What makes Ukraine a unique country to travel to?
Ukraine continues to experience significant political and economic changes. In recent years, the amount and types of goods and services available in Ukraine have increased, and facilities for travelers have improved. Nonetheless, the quality of travel and tourist services remains uneven throughout the country, and it can still be difficult to find some of the goods and services commonly available in the United States. Ukrainian is the official language with Russian being widely used in Eastern and Southern Ukraine; English is not widely used.
Street crime remains a serious problem in Ukraine. The country continues to undergo significant economic, political, and social transformation, and income differences have grown accordingly. As a result, you and other foreign visitors may be perceived as wealthy and become easy targets for criminals. United States citizens often stand out in Ukraine, and are therefore more likely to be targeted than in Western European countries where incomes are higher and U.S. citizens may blend in better. The police are poorly paid, motivated, trained, and equipped, and also are considered to be one of the most corrupt organizations in Ukraine. Ukrainian police and emergency services remain generally below Western European and U.S. standards in terms of training, responsiveness, and effectiveness. Ukrainian law enforcement and emergency officials rarely speak English and interpreters are not readily available.
Most street crimes reported to the Embassy are non-violent and non-confrontational, and range from various scams to simple pick-pocketing, purse-snatching, and theft of personal items from parked cars. Many of these crimes occur in downtown Kyiv or on the public transport system, including the subway (metro). Muggings, armed robberies, harassment, or the drugging of unsuspecting victims at nightspots and bars (where they are then robbed) have been reported, but less frequently. Cases of assaults in apartment building corridors, elevators, and stairwells, as well as armed break-ins and crimes involving small-caliber firearms have also been reported, but are rare; most criminals do not carry guns, but may have other weapons. When violent assaults do occur, they usually involve punches and kicks, with an occasional bottle or similar item used as a club.
A commonly reported scam in Kyiv is the “wallet scam,” which involves a person dropping a wallet or a packet of money near you. After you pick up the wallet/packet and attempt to give it back to the individual who dropped it, the scam artist claims that the wallet is missing money and accuses you of stealing it. The individual either threatens to call the police if you don’t pay or asks you to show your wallet to prove that you did not take any money. When you show your wallet, the thief grabs your money and flees. A very common variant involves a second person who intercedes and claims to be a police officer, often flashing a badge. The second person also asks to see your wallet, grabbing the money and fleeing or, through sleight of hand, stealing your money. Many variants exist: two wallets, three or more thieves, etc. All variants involve the victim picking up something and returning it to the person who dropped it.
U.S. citizens have reported being robbed by people posing as police officers. Police officers in Ukraine, including plain clothes officers, routinely stop people on the street to check identity documents and U.S. citizens are required to carry their passports and produce them on request. However, if you have doubts about the legitimacy of a police officer, you can ask to see their photo ID.
While most travelers do not encounter problems with crime in Ukraine, there have been hate crimes directed at ethnic and religious minorities, and members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities (please see more on LGBT issues under Special Circumstances section ). Many of these incidents are perpetrated by “skinheads” or neo-Nazis and have been reported throughout the country. In Kyiv, these incidents have occurred without provocation in prominent downtown areas commonly frequented by tourists. The majority of people targeted have been of Asian, African, or other non-European descent. Racial minorities may also be subject to various types of harassment, such as being stopped on the street by both civilians and law enforcement officials. Individuals belonging to religious minorities have been harassed and assaulted in Kyiv and throughout Ukraine. The police and government’s slow response to hate crimes is a serious and continuing concern. Although senior Government of Ukraine officials have publicly deplored these hate crimes and groups behind them, Ukrainian street-level law enforcement officials are either unwilling or are unable to deter hate crimes effectively. The U.S. Embassy has received numerous credible reports from victims of violent hate crimes stating that uniformed police officers observed the assaults and did nothing to prevent the attacks, to assist the victims afterward, or to investigate and apprehend the attackers. The Government of Ukraine has established special law enforcement units to prevent and investigate hate crimes; despite these efforts, problems with this type of crime continue to exist.
The general disinterest shown by Ukrainian law enforcement in responding to or investigating crimes against U.S. citizens in a number of cases is a cause for concern. In particular, Ukrainian law differs with regard to sexual assault and rape, and Ukrainian law enforcement officers generally treat such cases with less seriousness and professionalism than their U.S. counterparts. If you become a victim of rape or sexual assault, you should expect little assistance from Ukrainian law enforcement. We recommend you contact the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv to help find medical care, and to help you understand the local criminal justice process.
