Big, diverse and largely undiscovered, Ukraine is one of Europe’s last genuine travel frontiers, a poor nation rich in colour-splashed tradition, warm-hearted people and off-the-map travel experiences
Land on the Edge
The word ‘Ukraine’ means ‘land on the edge’, an apt title for this vast slab of Eurasia in more ways than one. This is the Slavic hinterland on Europe’s periphery, European Russia’s underbelly on the doorstep of Central Asia and the fringe of the Black Sea, but it’s also a country creeping slowly towards the edge of change and modernity. The 2004 Orange Revolution lit a bitterly disappointing false dawn, the world economic slowdown walloped this country hard and recent political changes have been labelled Ukraine’s great leap backwards, but things are, nonetheless, shifting forward little by little in Europe’s biggest country. One look at the renovated city centres, well-dressed townsfolk, resurfaced roads and all the glistening infrastructure bolted in place for the 2012 European Soccer Championships (the world’s third-largest sporting event) is enough to see that after two decades of independence, Ukraine is edging long-term toward where it aspires to be, despite its squabbling politicians and meddlesome neighbours.
Ukraine – Yes You Can!
A trip to what is, for many, an unfamiliar destination can seem slightly daunting, but fear not – Ukraine is currently taking a soccer-inspired crash course in how to look after travellers. Long gone are the days when, visa in hand, you were group-herded around approved sights by the state travel agency, though some Ukrainians, particularly the elderly, are still shocked to learn Westerners dare travel independently or solo. Visas have (hopefully) gone forever, getting around the country has never been easier, frayed Soviet hotels are renovating, imaginative restaurants are being created in big cities and even (drum roll) bona fide tourist information centres are springing up, at least in the country’s west. Whether you come for lazy beach holidays in Crimea, hire a mountain bike in the Carpathians, stay in European-style luxury in Kyiv or camp out at an ethno rock festival, you’ll be doing something that was barely possible a decade and a half ago.
Warts & All Experience
Travel may be simpler and more entertaining than it once was, but the whiff of Soviet ‘hospitality’ does remain. Ukraine still specialises in blind waiters, dumbstruck receptionists, nail-filing ticket sellers and devious policemen. Very few people outside Kyiv and Lviv speak English and facilities are often shoddy, antiquated or just not up to the job. But embrace the post-Soviet disarray, select your itinerary carefully and engage with Ukraine’s wonderfully kind and generous people, and we guarantee your time in Ukraine will be well spent.
Best places to stay in Ukraine
New Ukraine guide - special traveller updates (May 2014)
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