The network is very centralised, so more often than not you need to change flights in Kyiv when travelling between the southeast and the west. The number of domestic flights and carriers has fallen considerably in recent years.
Airlines in Ukraine
Dniproavia (www.dniproavia.com) Domestic airline based at Dnipro Airport. Serves an increasing number of domestic destinations.
Motor Sich (www.flymotorsich.com) Based in Zaporizhzhya, runs a fleet of vintage Soviet Antonov and Yakovlev planes. Serves Zaporizhzhya, Kyiv, Odesa and Lviv.
Ukraine International Airlines (www.flyuia.com) Essentially an international airline based at Boryspil International Airport in Kyiv, UIA is also now the country's largest domestic carrier. Links Kyiv, Kharkiv, Lviv, Odesa, Dnipro and Ivano-Frankivsk.
Bravo Airways (www.bravofly.com) Runs services to Odesa, Kharkiv and Kherson, on top of many international holiday destinations.
Kiyavia Travel (www.kiyavia.com) This useful company has branches across the country. You can buy tickets online for printout or pick them up at a branch.
Although you have to keep an eye out for crazy drivers and keep to the road's shoulder, cycling is a great way to see the real Ukraine. The Carpathians are particularly pleasant cycling country.
- Markets everywhere sell lots of spare parts.
- Rental is becoming more common, especially in Kyiv and the Carpathians.
- To transport your bike on a mainline train, you must remove the wheels, wrap the bike in plastic and place it in the luggage niche above the top bunks.
- On local electrychky trains, buy an outsized luggage ticket from the conductor (in the rare event that you are asked to do so).
Contact Chervona Ruta if you're interested in Dnipro River and Black Sea cruises. The standard cruise is one week along the Kyiv–Odesa route calling at seven cities along the way. Some cruises go into the Danube Delta.
Although unreliable, Ukrferry (www.ukrferry.com) offers sporadic Black Sea cruises. Contact London Sky Travel (www.lstravel.com.ua) for details.
Buses serve every city and small town, but they're best for short trips (three hours or less), as vehicles can often be small, old and overcrowded. However, luxury bus services run by big companies provide a good alternative to trains. Some bus stations have become quite orderly, others remain chaotic.
Surviving Ukraine's Buses
For the uninitiated, Ukrainian bus travel can be a bemusing and uncomfortable ordeal. Here are our survival tips.
- 'Bus' can mean anything from a lumbering 60-seater to a 1980s Hungarian coach to a luxury Mercedes minibus.
- On-board toilets are uncommon even on luxury services.
- Your ticket has a seat number printed on it, but on small buses passengers generally just sit where they like (but not always!).
- Don't sit in a seat that has something on it. This means someone else has 'reserved' it while they go shopping/visit the toilet/call on relatives across town.
- Yes, the bleary-eyed guy stumbling towards the bus – one dose of salo (raw pig fat) away from a coronary – is your driver. His job is to drive, not answer questions.
- Luggage should be stored in the luggage space (bagazhnyk) under the bus. It's normally free to do so.
- Even if the mercury is pushing 40°C (95°F), all windows will be slammed shut as soon as the bus moves off. The roof hatch may be left open.
- Buses often stop at stations for between five minutes and half an hour, giving people a chance to use the toilet and buy snacks. Make sure you know how long the break is, as drivers rarely check if everyone is back on board.
- Buses act as an unofficial postal system, with anything from punnets of strawberries to large car parts transported between towns for a small fee.
There are literally thousands of tiny transport companies operating services across Ukraine. However, on the main intercity routes the two large operators, Gunsel (www.gunsel.ua) and Autolux (www.autolux.ua), use Western-standard coaches. Opt for their not-so-expensive 'VIP' services if you want more comfort as well as on-board wi-fi. German operator Flixbus (www.flixbus.com) has just entered the Ukrainian market and is set to expand its network.
Bus stations are called avtovokzal or avtostantsiya. Some of Ukraine's larger cities have several stations – a main one for long-distance routes and smaller stations that serve local destinations. Stations are real traveller hubs with lots of services available, such as food, toilets, news-stands, waiting rooms and even dorm beds.
You'll save yourself a lot of hassle at crowded terminals if you check timetables online before coming to the station. The caveat, though, is that these are in Ukrainian/Russian only. Gunsel and Autolux, however, have English-language interface on their sites. Tourist offices can sometimes look up timetables for you.
Timetables Reliable timetables are displayed near the ticket windows and onboard; Soviet-era route maps are unreliable.
Service Information There might be an information window (dovidkove byuro; довідкове бюро), but you can usually ask at any window.
Platforms Platforms are numbered and destinations are usually signposted.
