The Wayfarer's Book

Ukraine Travel FAQ – Everything You Need to Know About Traveling in Ukraine

Awesome, you travel baller you. You’ve decided to visit Ukraine, one of the most underrated countries in Europe! Or, at the very least, you’re thinking about it. Or — maybe you’re just wondering if it’s possible. It’s possible, and it’s incredibly worthwhile. Overlooked by most tourists, affordable to an almost guilty-inducing degree, and bursting with culture and energy, Ukraine is the next European hotspot. But at some point in your planning process you’re going to have questions about the nitty gritty of traveling here, which is why I’ve put together this Ukraine travel FAQ.

Ukraine Travel FAQ - Lavra

Here’s what we’re going to cover:

Is it safe to travel in Ukraine?
Do I need a visa to visit Ukraine?
Can I visit Crimea?
Can I visit Donbass?
What language do they speak in Ukraine?
Do Ukrainians speak English?
Are Ukrainians friendly?
When is the best time to visit Ukraine?
What is the currency in Ukraine and how do I get it?
Can I use a credit card in Ukraine?
What should I see in Ukraine?
How do I travel by train in Ukraine?
How do I travel by bus in Ukraine?
How do I travel by plane in Ukraine?
How do I travel by car in Ukraine?
Can I drink the tap water?
Is Ukrainian cuisine vegetarian/vegan friendly?
Can I travel in Ukraine with a food allergy?
What’s up with the menus?
What do I need to know about Ukrainian etiquette?
Do I need to tip in Ukraine?
How can I travel in Ukraine on a budget?
What are the toilets like in Ukraine?
How can I get a SIM card in Ukraine?
Where can I buy groceries/medicine/toiletries/electronics in Ukraine?
Why do you write “Kyiv” instead of “Kiev” and “Odesa” instead of “Odessa?”

A disclaimer – this Ukraine travel guide is based off my experiences living in Ukraine for a year and a half, including extensive travel around the country and conversations with other foreigners and locals. I was as thorough and accurate as I can be, but doubtless people will have had other experiences traveling in Ukraine. Please feel free to leave additional information in the comments below so all travelers can benefit! And of course, also please ask any questions you still have.

Is it safe to travel in Ukraine?

Yes! It’s absolutely safe to travel in Ukraine. In the year and a half I’ve lived in Kyiv, I’ve walked home by myself late, watched pretty nationalistic parades, and taken taxis and public transport. I’ve never felt unsafe in Kiev. And I’ve traveled solo in Ukraine extensively, east and west, on buses and overnight trains. I’ve even perfected the art of drinking alone while living here.

Ukraine Travel FAQ - Drinking in Ukraine

All class, all the time.

But I want to be realistic. My opinion is based on my experience, which I think benefits from the fact that I blend in fairly easily.

The crimes to be aware of are mainly scams and petty theft. I have heard a few reports of male tourists being attacked in seedy clubs. But then again… they’re going to a seedy club. There is still the occasional political protest, but they are fairly contained and easily avoided.

Do I need a visa to visit Ukraine?

The first place to check for the most up-to-date information about traveling to Ukraine is the embassy. An easy place to start is the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, which has a visa check page. This is what that website said as of Dec. 6, 2017, but remember to double check official sources.

U.S. citizens: no visa required for tourists, 90 days in a 180 day period.
Canadian citizens: no visa required for tourists, 90 days in a 180 day period.
British citizens: no visa required for tourists, 90 days in a 180 day period.
European Union citizens: no visa required for tourists, 90 days in a 180 day period.
Russian citizens: no visa required.
Georgian citizens: no visa required.
Australian citizens: visa required for tourists (can be done on arrival at Kyiv and Odesa airports – but you need prepared documents and cash).

In the past, it was common for foreigners to overstay their visa and get a slap on the wrist as they exited, typically in the form of a fine. Ukrainian immigration is becoming much stricter, especially with visa-free travel to Europe recently implemented. Immigration at airports has stepped up their game. Foreigners who overstay are sometimes not just fined but also barred entering Ukraine again for a length of time. You’ll hear anecdotes of people doing border runs or of lax immigration at land crossings, but I’m not going to advocate illegal or sneaky behavior when it comes to Ukrainian immigration.

