Getting there & away
Rather than flying to Kyiv, some budget travellers now take the train into western Ukraine from neighbouring Hungary, Poland or Slovakia. They do this because it’s cheap, but it’s probably also a little bit greener – although not too much as the country’s diesel-fuelled rolling stock is pretty ancient. If coming to Ukraine, you might want to consider offsetting your carbon emissions. Calculate big.
The majority of visitors fly to Ukraine – generally to Kyiv. However, low-cost flights to neighbouring countries mean a growing number of travellers are entering the country overland. Flights, tours and rail tickets can be booked online at www.lonelyplanet.com/bookings.
Your passport must be valid for at least one month beyond your intended departure from Ukraine. It must be stamped with a visa if you need one.
Cruise and cargo ships are the main users of Ukrainian ports but some useful scheduled ferry services do exist. Please note, however, that some routes frequently change, so double-check any information you can just before leaving home.
From Ilyichevsk, outside Odesa, Ukrferry (8-0482 344 059; www.ukrferry.com) travels year-round to Varna, Bulgaria (one-way passenger $10, car $85 to $135, 20 hours, Ilyichevsk departure 6pm Monday, Varna departure 6pm Wednesday).
It also sails to Georgia, heading for Poti (one-way from $150, 58 hours to Georgia, 42 hours from Georgia, Ilyichevsk departure 11pm Tuesday, Poti departure 6pm Saturday). Note that services to Batumi are cargo only.
From Izmayil’s river port, Transcruise (8-048 412 0550, 230 64) runs ferries to/from Silistra, Bulgaria ($85 one-way, six hours to Bulgaria, 3½ hours to Ukraine, twice weekly June to September, weekly October to May).
Old ferries shuttle regularly between Kerch’s Port Krym (8-065 616 9588) and Port Kavkaz in Russia’s Novorossiysk region (adult $5, child $3, car from $25, 30 minutes). In summer, eight ferries a day cross; in winter there are six. At the time of research, ferries left Kerch at 1.30am, 4.45am, 7.30am, 10.15am, 1.15pm, 4.15pm, 7.00pm and 10.30pm in summer; in winter the 04.45 and 16.15 services do not sail.
Beware that timetables change and that travel onwards from Port Kavkaz might not be that easy unless you’re on a bus or have your own wheels.
The 2007 oil spill in the strait left ferries unaffected. Ukrainian authorities are promising a bridge here, but have been for years.
Ukrferry (8-0482 344 059; www.ukrferry.com) runs a route to the Turkish capital, Istanbul (one-way from $155, 36 hours, Odesa departure 3pm Monday and 8pm Saturday, Istanbul departure midnight Tuesday and noon Friday).
London Sky Travel (8-0482 729 3196; www.lstravel.com.ua) sells tickets on fast catamarans to Varna in Bulgaria from June to August only (one-way $115, nine to 11½ hours, Odesa departure 2am Tuesday and Saturday, Varna departure 1pm Monday and Friday).
There are weekly ferries between the Port of Sevastopol (8-069 254 4082, 540 522; www.morport.sebastopol.ua) and Karakoy, in Istanbul (from $140, 25 hours, Sevastopol departure 7pm Sunday, Istanbul departure 10pm Thursday). In Turkey, call +90 212 2529720 or see www.letsgoistanbul.com.
Crossing the border into Ukraine is a fairly straightforward, if slightly drawn-out, affair; expect customs personnel to scrutinise your papers.
Heading in the other direction, out of Ukraine into the EU and Schengen zone, be prepared for delays. These are popular cigarette-smuggling routes, and there are thorough – although not always entirely effective – customs checks. Indeed, after the extension of Schengen in 2008, some border crossings popular with cigarette smugglers were at least temporarily closed so it’s always best to check the latest where you can.
In most cases, you’re better off going between Ukraine and Belarus by train, although the Lviv–Brest bus service (nine hours, one or two a day) is a possible exception. It leaves from Lviv’s Bus Station No 2.
Only two crossings are official. The M20 road north from Chernihiv to Homel crosses just north of the Ukrainian village of Novy Yarylovichy. The M14 road between Brest and Kovel crosses just southeast of the Belarusian village of Makrany.
