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Situated along the coast of the Black Sea, Ukraine is one of the largest countries in Eastern Europe and is surrounded by Russia, Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Moldova. In recent years, it has become a more popular holiday destination for tourists from surrounding countries. But is also becoming increasingly attractive to citizens of Western Europe and North America.
One of the main attractions for visitors to the Ukraine is the country's rich history, with more than 500 cities dating back over 900 years and a fascinating assortment of architecture influenced by its diverse neighbours.
Most travellers begin in the historical capital city of Kiev, arguably one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Ancient streets, striking architecture, lovely scenery, and a wealth of historical and religious sites ensure a culturally enriching holiday. The early capital of Old Rus is also enriched with monuments such as the grandiose St Sophia's Cathedral, famous for its 11th-century mosaics and frescoes, and the Cave Monastery, the holy centre of the early Orthodox Church.
The other major attraction for Ukraine tourists is the natural beauty of the country, with areas like the Carpathian and Crimean mountain ranges; the Black Sea and Sea of Asov; and the Crimean Peninsula, a popular tourist haven with its warm climate, famous resorts, history, and old cities such as Sevastopol and Yalta.
The Carpathian Mountains draw skiers and hikers throughout the year, and the region is also popular for its restorative spas and historic sites. The city of Lviv is a good place from which to access the mountains. It's one of the main cultural centres of the country and a delight to explore with its medieval old town and distinctive architecture.
The harbour city of Odessa, known as the 'Pearl of the Black Sea', is an established tourist destination that also serves as the gateway to many of the famous Black Sea resorts. It is an intriguing city with a wonderful mixture of cultures and historical architecture.
With a name that means 'borderland', it's no wonder that Ukraine is constantly in a state of reinvention. Formerly part of the Soviet Union, the country experienced revolutions in 2004 and 2014 and remains torn between the East and the West. Many visitors find this identity crisis interesting in itself, but Ukraine is primarily a worthy tourist destination because of its history and culture, as well as some thriving resorts.
Cruises on Europe's longest river, the Dnieper River, from Kiev to the Black Sea coast, is one of the most popular ways to tour the Ukraine, providing a discovery of Ukraine's history, and its architecturally rich cities, while cruising the 1,370 mile-long (2,205km) stretch of river on board ship.
Dating back to the 11th century, the exquisite green and gold-domed St Sophia Cathedral was an important power centre for the Soviet Union. It has been damaged and repaired many times over the years, and today is a blend of architectural styles from nine different centuries. Perhaps one of the most striking aspects of the cathedral is its impressive collection of Byzantine mosaics and frescoes that date back to its inception. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the St Sophia Cathedral also serves as a living text: hundreds of pieces of graffiti relating to political and historical events spanning the centuries can be read by visitors today.
Kiev-Pechersk Lavra (the Caves Monastery) is a fascinating living piece of history dating back to 1051. The Venerable Anthony, a devout monk, settled in a cave on the western bank of the Dnieper River. He was soon joined by his followers and their numbers swiftly began to outgrow the caves. Prince Izyaslav and other Kievan aristocracy were frequent visitors to the Venerable Anthony and donated money to build a church and aboveground monastery. Since that period, the monastery has continued to grow and is still active today, serving as an important centre of Orthodox Christianity and reflecting a fascinating way of life.
The National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War is dominated by the enormous Motherland Monument, looking like the sword-wielding sister of the Statue of Liberty. The museum houses a fascinating collection of World War II artefacts in a Soviet-built building. Decommissioned tanks sit outside, symbolically painted with flowers and nearby another interesting statue entitled 'To the Fallen' serves as a memorial to all those who fought and died in the war. Although most of the museum notes are in either Russian or Ukrainian, the exhibitions are well laid out and the displays are fascinating.
Summers in Kiev can be notoriously hot, and locals know that the best way to beat the heat is a trip to Hydropark Island. Less an amusement park than an entertainment development, Hydropark is located on the Dnieper River and offers attractions like sandy beaches, water rides, riverboat trips, paintball, bungee jumping, an ice rink, casino, and more. At night the island is a jungle of neon lights, with restaurants, bars and nightclubs playing music until early in the morning. Hydropark is connected to the mainland by the Metro, Rusanivka, and Venetian bridges.
The climate is temperate continental, characterised by plenty of rain and cloudy autumns and winters. The southern Crimean coast experiences a Mediterranean climate. There are regular snowfalls in winter (between October and April) with average temperatures of 17°F (-8°C) to 35°F (2°C), with colder temperatures inland. While winters are long and cold, summers are short and can get very hot, especially in the south, with average temperatures of 64°F (18°C) to 81°F (27°C). Rainfall occurs in the form of thundershowers and the occasional downpour; rainfall is highest in the west and north of the country.
