Is Ukraine a safe place to visit?
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.