With Ukraine in the news for all the wrong reasons, safety is a major concern for travellers these days. But although crime is on the rise, Ukraine remains a rather safe European destination, unless you venture into the war zone, which accounts for a tiny part of the country's territory in the far east.

Hazardous Highways

You don’t need to travel very long in Ukraine to realise that it has some of the most perilous driving conditions in Europe. The country’s mix of poorly lit, potholed roads, an often idiotically aggressive driving style and the poor state of many (seatbelt-less) vehicles is a lethal cocktail indeed.

In a bid to stop the carnage and stimulate at least a basic instinct for self-preservation in local drivers, Ukrainian TV channels broadcast daily and weekly programs featuring dashcam footage of horrific road accidents, most of which are caused by mind-boggling stupidity and/or drunkenness.

That said, travelling by car in Ukraine is a fun way for exploring the country, as long as you stick to main roads and sturdy vehicles

Government Travel Advice

The following government websites offer travel advisories and information on current hot spots. Note that all of them advise against any travel to Crimea or to the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine.

  • Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (www.smartraveller.gov.au)
  • Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca)
  • UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (www.fco.gov.uk)
  • US State Department (http://travel.state.gov)
  • New Zealand SafeTravel (https://www.safetravel.govt.nz)

Crime

Both violent and petty crime has been rising post-Maidan, but overall levels are not dramatically different from the rest of Europe.

Theft

Avoiding becoming a victim of theft is a matter of common sense:

  • Don’t flash your money around.
  • Watch your wallet and belongings, particularly on public transport and in crowded situations.
  • Stay low-key in appearance and have more than one place on your body where you stash your cash.
  • Avoid being alone at night in parks or secluded places.
  • In hostels, stash your gear away in lockers – traveller-on-traveller crime is all too common.
  • Lock your compartment door on overnight trains.

Credit-Card Fraud

Credit-card fraud is a common phenomenon. Be particularly careful when using ATMs and only use cards in reputable locations if possible. Take all the usual precautions to make sure no one sees or copies your PIN.

The Dropped-Wallet Scam

This well-known rort starts with you suddenly noticing a wallet or a large wad of cash on the ground nearby. If you pick it up, you’ll be approached by someone saying it’s theirs. They’ll thank you…and then say that they had two wallets or wads of cash and accuse you of stealing the other. Alternatively, they’ll directly accuse you of stealing the first wallet. Accomplices might be brought in as witnesses or ‘police’. Don’t get involved and walk away quickly.

Racist Attacks

With the proliferation of far-right groups and militias, racism is on the rise, although serious attacks are infrequent and many cities have large multiracial, international student communities. Most of the recent attacks have been targeting Roma communities. If you’re black, Asian or Middle Eastern, stay alert and exercise extreme caution if going out alone at night, or find yourself near the scene of political manifestations dominated by nationalists.

War & Crimea

The war with Russia affects a small part of the far southeast of Ukraine and has little direct impact on the rest of the country. Do not be tempted to visit Donetsk – as a foreigner you are a prime target for kidnapping or accusations of spying. Besides, you need a special permit to visit areas around the 'line of contact' between Ukrainian and Russian-backed forces.

The situation in Crimea is not as acute, but from the Ukrainian point of view, entering the peninsula via Russia is tantamount to illegal border crossing, and holders of foreign passports can only travel between Crimea and Ukraine proper with special permission from the Ukrainian government.