The U.S. Embassy also hears from people who have had large amounts of money stolen by Internet contacts they thought were their friends, loved ones, or romantic interests. These Internet scams include lotteries, on-line dating or introduction services, and even requests from a “friend” in trouble. In many cases, scammers troll the Internet for victims and spend weeks or months building a relationship and credibility. Once they have gained their victim’s trust, they create a false situation and ask for money. Once money has been sent, there is next to no chance it will be recovered.
In particular, dating/marriage scams are frequent. In many cases, U.S. citizens have sent money to a person or agency in Ukraine with the understanding that either a young woman will visit the United States, or the U.S. citizen will visit her in Ukraine. Often, these scams lead to requests for increasing amounts of money for various purposes, including requests to assist with faked emergency situations (such as unexpected ticket or visa fees, serious illness, or family members in trouble). Once the U.S. citizen becomes suspicious, the individual or agency will cut off contact. Many of these scams have existed for many years using a variety of different identities, agency names, and addresses. In addition, some U.S. citizens visiting their “friend” or “fiancé” in Ukraine have been extorted out of thousands of dollars, and in some cases have been seriously assaulted. Numerous U.S. citizens have also lost money to agencies and individuals who claimed to be able to arrange a student or fiancé visas to the United States. We urge you to read the document entitled “ Marriage Brokers ” on our website for additional information.
Credit card and ATM fraud are wide-spread. Ukraine generally operates as a cash economy, and money scams are common. Although credit card and ATM use among Ukrainians is increasing, the Embassy strongly recommends that you exercise caution and use credit cards only at reputable businesses. You should avoid using ATMs on the street or in public places whenever possible. Machines located inside bank branches are generally safer.
Burglaries of apartments and vehicles represent a common threat to long-term residents. Although few cars are actually stolen, primarily because of increased use of alarm systems and security wheel locks, vehicular break-ins and vehicular vandalism are frequent.
Ukraine lacks reliable services for foreign victims of crime. Transferring funds from the United States, replacing stolen traveler’s checks or airline tickets, and canceling credit cards can be difficult and time consuming. There are few safe low-cost lodgings, such as youth hostels. Public facilities in Ukraine generally are not equipped to accommodate persons with physical disabilities.
The Embassy has received reports of harassment and intimidation directed against foreign businesspersons and interests.
Do not wire money to Ukraine unless the recipient is well-known to you and the purpose of business is clear. United States citizens have reported transferring money to Ukraine to pay for goods purchased from residents of Ukraine via online auction sites, but never receiving the goods in return.
Don’t buy counterfeit or pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal to bring back into the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
In case of emergency in Ukraine, call the following emergency numbers:
Fire – 101
Police – 102
Ambulance – 103
Operators generally do not speak English. As noted previously, Ukrainian police and emergency services are still generally below Western European and U.S. standards in terms of training, responsiveness, and effectiveness. United States citizens have reported waiting up to several hours for Ukrainian police and ambulance services to respond to calls for emergency assistance especially in rural areas. Ukrainian law enforcement provides no adequate level of deterrence to street crime, and is not able to investigate criminal incidents to any minimal level expected in Western countries. Visitors to Ukraine should note that Ukrainian law enforcement and emergency response officials generally do not speak English, and translators are generally not readily available.
While you are traveling in Ukraine, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. If you violate Ukrainian law, even unknowingly, you may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. U.S. citizens who have been arrested in Ukraine have faced extended periods, even years, in pre-trail detention before their case comes to trial. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Ukraine are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Ukrainian prison conditions, while improved in recent years, are generally far below the norm in the United States. or Western Europe. Cells are crowded and contact with the outside world is limited (no phones, Internet, or television). Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Ukraine, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not where you are going.
While some countries will automatically notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested in a foreign country, that might not always be the case. To ensure that the United States is aware of your circumstances, request that the police and prison officials notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate as soon as you are arrested or detained overseas.
