With Ukraine in the news for all the wrong reasons, safety is a major concern for travellers these days. However, Ukraine is no more dangerous than it ever was – in fact, with better policing and improving roads, the country may actually be safer than it was pre-Maidan.
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.
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)
Ukraine is normally as safe as most Western European countries; however, petty theft is a serious problem.
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 is a fairly recent but increasingly 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.
Ukraine has tended to be more welcoming to people of African, Asian and Caribbean appearance than neighbouring Russia, though that’s not saying a lot. There have been attacks on non-Europeans, but the situation is nowhere near as bad as it is in, say, St Petersburg or Moscow. If you’re black, Asian or Middle Eastern, stay alert and exercise extreme caution if going out alone at night.
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.
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.