air quality in areas near active fires may deteriorate due to heavy smoke and affect travellers with respiratory ailments. For assistance, contact the Embassy of Canada in Kyiv.