- Buy tickets online, if you can, using www.busfor.ua or the major bus companies' websites.
- Tickets resembling shop receipts are sold at the bus station right up to departure.
- Your destination, seat number (meestseh; місце) and time of travel are clearly marked.
- Tickets from the bus station are valid only for one service. Having bought a ticket, you can't suddenly decide to take a later bus without paying again.
- If a bus is passing through a town or village without a bus station, the fare can only be paid to the driver. No tickets are issued.
Car & Motorcycle
Travelling by car in Ukraine can be a rewarding if nerve-racking experience. However, road conditions are improving and drivers may even be becoming a little more disciplined.
Notoriously corrupt traffic cops used to be the main road hazard in Ukraine until the 2014 revolution changed this. You will hardly see a traffic officer these days and a combination of relatively good salaries, Western training and the threat of severe punishment for taking bribes has reduced corruption in a big way.
Bringing Your Own Vehicle
An International Driving Permit is required, and you may get yourself into trouble if you don't have one.
Fuel & Spare Parts
Petrol stations are very common and frequent on main roads. Innovative, shoestring repairs are widely available, but head to official dealers if you want genuine spare parts.
Third-party insurance is compulsory. This will normally be covered by a 'Green Card' International Motor Insurance Certificate, which should be obtained before you enter Ukraine in your own car. Hire companies provide their own vehicle insurance.
Major roads between Kyiv and regional centres tend to be in fairly good condition, but some routes linking towns and cities in the regions, especially in the west, have deteriorated almost to the point of nonexistence. Soviet-era bridges are also beginning to fail, especially across the Dnister River, causing chaos and long diversions. A program of road building is ongoing but progress is slow.
- Drive on the right.
- Unless otherwise indicated, speed limits are 60km/h in towns, 90km/h on major roads and 110km/h on some dual carriageways.
- There's a zero-tolerance policy on drink driving.
- Believe it or not, it's a criminal offence not to wear a seat belt (although everybody ignores this rule).
- Traffic cops have the power to stop you but not to issue on-the-spot fines.
Hitching is never entirely safe anywhere and it's probably best avoided in Ukraine for no other reason than the roads are so dangerous.
A fancy form of hitchhiking, the BlaBlaCar (www.blablacar.com.ua) ride-sharing service has made inroads in Ukraine in recent years, but of course few drivers speak English.
Ukrainian cities are navigable by trolleybus, tram, bus and (in Kyiv, Kharkiv and Dnipro) metro. Urban public-transport systems are usually overworked and overcrowded. There's no room for being shy or squeamish – learn to assert yourself quickly.
- A ticket (kvytok or bilyet) for one ride by bus/tram/trolleybus costs 2uah to 5uah.
- There are virtually no return, transfer, timed or day tickets available anywhere.
- It's always simplest to pay the driver or conductor.
- Tickets have to be punched on board (or ripped by the conductor).
- Unclipped or untorn tickets warrant an on-the-spot fine should you be caught.
- For the metros you need a plastic token (zheton), sold at the counters inside the stations. Top-up cards are now also available in Kyiv.
- Metros run from around 5.30am to midnight.
Travelling by taxi anywhere in the ex-USSR can be a decidedly unpleasant experience for foreigners, so if there's a bus or tram going to your destination, take it. Uber is available in major cities, but service quality is patchy. An indigenous equivalent is called Uklon.
- There are virtually no regular taxis that you can flag down in the street these days; everyone books by phone.
- To order by phone you need to speak some Ukrainian-Russian and know exact pickup and destination addresses. Asking to drop you 'somewhere near Maidan' won't work. You also need a Ukrainian SIM card on your phone, so they can call you back. You'll typically receive a text message with arrival time and car registration once you have placed your order.
- If possible, have your hostel or hotel call a cab for you – they generally use trustworthy companies with set fares.
- Avoid taxis that tout for business outside airports and stations as these operators are very likely to rip you off.
- Never travel in a cab that already has passengers in it.
- Seatbelts are optional extras in taxis. Child seats are unheard of.
For long journeys, train is the preferred method of travel in Ukraine. The most useful and comfortable are the daytime Intercity+ trains. Many overnight trains have old, Soviet-era carriages. Services are mostly punctual.
Give Me a Sign
There are so many varying classifications of desk across Ukraine's non-English-speaking train stations that it's impossible to list them all. However, the following are a few major signs to watch out for and words to know.
