Since I traveled to Kiev (Kyiv) last month, and especially returned this week to visit Lviv, I’ve had a number of folks message me with concern over the safety situation in Ukraine. I’ve been a little surprised by this. While I’ve definitely been willing to push the envelope a bit in terms of travel to places with travel warnings (like Egypt and Abkhazia), I just really hadn’t considered Ukraine to be a dangerous destination. But apparently quite a few people do. Since it seems to be such a common question, I thought I’d write up a quick post on the subject.
So is it safe to visit Ukraine?
At least as of July, 2017: yes, as long as you stay away from some areas that you’re unlikely to want to go to anyway. While there is certainly some political instability to be aware of, if you are just traveling to Kiev and Lviv, you are unlikely to encounter many indications that there is an ongoing tragic conflict in the east.
Brief Background on the Ukraine Conflict
In late 2013, Kiev was rocked by protests against Ukraine’s then-president Victor Yanukovych, an ally of Russia who had rejected measures to integrate Ukraine with the European Union. The protests (and the government’s violent response to them) escalated and in February, 2014 led to a full-on revolution and Yanukovych’s fleeing of the country.
Russia refused to recognize the new government of Ukraine and staged a military intervention that led to the annexation of the southern region of Crimea. Separatists forces backed by Russia also started a war in the far eastern portions of Ukraine, leading to international condemnation and sanctions against Russia.
This war gained further international attention in July, 2014 when the separatists shot down a Malaysia Airlines plane flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, killing the over 300 people on board.
Despite several ceasefire attempts, the war continues to this day, although it has settled into something a stalemate as of the summer of 2017.
Travel Warnings in Ukraine
My personal feeling has long been that such travel warnings tend to be overly cautious, but in this case I think they are actually quite consistent with my own experience. Essentially both governments relay the advice that you should avoid all travel to Crimea and the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. But, as the British Government currently notes, “The situation in Kyiv and other areas outside Donetsk and Luhansk is generally calm.”
Travel Safety in Kiev and Lviv
For the vast majority of travelers, the main destinations in Ukraine will be the capital city of Kiev and the western cultural city of Lviv (and, to a lesser extent, the seaside resort Odessa).
And, while I don’t mean to minimize the seriousness of the war in the east, it is a regional war at this point and here is the key thing you need to bear in mind:
Ukraine is really, really, really big. Kiev is over 700 kilometers away from Donetsk and Lviv is more than 1,200 kilometers away.
The simple fact is that visitors to Kiev and Lviv will be a long, long way away from the war zone.
In my experience, both Kiev and Lviv are as safe and comfortable as any city in Europe. They are both really incredible. Lviv has a very cosmopolitan feel to it. In many ways it feels like you are in a smaller version of an Italian city or Vienna. And Kiev is a vibrant, interesting capital city well worth exploring in it’s own right (plus you can take a tour of Chernobyl from Kiev).
So if someone were to ask me if they should visit Kiev or Lviv, I would say absolutely.
That’s not to say there isn’t any danger at all in visiting. Violence can unfortunately happen anywhere – and sadly has recently in many much more traditional tourist destinations such as Paris and the UK.
But, if you are comfortable traveling to other European destinations, you’re likely to feel perfectly safe in Kiev, Lviv, and the areas of Ukraine you’re likely to visit anyway.