Ukraine Travel FAQ - Lviv Opera House Ukraine

Me playing tour guide for my parents and my aunt.

Can I visit Crimea?

Without getting into the politics of Russia and Ukraine, we can still clearly talk about the visiting the areas under dispute. The Ukrainian government considers Crimea illegally occupied by Russia. As a result, it has put restrictions on visiting the peninsula. First of all, foreigners and Ukrainians alike must have legitimate reason to visit. Ukrainians can cross by land if they have family or property there. Foreigners can only visit Crimea through Ukraine if they are journalists and have applied for special permission.

The Ukrainian government considers it illegal to visit Crimea through another country. So, while it’s technically feasible to visit Crimea through Russia (if you have the proper paperwork to visit Russia), you are putting yourself in a potentially precarious situation. If Ukraine finds out that you entered Crimea through Russia, they can bar you from entering Ukraine. This blew up into international crisis proportions when Ukraine refused to let Russia’s Eurovision 2017 contest enter the country to perform in Kyiv – as she had performed in Crimea post-2014. (Ok, might not seem like a big idea to you, but Eurovision is taken very seriously here.)

How could Ukraine find out that you’ve been to Crimea if you’re not an international music star? I’m not saying they will. But travelers should be aware of all the consequences of visiting Crimea.

Ukraine Travel FAQ - Ukrainian Independence Day Parade

How Ukraine rehearses its Independence Day Parade.

Can I visit Donbass?

Look, guys, I’m a thrill seeker too, but let’s not be dumb here. The Donetsk and Luhansk regions are active war zones. Go there, and you’ll be putting yourself and others at risk.

However, that doesn’t mean all of Eastern Ukraine is off-limits. I frequently traveled to Kharkiv, which is close to the Russian border, and felt totally safe. Poltava, Dnipro, Zaporizhia are all perfectly safe places to visit.

Ukraine Travel FAQ - Ukrainian Battle Flags

There is a new exhibit about the war in the east in the World War II Museum in the Motherland Statute (Rodina Mat).

What language do they speak in Ukraine?

Ukrainian is the official language of Ukraine, and all official documents and signs are written in it. That being said, Ukraine is more of a melting pot of languages that I expected. In southwestern Ukraine, the dialect that emerged from the influence of Romania and Hungary sometimes stumps even other Ukrainians. Chernivtsi, a city in that region, has half a dozen spellings of its name: Cernăuți (Romania), Csernovic (Hungarian), Chernovtsy (Russian), Czerniowce (Polish), and more. Russian is also widely spoken and understood, especially in eastern Ukraine, though the politics of language here can get quite hot.

However, Ukrainians are quite generous to travelers and our language faux-pas. You might get your Russian “спасибо” gently corrected to the Ukrainian “Дякую.” But mostly, locals are happy to communicate with you however is possible. The little language I do know is Russian, but I try to use Ukrainian “please” (будь ласка) and “thank you” (Дякую) to localize. If you don’t know any language, I recommend learning phrases in Ukrainian because you are, after all, traveling in Ukraine. Definitely familiarize yourself with the Cyrillic alphabet, as there are some words that sound really similar if you can work them out.

Ukraine Travel FAQ - Chernivtsi Ukraine

The UNESCO World Heritage university at Chernivtsi (aka Cernăuți/Csernovic/Chernovtsy/Czerniowce).

Do Ukrainians speak English?

When it comes to using English in Ukraine, it is hit and miss. Ukrainian education puts a strong emphasis on English, so younger generations generally have decent (or high) English knowledge. Whenever I have a question, I look for someone in their twenties or younger to help. In most tourist hot-spots and urban restaurants and hotels, you shouldn’t have a problem.

However, if you plan on traveling beyond Kiev, Odessa, and Lviv, it will be incredibly useful to know some Ukrainian words. Print out all your reservations and tickets and download Google Translate onto your phone. Hardly anyone at train stations or bus stations speaks English, so give yourself extra time if you have questions or need to buy tickets.

Ukraine Travel FAQ - Dnipro Ukraine

Are Ukrainians friendly?