The official currency is the Ukrainian hryvnia (UAH), which is divided into 100 kopiyka. Banks are usually open Monday to Friday until 3pm. US Dollars and Euros are exchanged easily at banks and currency offices, and while other currencies can also be exchanged, they are not as widely accepted. ATMs are widely available in all major towns and cities. Major restaurants, shops, and hotels accept Visa, MasterCard, and EuroCard. However, credit cards are not widely accepted, particularly in remote areas and smaller establishments. Outside the main cities, it is advisable to carry a supply of local currency.
Ukrainian is the official language, but Russian is also widely spoken.
Electrical current is 220-240 volts AC, 50Hz. Plugs are the round two-pin variety.
US nationals: US nationals require a passport that is valid on arrival, but no visa is required for a stay of up to 90 days.
UK nationals: UK nationals require a passport valid for duration of stay, but no visa is required for a touristic stay of up to 90 days within a 180-day period. Holders of British passports with endorsements other than 'British Citizen' should confirm these requirements before travel.
CA nationals: Passports must be valid for at least 6 months beyond the departure date, but no visa is required for a stay of up to 90 days within a 180-day period.
AU nationals: Passports must be valid for at least 6 months beyond the departure date. Australian nationals need a visa to enter Ukraine.
ZA nationals: South Africans require a visa and a passport valid for six months after the departure date to enter Ukraine.
IR nationals: Irish nationals require a passport valid for duration of stay, but no visa is required for a tourist stay of up to 90 days in any 180-day period.
NZ nationals: New Zealand nationals require a visa and a passport valid for six months from date of arrival to enter Ukraine.
Applicants for tourist visas require a letter of confirmation from a hotel or tour company; for business visas a letter of invitation from a company or organisation in the Ukraine is required. However EU citizens and some other nationalities do not require a tourist visa for stays of up to 90 days within a 180-day period. On arrival, all foreign nationals must fill in an Immigration Card, to be presented when entering and leaving the country. All visitors must possess return/onward tickets. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Tap water is best avoided, but there is loads of still and sparkling bottled water. There is a serious issue of widespread HIV and the level of sexually transmitted diseases is high. Due to the risk of exposure to pollutants and radioactive materials, swimming in the Dnieper River should be avoided. Comprehensive travel insurance is advised and visitors are advised to bring a supply of personal medication.
Tipping is fairly new in the Ukraine and is now expected in restaurants: usually five to 10 percent of the bill is acceptable. In more upmarket establishments, 10 percent is more the norm if not already included in the bill. Drivers are not usually tipped.
Ukraine has experienced serious political unrest in the recent past and continues to do so, and most governments have instituted travel warnings for the country. The eastern part of Ukraine and Crimea are particularly to be avoided. Travellers are advised to research the current situation and to stay up to date on travel alerts for the region.
When it comes to crime, most visits to the Ukraine are trouble-free. But foreigners are considered lucrative targets for petty theft and street crime in the Ukraine, and valuables should be kept out of sight, especially in crowded areas and at tourist spots. Particular care should be taken on public transport and overnight trains.
*Elections took place in the Ukraine on 31 March 2019. There is an increased likelihood of large public rallies and demonstrations. Visitors are advised to avoid all demonstrations, and take care around public gatherings.
Homosexuality is legal. However, there remains a high level of intolerance towards the LGBT+ community.
Ukraine, because of a troubled recent history, is trapped in many paradoxical laws. Business is observed quite differently than in Western Europe. After the country's break from Soviet ties, unprecedented opportunities for the entrepreneur arose. But not many people speak English and the use of interpreters may be necessary; knowledge of German, Russian, or Ukrainian will be useful. During meetings formal attire is customary for both men and women, although women are not traditionally part of the business world and visiting businesswomen may be subjected to chauvinism. Meetings often include informalities and sociable questions, and will regularly begin with a welcoming alcoholic drink, which it is considered rude to refuse. These are often used for character evaluation and it is considered impolite to delve straight into business matters. Typical business hours are 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
The international dialling code for the Ukraine is +380. Mobile phone network coverage is fairly extensive, but international roaming can be expensive. There are internet cafes available in Kiev, and other main cities and towns. Wifi is also becoming increasingly accessible.
Travellers to the Ukraine can bring in 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco products; 1 litre of spirits and 2 litres of wine; and goods for personal use, as well as goods with a total value of €200, without incurring customs duty. Prohibited items include items that can have an impact on the environment, and agricultural goods and live animals.
Ukraine Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 (202) 349 2920.
Ukraine Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7727 6312.
Ukraine Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 230 2961.
Ukraine Embassy, Canberra, Australia (also responsible for New Zealand): +61 (0)2 6230 5789.
Ukraine Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 460 1946.
Ukraine Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 668 5189.
United States Embassy, Kiev: +380 (44) 521 5000.
British Embassy, Kiev: +380 (44) 490 3660.
Canadian Embassy, Kiev: +380 (44) 590 3100.
Australian Consulate, Vienna, Austria (also responsible for the Ukraine): +43 (0)1 506 740.
South African Embassy, Kiev: + 380 (44) 289 8870.
Honorary Consul of Ireland, Kiev: +380 (44) 279 3200.
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