The main services are Kyiv–Minsk ($35, 12½ to 15 hours, one to two daily), the Lviv–St Petersburg train that passes through Minsk, and the summertime Varna–Minsk service, which passes through Lviv. Lviv to Minsk takes 13 to 14 hours. Change at Minsk for Brest. To even pass through Belarus, you will need a transit visa.
Between one and two daily buses go from Uzhhorod to Nyíregyháza ($8, three hours).
The road crossing between Zahony and Chop is open all year. Follow the E573 (M17) from Debrecen and Nyíregyháza. Other crossings are Beregsurány–Luzhanka and Tiszabecs–Vylok.
Chop, 22km southwest of Uzhhorod, is the international junction for trains between Ukraine and Hungary. Because the two countries use different rail gauges, services like the daily 015 Kyiv–Budapest ($125, 25 hours) and 016 Budapest–Moscow (37 hours, via Kyiv) will have a long stop while the wheel-gauge is changed. The journey between Chop and Budapest ($55) is about eight hours, including the gauge change.
Note that if coming from Budapest, you’ll generally save money by buying a domestic ticket as far as Zahony, then a short international ticket to Chop, and purchasing a domestic train ticket onwards.
Visas and unofficial ‘taxes’ (read: bribes) will be your biggest headache here, mainly because of the unofficial republic of Transdniestr bordering Ukraine for some 500km. At research time, all trains between Odesa and Chişinău had been cancelled (indeed, as had all Ukraine–Moldova trains) because of Ukraine’s blockade of troublesome Transdniestr. That situation is unlikely to change soon.
EU and US citizens, Canadians, Swiss and Japanese no longer need visas for Moldova. However, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans and others do.
There are at least 10 daily buses to Chişinău via Tiraspol, and two via Palanka ($8 to $10, five to seven hours). The latter avoid Transdniestr. If you’re on a service that transits Transdniestr you’ll need to budget for an entry permit. Officially these cost $1 to $5 depending on your nationality, and they’re available at the border no matter what the guys on duty tell you. However, Westerners are frequently shaken down for much more than this. We’ve heard of people paying up to $200, but up to $50 is more usual. Everyone has their own experience, but perhaps it’s best not to take too much cash: the less you have, the less they can hit you up for. Arguing vociferously about it probably isn’t a good idea.
Most of the dozen border crossings between Ukraine and Moldova enter Transdniestr. To get into Moldova without going through the breakaway republic, you’ll need to come up from the south. The most obvious route is the M15/E87 to the crossing at Palanka – a 280km-long diversion.
The many low-cost carriers arriving at Krakow airport (www.lotnisko-balice.pl) and, to a much lesser extent, Rzeszow airport (www.lotnisko-rzeszow.pl) have made the path from Poland to Lviv popular in and out of Ukraine.
All this said, though, please be warned that in early 2008, wildcat strikes by Polish customs workers were meaning ridiculously long waits at the Ukrainian–Polish border (sometimes up to 55 hours). We hope this will be resolved by the time you read this but it might not hurt to double-check before leaving home.
While international services do go from Lviv’s main bus station, it’s best to give this station a miss for cross-border travel. From Lviv there are terrible delays leaving the country (we’ve heard reports of generally at least four and sometimes even nine hours at the border). Coming in, many services from Warsaw ($25, 11 hours, four daily) and Krakow ($22, nine to 10 hours, two daily) often drop passengers at the train station, so try to check when booking your ticket.
Between Przemysl and Lviv it’s quickest to take the marshrutky (minibuses) from outside each city’s train station to the border, walk across and hop onto an onwards marshrutka. Leaving Lviv, you want marshrutka 297 between Lviv train station and the road crossing at Shehyni/Medyka ($2 to $3, 1½ hours). While they are quick, nimble and handy if you need to leave Lviv for Poland after the last daily train has departed, the marshrutky are crowded. If you’re unlucky you might get caught in a long pedestrian queue at the border, although Western passport holders are often sent to the front of the line (as they are thought less likely to be professional smugglers of massive amounts of cheap cigarettes).