SO friendly! Maybe a little shy at first, but the fact that Ukraine doesn’t get many tourists means that they aren’t tired of us yet. When most people find out that I’m from the U.S., they have lots of questions and want to know my opinion of Ukraine.

And if a local sees that I’m struggling to communicate, they’re usually happy to jump in as a translator. One time, when I was trying to return a ticket at the train station, a man behind me in the line called his wife to help me communicate with the train station lady.

Ukraine Travel FAQ - Carpathian Drinking Customs

When I learned how the dairy farmers drink in the Carpathian Mountains.

When is the best time to visit Ukraine?

Many people picture Ukraine as a dark, cold, desolate place. Well, it’s not desolate! But the best time to visit is up to you.

By October there will be severe cold snaps. This past fall we’ve also had a significant amount of rain. The winters can be brutally cold, with a decent amount of snow (though Kyiv doesn’t always get much). But Christmas is a festive time in Ukraine, and the snow adds a certain amount of charm. If you like snowboarding or skiing, you can visit Ukraine’s ski resorts for affordable prices.

March and April are still damp and dark, but once the warm weather hits, Ukraine springs to life. The cities have plenty of green spaces, tons of sidewalk cafes, and plenty of outdoor attractions. There are school holidays in early May, so there will be lots of competition for train tickets and hotels then. If you want to do anything in Ukraine’s nature, you will probably need to wait until June at the earliest.

It doesn’t get too hot, though there will be a few heat waves throughout the summer. August is high season for Lviv, Odessa and the Black Sea towns, but other places will be quieter as locals leave.

As Ukraine doesn’t currently draw a lot of tourists, you won’t have to deal with too many crowds even during the summer months. But if you’re interested in seeing Chernobyl without many other people, try to visit in the spring or fall.

Ukraine Travel FAQ - Lada in the fall

Ukraine in mid-October. Also, incidentally, the last time I saw the sun.

What is the currency in Ukraine and how do I get it?

Ukraine’s currency is the hryvnia, adopted by the country in 1996. It is abbreviated UAH or preceded by a ₴ sign. In 2017, the exchange rate was roughly 25 UAH to 1 USD, an incredibly favorable exchange rate.

If you have a debit card without foreign withdrawal fees, you can also easily withdraw hryvnia from an ATM (bank-o-mat). Always check the ATM for skimming tech, and try to use ATMs inside bank foyers if you can. I stick to withdrawing from Raiffeisen, OTP, ProCredit, and UkrSibbank.

Exchanging currency in Ukraine is easy. As a general rule when I travel, I skip exchange counters in airports. In the city centers, the rates are typically pretty fair. Exchange counters advertise accepting most major currencies, including US and Canadian dollars, Euros, Russian rubles, and Polish zloty.

The problem comes when you want to exchange hryvnia back. Ukraine has some very strange laws that make it difficult for foreigners to convert local currency. I had an exchange office near the train station refuse to change hryvnia to Euro for me. However, some of the smaller counters will do it. For example, there’s one in a cell phone store near the center that will do it – so basically, if seems to you a shady exchange counter, they will probably blithely bend the rules for you. Converting hryvnia outside of Ukraine is nearly impossible, so try to change only what you need.

Can I use a credit card in Ukraine?

It’s pretty easy to use debit and credit cards in Ukraine – except at a surprising number of hotels and hostels. Double-check your reservation to see if your accommodation prefers cash (and maybe have at least one night’s worth on hand anyway). Other than that, in any of the major cities, you can use cards at most stores and restaurants, even for something as small as a dollar coffee.

What should I see in Ukraine?

Well, that’s up to you and your interests! But whether you’re looking for adventures in nature, a gastronomy tour, or a slice of history, you can find it in Ukraine. You can get a teaser taste by checking out my 48 hours in Kiev guide.

If you have ten days in Ukraine, you can easily do the Kyiv-Odesa-Lviv route. If you have two weeks, you can add a fourth city without crunching your schedule. I have an article in the works with detailed Ukraine itineraries coming, so keep an eye out for that!

Until then, you can check out all my Ukraine must-dos, from horseback riding in the Carpathians to cocktail bars in Kharkiv, on my Ukraine travel guide page.

Ukraine Travel FAQ - Lviv City Square

Lviv, one of the major tourist cities in Ukraine, barely after dawn — the only time you’ll see the streets this empty.

