Ukraine Travel Safety: Are Kyiv and Lviv Safe?
Important 2022 Update: In light of the potential pending invasion of Ukraine by Russia, it is not currently advisable to travel to Ukraine until the geopolitical situation improve. The United States State Department has ordered families of its personnel to leave Ukraine, which should be a pretty good indication that now is not a good time to travel to Ukraine. The below post was originally written several years ago, and so has not been fully updated to reflect recent events.
Since I traveled to Kyiv last month, and especially returned this week to visit Lviv, I’ve had a number of folks message me with concern over whether it is safe to travel 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 travel to Ukraine?
It is not safe to travel to Ukraine as of early 2022. Russia is threatening an invasion, and so most countries have placed a travel warning on Ukraine. Many, like the United States, have recalled the families of embassy staff. Until the geopolitical situation resolves, travel to Ukraine for recreational purposes is not advisable.
Brief Background on the Ukraine Conflict
In late 2013, Kyiv 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
If you are thinking about traveling to Ukraine, you should read the latest travel warnings from the US and UK governments.
Travel Safety in Ukraine
For the vast majority of travelers, the main destinations in Ukraine will be the capital city of Kyiv 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. Kyiv is over 700 kilometers away from Donetsk and Lviv is more than 1,200 kilometers away.
The simple fact is that visitors to Kyiv and Lviv will be a long, long way away from the war zone.
In my experience, both Kyiv 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, with so many things to do. In many ways it feels like you are in a smaller version of an Italian city or Vienna. And Kyiv is a vibrant, interesting capital city well worth exploring in it’s own right (plus check out how you can take a tour of Chernobyl from Kyiv).
So if someone were to ask me if they should visit Kyiv 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 Kyiv, Lviv, and the areas of Ukraine you’re likely to visit anyway.
Plus, it’s an incredible affordable destination – and going there right now is one of the best ways to travel cheap in Europe.
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Quick question. I’m going to Lviv in July (2018)…so in a couple months. I’m looking forward to it as I’m American of Ukrainian descent. I have been trying to keep up with travel forums and such to get a feel of what to expect since I’m not fluent in either Russian or Ukrainian (although I can read signage and such). What do you recommend for getting from, say, the airport to the city center in Lviv? I read that it’s advised to be able to speak the native tongue with ride-share drivers and such or risk being ripped off. Truth to this do you know? Also, how’s the corruption? I know Ukraine, sadly, has one of the most corrupt police forces in the world and have heard stories from relatives who had gone to Ukraine and were hit up for bribes and what not because of their American accents. Is this pretty common to your knowledge, or should I not worry about it? I’m not concerned about violence.
I wouldn’t worry all that much about language – there is a lot of English spoken in Lviv!
In terms of getting from the airport, I actually just took the Trolley #9 – it was cheap, efficient and fast! Once you’re downtown, it’s easy to walk. Or a taxi shouldn’t cost that much. Here’s a link with some other options though:
I really wouldn’t worry too much about safety in Lviv! The stories you hear are unusual cases and in truth the city is as safe as any other in Europe! I never once felt like I was being hassled or ripped-off or anything like that.
Sounds like a fun trip!
I really want to go to Kyiv but I can’t because of the pandemic and the possibility of an invasion by Russia.
If I Google “is Kyiv Safe”? or “what should I watch out for in Kyiv”. I get many answers. I have read that I have to watch out for pickpockets, especially in the Metro who work in teams to rob tourists. I have to watch out for scams like the fake wallet scam which is easy to avoid. The fake ATM scam, where an ATM has been tampered with and steals the card instead of dispensing money. I have to watch out for drivers while crossing the street, because even though pedestrians may have the right of way to cross the street, drivers might still drive through the crosswalk while pedestrians are crossing the street. I apparently have to carry my passport with me at all times or I could be detained by police. I could be charged more for souvenirs because I don’t speak Ukrainian or Russian.
These are just some of the things I have heard that I have to be aware of when I visit Kyiv. Are any of these true?
I want to enjoy Kyiv without worrying about being scammed, arrested or mugged.
Is the public transportation system in Kyiv easy to use? I can’t figure out how to pay the fares because everything I read says something different. Can I use the Kyiv Smart Card to pay for fares on buses, metro, trolleybus, tram and light rail? Some articles that I read about how to use the public transportation system in Kyiv say that I have to buy a ticket on the bus, trolleybus and tram, and validate it using the komposter (Ukrainian: компостер). Is this still a thing because I have also read that you can pay for every form of public transportation in Kyiv except for Marshrutkas with the Kyiv Smart Card. Also I have heard that I can use my debit card to pay the fare.
One last thing. Will I have trouble getting around Kyiv if I don’t speak Ukrainian or Russian? Everyone has different opinions on this. Some people say that English speakers will have no problem finding people in Kyiv who speak English. Other people say that no one speaks English in Kyiv. Which is it?
Thank you so much for your help.
Hi Sam – it’s definitely a challenging time right now for Ukraine. I’m not sure I would visit until we see what Russia is doing and how the pandemic plays out.
Getting around in Kyiv is fairly easy. Personally, I mostly used Uber, but the public transportation isn’t that hard to figure out if you’re willing to learn a little Ukrainian or just have an adventure. I got around Kyiv just fine with English, but it is true that most people cannot speak English. To me, that’s all part of the adventure!