Ukrainian is the official language. Minorities including Hungarian, Polish and Romanian may speak their own languages. Ethnic minorities now have the legal right to use their own language in public and judicial matters.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
If you are ill or infirm, we strongly recommend that you do not travel to Ukraine. Ukraine is not a disabled-friendly environment, with little or no accommodations to ease access. Elderly travelers and those with existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities. State ambulance service is inadequate and it can take hours to get a response even in an emergency. Ambulance crews have asked for bribes before agreeing to transport critically ill patients to the hospital. The U.S. Embassy maintains a list of hospitals and clinics with some English-speaking staff. A few facilities have only limited English speakers, and most have none at all. No hospitals in Ukraine accept U.S. health insurance plans for payment, and the level of medical care is not equal to that found in U.S. hospitals. (Some facilities are adequate for basic services.) If you are hospitalized, you or someone acting on your behalf must supply bandages, medication, and food. The U.S. Embassy also recommends that you obtain private medical evacuation insurance prior to traveling to Ukraine. If you do not have Ukrainian medical insurance, you may be asked to pay in cash for medical services and hospitalization before you are treated. Many private insurance companies in Ukraine offer short-term medical coverage for visitors.
Medical evacuation often remains the best way to secure Western medical care. This option, however, is very expensive and can take several hours or longer to arrange. You should buy medical evacuation insurance prior to travel or have access to substantial lines of credit to cover the cost of medical evacuation. The U.S. Embassy has information on various air ambulance companies that provide medical evacuations to Europe or to the United States. More information can be found on the U.S. Embassy's website in the document “ Medical Services in Kyiv.”
Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Ukraine.
There have been several outbreaks of measles in Ukraine in recent years. The Ukrainian Ministry of Health currently reports suspected cases of the illness are increasing, particularly in Western Ukraine. The CDC provides regularly updated measles information. Travelers to Ukraine should make sure they have been vaccinated against measles (and that their other vaccinations are up-to-date) in accordance with World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.
HIV levels in Ukraine are well above regional and worldwide averages. The CDC website publishes the latest news on HIV in Ukraine, along with information on HIV prevention.
Ukraine has experienced several outbreaks of H1N1 influenza, most recently in November 2009. These instances were among birds and poultry only and no known human cases have occurred.
Safety and Security
For the most part, Ukraine is a safe country to visit, with little anti-U.S. sentiment. Large demonstrations occasionally occur in the bigger cities, such as Kyiv, and are usually sponsored by political organizations. Most protests are peaceful but you should avoid them if at all possible. Even demonstrations that are meant to be peaceful can become violent and unpredictable. Be alert and aware of your surroundings and pay attention to what the local news media report. If the Embassy obtains information about a planned protest ahead of time, an announcement will be posted on the Embassy website.
Several bombings targeting public areas have occurred in Ukraine in the last year and caused damage or injury. While the bombings in Ukraine are not related to terrorism and have not targeted U.S. citizens, the Embassy reiterates the necessity to maintain high level of vigilance and to take appropriate steps to increase your security awareness.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Ukraine, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
Generally, roads in Ukraine outside major urban areas are in poor condition and are poorly lighted. U.S. visitors to Ukraine can drive using their U.S. driving licenses for up to 60 days after entering the country; those planning to stay longer need to obtain a Ukrainian driving license.You should drive defensively at all times, since local drivers often disregard traffic rules. Drivers are often poorly trained; many drive without a valid driver's license. Drivers can also be dangerously aggressive and normally do not respect the rights of pedestrians, even at clearly marked pedestrian crossings, and regularly drive on the sidewalks. Pedestrians should also be aware of cars driving or attempting to park on sidewalks. Many cars, including some taxis, do not meet the safety standards common in the United States. There is no tolerance for driving under the influence, and penalties can be steep. Fines are associated with driving while talking on a cell phone.
Due to heavy traffic and congested roads, vehicle accidents happen often in larger Ukrainian cities, especially in Kyiv.If you are involved in an accident in Ukraine, do not move the vehicle from the site of the accident unless it presents a clear safety concern (causing a traffic jam is not considered a safety concern). In practice, this means that even moving a vehicle to the side of the road after an accident may be considered a criminal offense. Local police must be notified and will report to the scene to conduct an investigation. You must wait until the police arrive and complete their report, no matter how long it takes; often this can take several hours. When police arrive, they will decide responsibility, take the drivers’ personal information, and file an accident report. In the vast majority of cases, the police reporting to the scene of an accident will not speak English.
Cross-country travel at night and in winter can be particularly dangerous. The Embassy strongly recommends that visitors and permanent residents of Ukraine refrain from driving after dark outside of major cities. Roadside services such as gas stations and repair facilities are becoming more common, but are far from U.S. standards; travelers should plan accordingly. Western-made or foreign-registered cars have been carjacked.