How do I travel by train in Ukraine?

Train travel in Ukraine is hands-down one of my favorite things about living here. There are two websites I use to buy train tickets in Ukraine. One is the railway company’s website and the other is a third party provider. Train tickets in Ukraine are generally available for sale online 45 days in advance. I had trouble booking tickets on the third party provider’s site with my American credit cards, but the benefit of that site is that you can process returns online. However, with the third party site you can only book one ticket at a time. On the railway company’s site you can book multiple tickets at once.

Ok, so when you go to book your tickets, here’s how to (kinda) know what you’re getting—

Ukraine Intercity Trains

Ukraine’s intercity trains generally run only during the day with direct connections between the biggest cities. Trains between Kiev and Lviv or Kiev and Odessa are generally pretty modern, set up with ‘airplane’ style seating. They supposedly have wifi, but it’s pretty terrible unless you’re stopped in a city (and even then…). These trains typically have a dining car and food carts that go through the wagons. In these trains, the biggest difference between first and second class is the size of the seats and access to power plugs. I don’t find there to be that big of a difference in comfort level.

Intercity trains between smaller cities will be more rustic and are less likely to have dining cars. I went from Dnipro to Kharkiv in one of these trains, and it felt like stepping back into the 70s.

When you go to buy your ticket, the options should look like this:

Ukraine Travel FAQ - 1st Class Intercity Train Ukraine

Choosing your seat in first class, from tickets.ua’s website.

Ukraine Travel FAQ - 2nd Class Intercity Train Ukraine

Choosing your seat in second class, from tickets.ua’s website.

If for some reason, it shows up as just a compartment full of seats, no aisle shown, don’t panic. The train is normal with ‘airplane’ style seating.

Sometimes intercity routes use overnight trains, so the layout of the wagon will look different when you buy your ticket.

Ukraine Travel FAQ - Ukraine Overnight Train as Intercity Train 2nd Class

Like this — this is an overnight train, so you’ll be sitting snugly three people next to each other on the bottom berths. Unless the person with the ‘upper bunk’ decides to sit up there. From the rail company’s website.

Overnight trains in Ukraine

The joy of traveling by overnight train in Ukraine! I do this all the time, as Ukraine is actually a very big country and you can spend a lot of time just traveling. And often, overnight trains are the only option. They do not have dining cars, so make sure you pack plenty of snacks and bring water with you. You will be given bed linens and you can order tea with your ticket or ask the train attendant. There are three classes of sleeping berths on overnight trains.

Ukraine Travel FAQ - First Class Overnight Train in Ukraine

A peek into the first class cabin on Ukrainian overnight train.

In first class, there are only two berths per compartment. Both berths are ‘bottoms.’ The seats themselves are similar to the second class seats, but the first class compartments have air conditioning. Huge win.

In second class, there are four berths per compartment. If you want a bottom berth, choose an odd numbered seat. The biggest benefit of having a bottom berth is that there is a compartment under your seat where you can securely store your luggage. If you have a top berth, there’s space above the door where you can shove your luggage, but it’s not super secure. I typically take second class overnight trains in Ukraine and I have never had a problem with personal safety or luggage.

Ukraine Travel FAQ - 2nd Class Overnight Train Ukraine

An example of choosing your seat in a second class wagon, from tickets.ua’s website.

In third class, there are no compartments. There are four berths on one side of the aisle and two, running parallel to the aisle, on the other side. I have only ever been in a third class wagon once, and that was a short hour and a half during the day because I wanted to see what it looked like. If you are looking for a “real experience,” go for it. If you’re looking for any degree of rest, I’d say think twice. The wagon I saw did not have curtains or anything to give passengers privacy.

Train travel in Ukraine is great and I highly recommend it.

Ukraine Travel FAQ - Overnight Train Travel in Ukraine

My family, being troopers and taking three overnight trains during their visit to Ukraine.

How do I travel by bus in Ukraine?

Bus travel in Ukraine, on the other hand, is an adventure. Basically every time I’ve taken the bus in Ukraine I’ve had a different experience. You can buy bus tickets from the same third party site that you can buy train tickets from. You really have no idea what kind of bus you’re going to get, though, so I do not recommend this for overnight buses.

