I’ve just returned from L’viv, Ukraine and whilst I’ve had a decent vacation, I have found some struggles with the trip. So here is a list of 5 important things to know before you visit Ukraine.
Learn some Ukrainian:
Ukraine is a fiercely patriotic country and the people take great pride in being Ukrainian, as such it’s a real benefit to be able to speak a little of the language. You’d be able to get away with Russian or Polish, but I found not a lot of people spoke English outside of the airport. This may be different in a bigger city like Kiev, but it was a struggle in L’viv. You’ll also have a hard time not needing to speak to anyone while you’re in Ukraine, a lot of transactions are at counters where you’ll have to ask for what you want. I’ve made a passable attempt at looking like I know what people are saying to me when really I’ve had no idea whatsoever!
Break your notes:
Speaking of making transactions, everything in Ukraine is pretty cheap, and by pretty cheap, I mean insanely so. When I converted my money I got around 3600UAH, some of that in large 500UAH bills. Unless you’re buying luxury brands or doing a big shop, you’re unlikely to need such a large note. I had a hard time paying for the bus from the airport which cost 5UAH (approximately 14p) when the smallest note I was carrying was 100UAH. It’s a good idea to break your notes down so you have some of the smaller (between 20UAH and 1UAH) notes. You’re also not likely to need a lot of money converted, over the 4 days I’ve been here I’ve spent roughly the equivalent £30, including souvenirs for my family. Obviously depending on what you do, where you eat and who you’re going with that may be more for you. However, a 2-course meal costs on average 200UAH (£6) so bear that in mind when you’re deciding on how much to take.
On the subject of food, if you’re a fan of kebab then you’ll be in your element. There is a kebab shop on every street around the city centre. And I don’t mean kebab shop in the English sense of the world. These are fancy, full-on restaurants. And they’re pretty good too! However, if you’re a vegetarian or more of a picky eater then you may have more trouble finding somewhere to eat. There are plenty of other restaurants and pubs to eat at, but these also consist of largely meat-based dishes. Similarly, supermarkets and delis stock mostly meat products too. It would be worthwhile checking what restaurants are nearby that cater to vegetarian needs before you go.
I didn’t find L’viv a particularly touristy city which may have been why I stuck out like a sore thumb. I felt as though when I was walking around the city, or on the buses, or in the supermarket, I was getting a lot of looks from people. As I say, I don’t know if I was just giving off blatant tourist vibes and clearly didn’t know where I was going or how anything worked so deserved the looks. I also don’t know, however, if some of the looks were due to my fairly obviously gay look. Ukraine is notoriously anti-LGBT, and whilst I never felt unsafe on my own, it is something that should be considered when looking into going to Ukraine. That isn’t to say that everyone in Ukraine holds these views, or that it is not a country worth visiting, I just found personally I got a lot of odd looks.
There is a war going on:
Something you will see a lot of, and that nobody seems to bat an eye at, is the military. Ukraine is currently at war with Russia and as such, there is a heavy military presence in the country. The passport control into and out of the country has been the most stringent I have experienced. There are also soldiers all around the airport and are frequently seen walking around the city. This includes cadets; it wasn’t that strange to see military-garbed 15-17-year-olds also walking around the city. I never once felt unsafe but it can be a bit disconcerting to see so many military people and vehicles moving around the city.
I hope these tips help you to make the best out of your trip to Ukraine and that you have as good a holiday as I did, should you decide to go.