I have been visiting Ukraine for the last several days, first in Lviv and now Kiev, and will be finishing out in a small city called Chernivtsi on the way to Romania. Friends and acquaintances have asked me more questions about Ukraine probably than any other country, though I do get a lot of questions about the Nordic countries to do with the social welfare / social democracy states (I can answer one – a Norwegian hostel roommate indicated he is here in Ukraine for dental work since though he says the annual health deductible is only about $140 a year in Norway, this does not include dental, and he is saving thousands of dollars US by getting the work done here). I could go into quite extensive research on what I’m seeing and to try to get it more authenticated, but instead I will include some quick things that I have verified with multiple people but not done extensive research on.
- Whistling is considered bad luck. It is meant to only be back luck in an indoor setting but even today I saw people very unhappy when someone was doing this. The superstition is that people or the institution around the whistling are going to lose a lot of money.
- The national pension scheme or disability starts at 1,074 hryvnia per month, or about $41USD/£32/€36. You can imagine what kind of battle one would have against inflation, even if it is very cheap here. (Government social protection website)
- Most hostels are between $4/£3.25/€3.70 and $9 a night, the latter often just being a higher rate for the weekend. You can see hostelworld.com or booking.com to see rates as low as 90 hryvnia per night, or still less than $4USD.
- Ukrainian and Russian are both spoken, and in general Ukrainian becomes more dominant the further west you go. English is increasingly spoken and there are major efforts to push it since tourism is now more open.
- Check your own country’s relationship with Ukraine for the visa programs, but in the US, right now there is an automatic 90-day visa granted at the border, a program that just began early in 2017. If you are reading this after 2017, this could change at any time and one should always check immediately before entering.
- The war is to the east and south and these areas should be avoided. I did see a report that Ukraine is supposedly the 9th most dangerous country in the world and Kiev the most dangerous city in Europe but in a week I have never felt in danger – just kind of cumbersome experiences dealing with the language barrier and differences in process – essentially what western people would consider inefficiencies.
- There is a fair bit of sex tourism going on. I think this has been the case for a long time and personally I find it pretty repugnant. It is not on par with say, Thailand, but more than western Europe. If you have dating applications such as Tinder you’ll find as a heterosexual male that the response rate from local women is extremely high compared to other countries. The reasons for this are probably numerous – a friendly culture, locals wanting more international contacts, an opening of the marketplace, a perception of wealth of western people, a desire to work in western Europe in higher paying countries, and so on. If you are Ukrainian and reading this and disagree, feel free to add your reasons below.
- In the places I’ve stayed, except when there were other Ukrainians staying for local festivals, among the international visitors, I would estimate that they have been 70-75% male. I would estimate that this is a combination of a higher risk tolerance for this kind of travel and perhaps principally related to dating and sex prospects. Remember if you’re here for romantic purposes, you’d better be respectful and not throw around your money or objectify other people.
- I would strongly advise keeping political views to yourself at least until you can
assess the dynamics at play with people that you are speaking to. I see a number of people who think they’re not being offensive but who have crossed some line, or at least created that perception. There are Ukrainian nationalists, Russian-speaking Ukrainians with mixed feelings, and all kinds of factions that you cannot always see or understand as a visitor.
- Unless you’re really going for top dining, you probably won’t exceed spending 250 hryvnia on food and drink in a day if you’re going to humble, modest establishments. A latte is between 17-31 hryvnia for instance (approximately 65 cents-$1.20/50-90p/60 cents-€1) and I typically can eat a few items for a meal for 100 hryvnia. A girl from New Zealand I met spent about €11 for a rather extensive Georgian meal that included beer and sides in Kiev.
- The buses and trams I have seen in cities are from 2 to 6 hryvnia, or less than 25 cents US.
- Be very reverent, calm, and quiet around churches. This is a deeply religious country. I have never seen people cross themselves so frequently. All the same, some contacts have told me that in moments of desperation the superstitions of the population make many people seek psychics, the occult, and other magicians for solutions.
- I think this is rather quiet society, so for respect and to not put yourself at risk, I advise speaking quietly and not drawing attention to yourself.
- The people seem to very much appreciate visitors and want to be helpful, to a much stronger degree than I have seen many places. I have done my best to show gratitude and smile a great deal – in my opinion they need this in unstable times.
- A lot of what is reported to the west is distorted or exaggerated, though there are
some serious problems here and a war where people are still dying and territories essentially off-limits or not governed by Ukraine. Over the last few days, there was a large-scale cyber attack, but the Ukrainians I talked to did not know about it, in spite of western media indicating that the country was “crippled” (Newsweek, Popular Mechanics). Finally when talking to one local, she said that they have been through so much worse that it was not really an issue.
- As with anywhere, I recommend having a smartphone and taking screenshots or pictures of any accommodations, tickets, or bookings of any kind that are important. On the train, I was told that the official for each car would take the printed ticket and give it back at the journey. I took a picture of the ticket and sure enough, twice, the same lady operating guest services on my car asked for it, and I showed her the picture of the ticket since she did not think she had it.
- The internet is excellent almost everywhere but locals say not to drink the tap water.
I cannot idealize the situation here or tell you to come packing to visit immediately but so far I am pleased to have visited and it has been a very friendly country both in interpersonal relations and for budget purposes. Should you run out of days on your 90 days in Schengen, Lviv in particular in the west might be a good place to regroup.
Show every place you visit exemplary behavior and make your country the model of impeccable manners to put all around you at ease and to show your gratitude.