There are several crossings, of which the easiest in terms of both distance and formalities is Shehyni on the E40 (A259) between Lviv and Przemysl. Travelling Kyiv–Warsaw via Lutsk, you cross over the border at the Buh River before stopping in the Polish town of Okopy Nowe.
Poland has an online train timetable (rozklad.pkp.pl) in several languages, including English. There are direct trains between Kyiv and Warsaw Wschodnia ($90, 15 to 18 hours, twice daily), and plenty of other services if you change. The direct services are actually the Kyiv–Berlin ($145, 24¼ hours) and Kyiv–Prague ($130, 35 hours) trains passing through.
From Lviv, there are two trains a day to/from Przemysl ($20 to $25, nominally two hours but more like four or five), one of which carries on to Krakow ($60, six to nine hours). Note that it’s generally cheaper to buy domestic tickets as close to the border as you can, adding a short an international hop in between. (That’s to say it’s usually more cost effective to buy Krakow–Przemysl–Lviv tickets, than one Krakow–Lviv ticket.)
There’s only one bus a day from Chernivtsi to Suceava ($8, four to five hours), leaving in the early morning. The short journey is drawn out by a lengthy border stop, as it’s a popular cigarette smuggling route. Private marshrutky will also take you. Look for them at Chernivtsi bus station.
There are three Ukraine–Romania road crossings, only two of them important and only one of those is guaranteed to be open. That one’s 40km south of Chernivtsi, where the E85 (A269) crosses between Porubne, Ukraine and Siret, Romania.
The other crossing, the bridge between Solotvyno in Ukraine and Sighetu Marmatiei on the Romanian side, should be open again, but it’s best to check.
Note that if you try to cross between southern Ukraine (say, from Odesa) and Romania via Reni, north of Izmayil, you will have to cross a tantalisingly short stretch of Moldavian soil. If you need a visa, you almost certainly won’t get across. If you have one, you’re probably fine, although it took border guards a while to adjust to the new visa-free regime for EU citizens and others.
There’s a daily Chernivtsi–Sofia service ($90, 23 hours) via Bucharest ($55, 11 hours). Elsewhere, trains run on Monday, Wednesday and Friday between Teresva in southwestern Ukraine (outside Rakhiv) to the Romanian town of Sighetu Marmatiei ($3 to 4, 1½ to two hours, two running on each day of operation). This train has been suspended in the past to discourage cigarette smuggling, so always check the latest.
Most major Ukrainian cities have daily services to Moscow, all passing through either Kyiv or Kharkiv. There are up to nine trains a day between Kyiv and Moscow ($70 to $80, 10 to 15 hours), but only one from Kyiv to St Petersburg ($70 to $75, 25¼ hours). There’s also a St Petersburg train, via Minsk, to/from Lviv ($80 to $90, 30 hours, every second day, daily in summer).
Many of the daily international trains between Ukraine and Western Europe either originate or terminate in Moscow.
Low-cost carriers land at Bratislava airport (www.letiskobratislava.sk) and Kosice airport (www.air portkosice.sk), with easy connections to Western Europe. Start with SkyEurope (www.skyeurope.com) and Ryanair (www.ryan air.com).
As for Hungary, Chop is the gateway to/from Slovakia. Again, because of differing rail gauges, services like the 7 Kyiv–Bratislava ($105, 30 hours, five times a week) via Lviv (19 hours from Bratislava) will have a long stop while the carriages’ bogies are changed. Chop–Bratislava ($65) takes about 13 hours, including the gauge change. Twice a week, the 7 continues on to (or originates in) Vienna ($145 from Kyiv).
Gateway Travel (02-9745 3333; www.russian-gateway.com.au) Offers escorted group tours.
Scope Travel (973-378-8998, 877-357-0436; www.scopetravel.com) Offers tours from the major cities to the Carpathian countryside.
Black Sea Crimea (07808 160 621; www.blacksea-crimea.com) Small but helpful operator, with an informative and up-to-date website.
Regent Holidays (0845 277 3317; www.regent-holidays.co.uk) Knowledgeable company with varied itineraries.