Story time…

One time I tried to take an overnight bus between Mukachevo and Chernivtsi, and it was a disaster. First of all, the bus itself was basically a glorified marshrutka. I was supposed to be there for 11 hours, and I think I stole someone’s seat because I was number 45 and I only saw seats until 44. The bus was packed, and there were people standing in the aisle. I had to get off after an hour because of food poisoning, but it would have been a hellish trip.

Ukraine Travel FAQ - Taking a Bus in Ukraine

This kinda bus is good for a one hour ride. Maaaax.

However, it is possible to take a semi-comfortable overnight bus in Ukraine. I also took overnight buses between Kiev and Odessa over the summer. For this, I’d recommend Gunsel or Autolux/Ecolines. As far as I can tell, they always run coach style buses. They stop frequently for bathroom breaks and typically have a ‘flight attendant’ to help travelers. Be at the bus station early as they are generally chaotic places and sometimes the buses even leave early.

If your trip is short (say, two hours or so), you should be able to find a minibus or marshrutka without pre-purchasing your ticket. The biggest challenge in short trips is finding out where to get the bus. Sometimes buses go to the bus station, sometimes you have to flag them down on the side of the road, sometimes you have to go find them at a bus stop somewhere in the city.

Having problems finding convenient train or bus times to complete your Ukraine itinerary?

Consider flipping your trip, if you can. When my family came to visit, originally I planned for us to go Kiev-Lviv-Odessa, but I was coming up with horrible train times. I reversed it and found that Kiev-Odessa-Lviv gave us a much better timetable.

And, as I mentioned before, the multiple spellings sometimes makes searching for tickets tricky. If you can’t find “Lviv” try “Lvov” or “Chernigov” instead of “Chernihiv.”

I wrote about Kiev public transportation specifically, and in other cities the transport works in generally the same way.

How do I travel by plane in Ukraine?

There are a couple Ukrainian domestic airlines that can connect you to all the major cities. I rarely use them, because they tend to be expensive and the train is just so convenient. However, I have flown Lviv-Kyiv on Motorsich, which cost just about 30 USD and took an hour and a half. Other Ukrainian airlines include Ukraine International Arlines (MAY), Dniproavia, and Kharkiv Airlines.

How do I travel by car in Ukraine ?

One of Ukrainians three favorite things to complain about is the quality of their roads, so even though I haven’t traveled around Ukraine by car much, I can make an educated guess here. Mostly, it’s going to be a tiring experience. But some roads have been taken care of. If you’re driving between Kyiv and Lviv, the road is in pretty good shape.

Ukraine Travel FAQ - Driving in Ukraine

My biggest dream in life is to road trip around Ukraine in a Lada. One day…

BlablaCar does exist in Ukraine, so if you’re able to get that working you could have some interesting and affordable trips. I used BlablaCar to get from the border of Ukraine to Budapest in 2016.

I’ve never tried hitchhiking in Ukraine, but if you are going a short distance you can hang out at a bus stop and stick out your hand. Cars will sometimes stop to pick up passengers if they’re going your way. I have done this only once (sorry, Mom). I was with a Russian-speaking friend and we had been waiting forever for a marshrutka in a small town about an hour and a half outside of Kyiv. I probably wouldn’t do this by myself.

Can I drink the tap water in Ukraine?

It’s inadvisable. Water quality aside, you should consider the state of the pipes. Some modern apartments have water filters, but I would recommend keeping a bottle of water with you at all times.

Ukraine Travel FAQ - Ukraine Craft Beer

Or a bottle of Ukrainian craft beer.

Is Ukrainian cuisine vegetarian/vegan friendly?

Ukrainian cuisine is hearty, filling, and way better for omnivores. When it comes to traditional Ukrainian food, it might be tricky to eat vegetarian. Vareniki can be stuffed with non-meat fillings, but main dishes are typically carnivore-friendly. Also, animal fat is often used for frying and cooking. That being said, it is possible to eat vegetarian in Ukraine. You’ll find pretty good options at Georgian and Indian restaurants. There’s a smattering of vegetarian restaurants in Kiev, and many new, international-cuisine restaurants have herbivore options.