Довідкове бюро Information desk
Добова каса/каса квиткова добова Tickets for today (for departures within the next 24 hours)
Продаж квитків Ticket booking/advance tickets
інвалідів та учасників війни Avoid windows with this on the glass, unless you have a disability or are a war veteran
сервісний центр Service centre, where you may or may not be sent if you hold a foreign passport
міжнародні квитки International tickets
приміський вокзал Station for local or suburban trains (usually part of, or adjoining, the main train station)
приміська каса Local or suburban ticket desk
камера схову/камера зберігання/камера хранення Left-luggage room and/or lockers
Кімнати відпочинку 'Resting' rooms, or rooms for overnight stays, ie train-station hotel
Every train station (zaliznychny vokzal or just vokzal) has a left-luggage counter, which usually goes by the Russian name kamera khranyeninya (камера хранения) or kamera zberihannaya (камера зберігання) in Ukrainian. Many are open 24 hours except for signposted short breaks. You usually pay when you deposit your luggage and retrieve it with the receipt or metal tag you are given.
All classes have assigned places. Your carriage (vahon) and bunk (mesto) numbers are printed on your ticket.
SV Spalny vahon (SV, sometimes called Lyux) is a 1st-class couchette (sleeper) compartment for two people. It's perfect for couples, but if you're travelling alone, sharing with a stranger can be awkward. Not available on many routes and books up immediately despite costing two to three times more than kupe.
Kupe Kupe or kupeyny is a 2nd-class sleeper compartment for four people. The most popular class and also the safest and most fun. Sharing the compartment with two or three others is less awkward than sharing with one other (as in 1st class) and there's safety in numbers. Kupe is about twice as costly as platskart. Unless otherwise noted, train prices are for kupe.
Platskart Platskart is a 3rd-class sleeper. The entire carriage is open (no separate compartments), with groups of four bunks in each alcove, along with two others in the aisle.
Zahalny vahon (obshchy in Russian) Fourth-class travel means an upright bench seat for the entire journey. This class of carriage is now rare on Intercity trains, but most elektrychky (slow electric trains) have this kind of seating.
1st/2nd Class (C1/C2) Carriages on the Intercity services have seating divided into two classes (there's little difference between them).
There are basically three types of train:
Express trains The Intercity express trains between Kyiv and major cities have airplane-style seats, a cafe, functional air-con and pleasant staff. They make few stops between the capital and regional centres.
Pasazhyrsky poyizd (also known as poyizd, skory poyizd or shvydky poyizd) These are mainline services travelling long distances between cities, often overnight. They usually have compartments with individual berths for each passenger.
Elektrychka (prymisky poyizd; prigorodny poyezd in Russian) These are slow electric trains running between cities and rural areas. They're often used by locals to reach summer cottages and gardens. Elektrychky sometimes leave from a dedicated part of a station set aside for local trains. They are extremely slow and stop at every station. No air-con and toilets are a hole in the floor.
- To avoid hassle, buy tickets online at the official Ukrainian railways site (https://booking.uz.gov.ua) or via other similar services, such as Tickets.ua (https://gd.tickets.ua) if you can. You can then pick tickets up from the station without waiting in a queue.
- Tickets are still relatively cheap.
- Ticket clerks don't speak English, so get a local to write down what you need.
- When buying tickets you need to know your destination, number of tickets required, class of carriage and date of travel.
- You are supposed to show your passport when buying tickets.
- Several cities, such as Kyiv and Lviv, have advance ticket offices in the city centres.
- 'Service centres' are comfortable, Western-style ticket offices found at big-city stations. Tickets cost slightly more here, but there's no queue.
- Never ever buy tickets from touts.
Ukrainian Railways (www.uz.gov.ua) The official Ukrainian Railway website is now also in English.
Poezda.net (www.poezda.net) This online timetable for the entire ex-USSR is available in English. The search facility uses some perverse spellings for town names but is still pretty good.
Seat 61 (www.seat61.com/Ukraine.htm) Worth checking out, especially if you're planning to enter Ukraine by rail.
At the Station
- Strictly Russian- or Ukrainian-speaking attendants in information booths (dovidkove byuro; довідкове бюро) are frequently surly and uncooperative.
- There's a small charge for any information that staff write down.
- Schedules are posted on the wall – once you have mastered some basic words, they're simple to decipher.
- You may find railway timetables in business catalogues, posted in hotels and occasionally at bus stations.
On the Journey
- Intercity trains are like any similar train in Western countries and the same rules apply, except you need to show your passport when tickets are checked.
- In older trains, each carriage has an attendant called a provodnik (male) or provodnitsa (female), who collects your ticket, distributes sheets, makes morning wake-up calls and serves cups of tea.
- Dining cars rarely sell anything more than sandwiches, snacks and drinks, so bring supplies.
- Toilets are often locked some 30 minutes either side of a station. Bring your own paper.
- Don't drink the water from the tap.