Ukraine Travel (0161-652 5050; www.ukraine.co.uk) The UK’s leading Ukraine specialist, also known as Bob Sopel’s. It even has Ukrainian football information.
You will need to complete an immigration card on arrival in Ukraine. The card will be stamped on arrival and asked for upon departure, so keep it safe.
For the cheapest fares to Ukraine, including regularly updated special offers, see www.attitudetravel.com/ukraine/lowcostairlines.
Most international flights use Kyiv’s Boryspil international airport (KBP; 8-044 490 4777; www.airport-borispol.kiev.ua). Odesa and Lviv also receive some international flights, and some also land in Simferopol in summer.
Ukraine’s international airline carriers are Ukraine International Airlines (PS; 8-044 581 5050, 8-044 234 4528; www.flyuia.com) and Aerosvit (VV; 8-044 490 3490; www.aerosvit.com). The following airlines also fly to/from Ukraine:
Aeroflot (SU; 8-044 234 7638; ua.aeroflot.aero/eng)
Air Baltic (BT; 8-044 238 2649/68; www.airbaltic.com)
Air France (AF; 8-044 496 3575; www.airfrance.com)
Austrian Airlines (OS; 8-044 289 2032, 492 7232; www.aua.com)
British Airways (BA; 8-044 585 5050; www.ba.com)
Delta Airlines (DL; 8-044 246 5656; www.delta.com)
Dniproavia (Z6; 8-056 239 5311; www.dniproavia.com)
El Al (LY; 8-044 230 6993; www.elal.co.il)
Estonian Air (OV; 8-044 289 0520; www.estonian-air.ee)
Finnair (AY; 8-044 247 5777; www.finnair.com)
LOT (LO; 8-044 288 1054/55; www.lot.com)
Lufthansa (LH; 8-044 490 3800; www.lufthansa.com)
Transaero (UN; 8-044 490 6565, 8-044 286 7913; www.transaero.ru/english)
Vienna is probably the most efficient transit hub between Ukraine and Australia/New Zealand, although many travellers choose London for familiarity. Check whether it’s cheaper to book a separate Sydney–London flight with one airline, and the London–Kyiv leg with another.
Ukraine International flies from Kyiv’s main Boryspil airport to 14 Western European destinations, including Amsterdam, Helsinki, London, Madrid, Paris, Rome and Zurich. From both Kyiv and Odesa it flies to Vienna, code-sharing with Austrian Airlines. Austrian’s subsidiary, Tyrolean Airways, flies regularly between Vienna and Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Kharkiv, and Lviv.
There are daily flights from Kyiv to central Europe, especially Budapest, Prague and Warsaw (with Aerosvit, LOT and Malév). Odesa is well-connected to central Europe, too. Most major Western European carriers have regular flights to Kyiv Boryspil.
Low-cost carriers arriving at Budapest Ferihegy airport (www.bud-airport.hu/english) range from big players easyJet (www.easyjet.com) and Ryanair (www.ryanair.com) to the smaller German Wings (www.germanwings.com) and Wizz Air (www.wizzair.com). Check the airport website or www.fly cheapo.com for further carriers.
There are daily flights from Moscow and St Petersburg to Kyiv (with Aeroflot, Aerosvit or Transaero), as well as frequent Moscow flights to/from Dnipropetrovsk (with Dniproavia), Odesa and Simferopol (with Aeroflot, Aerosvit or Transaero).
Aerosvit flies from Kyiv to Toronto (three times a week) and New York’s JFK airport (five times a week). The carrier also has routes between North America and eastern cities like Dnipropetrovsk and Donetsk. Delta code-shares with Austrian Airlines from the US to Ukraine.
Aerosvit flies daily between Kyiv and Istanbul, with at least two flights a week to Cairo. Turkish Airlines flies regularly from Istanbul to Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Odesa and Simferopol. Aerosvit also flies from Kyiv to Dubai five times a week. El Al has one to two flights a day between Kyiv and Tel Aviv; Aerosvit has a daily service, while both carriers link Israel less regularly with regional airports like Dnipropetrovsk, Odesa (weekly) and Simferopol (in summer).