Dear vegans visiting Ukraine, prepare yourself for a monotonous menu. While meat is avoidable, dairy is nearly everywhere. Mayonnaise, cheese, sour cream. At least the grilled vegetables are universally tasty.

Ukraine Travel FAQ - Ukrainian Cuisine

Salo, a Ukrainian staple, is definitely not vegetarian friendly. Or diet friendly. Or artery friendly.

Can I travel in Ukraine with a food allergy?

If you have allergies, I recommend bringing a translated note with you. There’s not a culture of allergy sensitivity here, and it’s not a concept you want to try to explain with limited language skills. While it’s pretty easy to stay away from a big allergen like seafood, smaller ones like hazelnuts are often used in garnishes.

The bigger concern for people with very severe allergies is cross contamination. There’s a very popular strudel chain here that cuts the savory pastries with one knife and the sweet ones with another. There’s no cleaning the knife between the salmon strudel and the veggie, for example, which could set some allergies off.

What’s up with these menus?

A friend visiting Ukraine found himself perplexed by the sheer amount of numbers connected to each dish on the menu. Which, he wanted to know, was the price? Perhaps for European travelers this is a no brainer, but Ukrainian menus give you the grams of each ingredient. That’s why there are so many numbers listed with each menu item. If you want to know the price, look for the number followed by UAH or the ₴ sign.

What should I know about Ukrainian etiquette?

On a person-to-person level, Ukrainians are very polite. Please and thank you are commonplace, and sales people greet you when you enter a store. Give up your seat on public transport for the elderly – or you may be asked to.

On a global scale, sometimes etiquette rules bend. Space, especially on public transportation, is seen as a limited resource. Watch out for line cutters.<P.

Do I need to tip in Ukraine?

Yes, for some things. In restaurants and bars, it’s customary to tip 10% or so. Also, I tip 10-15% for beauty services. Tipping taxi drivers is not required, unless they’re helping you with heavy luggage.

Ukraine Travel FAQ - Saint Sophia, Kyiv Ukraine

How can I travel Ukraine on a budget?

Ukraine is such an affordable destination, I struggle a bit to think about how to make it even more budget! Most of the common sense rules apply – use public transportation instead of taxis, travel second or third class, go on free walking tours (even though most attractions are just a few dollars at the current exchange rate).

When it comes to cheap food in Ukraine, chains like Katyusha or Pizata Hata can fill you up on a budget. Craft beer can be found for $2-3 a pint, craft cocktails for $4-8 – not expensive compared to New York, but if you’re looking for budget drinking in Ukraine I’d suggest a place like Porter Pub.

Once you travel outside of the main cities, prices drop even further. For example, I paid around $5 a night for a bed in a hostel dorm in Chernihiv. And you can see how my weekend in Rivne compared to a weekend in Odessa.

Ukraine Travel FAQ - Visit the Tunnel of Love

If you’ve ever been on Pinterest you’ve seen this — the famous Tunnel of Love. Yep, it’s in Ukraine.

The price of accommodation in Ukraine, at least in the major tourist cities, is surprisingly high compared to the rest of the typical tourist expenses. It’s not expensive, per say, but it’s average compared to other countries. You can definitely save money on accommodation by staying in hostels. If you’re traveling with a buddy or in a group, check out Airbnb. There are some really nice apartments with lots of sleeping space. And of course, use Ukraine’s overnight trains to save on both time and money.

How can I get a SIM Card in Ukraine?

Truth be told, I have no concept of gigabytes. I understand how strong connectivity is by which apps are or aren’t working (Twitter is much less demanding than Instagram, for example).

Luckily, getting a SIM card and getting connected in Ukraine is pretty easy. There are three major providers in Ukraine, Vodafone, Kyivstar, and Lifecell. All you need to do is walk into any of these stores, and they will set you up with a SIM card and pay-as-you-go data. It’s very easy to top-up your phone. There are kiosks all over the city (look in the metros if you’re having trouble finding one) where you type in your phone number, add some hryvnia, and immediately get recharged. You can also buy top-up cards from the cigarette stands. Or pop into your provider’s store.

Which provider should you choose? I have Vodafone, and I am constantly dissatisfied. Within Kyiv and other major cities, it more or less works, but beyond that I have to deal with huge swaths of no service. My friends who have Kyivstar seem to fair a bit better. However, Ukraine is generally is not a very connected place. In rural areas you will definitely lose coverage, and I have literally forgotten that 4G is a thing.

Ukraine Travel FAQ - Kamienants-Podilskyi Castle

Come for the views, leave for the wifi.

What are the toilets like in Ukraine?

Yes, this warrants its own section. And there’s more than one thing to mention.

First of all, toilets in Ukraine are… sensitive. The plumbing is not always the strongest, and many places – even modern places – will kindly request you throw toilet paper into a bin so as not to disturb its delicate equilibrium. If you see a sign posted in the stall, it’s probably beseeching you to show kindness on the sanitation system.

As Ukraine uses the Cyrillic alphabet, you’ll rarely see toilets labeled M and W. Instead, it’s common to see M and Ж (women in Ukrainian is Жінки). Sometimes, the toilets even more creatively labeled. In one pizza place I had to choose between a door labeled with a slice of pizza with a bow on the top and one with the bow on the bottom. WC roulette.

I’m sorry to say, squat toilets are not a rarity in Ukraine. Especially for public buildings from the Soviet time – the World War II Museum in Kiev, the Lviv train station, the Odessa Academic Theatre of Musical Comedy (just to give you a head’s up). If this is alarming for you, look for the handicapped stall in the bathroom. They usually have modern toilets.

It’s smart to carry tissues, hand sanitizer, and small change with you. Many public toilets in Ukraine have an attendant who charges a 2-5 UAH fee.

Where can I buy … in Ukraine?

groceries

If you’re looking for snacks and water, try to find the ubiquitous produkty (продукты) shops. They’ll have you covered when it comes to the basics (which includes, surprisingly, cured meats). If you need a bigger grocery store, look for Silpo (Сільпо), Billa, ATB Market (АТБ-Маркет), or Forma (Фора). For mega-markets, where you can buy milk but also a yoga mat, go to Auchan or Novus.

medicine

There are pharmacies all over Ukraine (really, I don’t know how they all stay in business). Just look for an аптека. However, make sure you have exactly what you need written down, as I’ve rarely found an English-speaking pharmacist.

Ukraine Travel FAQ - Apteka Ukraine

toiletries

If you’re forgotten your toothbrush or need to buy tampons in Ukraine, look for chains like Watsons, Eva, or Kosmo (КОСМО). Grocery stories will also have some basic supplies.

electronics

Forgot your charger? Need a new SIM card? El Dorado (Ельдорадо) is a popular electronic chain in Ukraine. You can also find kiosks selling electronics in the underpasses of major cities, though the quality there is going to be a bit iffy.

Why do you write “Kyiv” instead of “Kiev” and “Odesa” instead of “Odessa?”

The short story is that many of the internationally-used transliterations of Ukrainian places are actually derived from the Russian spelling, not the Ukrainian spelling. I use “Kiev” and “Odessa” because that’s frequently what people outside of Ukraine type into their search boxes, and I need to show up on Google. But I also use “Kyiv” and “Odesa” because that’s what people inside Ukraine use, and I want to respect that.

Ukraine Travel FAQ - Odessa Ukraine

The stunning opera house in Odesa.

SO. That is literally all I know about traveling in Ukraine, after a year and a half of delving as deeply into this country and culture as I could. But if there’s anything I missed in this Ukraine travel FAQ, please ask me in the comments below! And if you have more information to add, drop that down there too!

Ukraine Travel FAQ - Everything You Need to Know About Traveling in Ukraine

Start planning your own trip by pinning this Ukraine travel FAQ!

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2 thoughts on “Ukraine Travel FAQ – Everything You Need to Know About Traveling in Ukraine

  1. Emily

    Thanks for putting together such a helpful post! I’m hoping to get to Ukraine in 2019 and this will be invaluable when planning my trip. Lada road trip… Sounds amazing! And the Tunnel of Love looks so cool!

    Can’t wait to see your photos from Georgia. Happy holidays!

  2. Shaun Stoffer

    Great read. I’m a teacher as well and have been living abroad and teaching in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam for a year now, seriously considering making Ukraine my next extended destination.

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