Safety is a main concern for travelers who plan to visit Ukraine for the first time, especially with all the negative news coverage after the events of 2013-2014, the conflict with Russia and the constant war talk, in addition to all the classic stereotypes surrounding this part of Eastern Europe.
Well, reality cannot be further from grey images painted about Ukraine. Besides a limited area at the eastern boarders of Ukraine, the rest of country is as safe as any other place in Eastern Europe.
Having said that, there are couple of things to take into consideration to make your journey to Kiev, or any other city in Ukraine, safe and trouble free. Based on my experience, the following are essential to keep you away from troubles in Ukraine:
Hire a professional personal tour guide
Requesting the services of a good tour guide is the best thing to do if you can spare $40 to $100. You will not only get a quality tour of Kiev, you will also be in the company of a local who understands your concerns as a tourist and knows how to address them best.
A good tour guide is your consultant who can advise you where to go and what to avoid during your trip to Kiev in addition to that psychological boost you might need to open up and start enjoying your visit.
Stay away from Donbas no-go zone
Being adventurous is one thing, but reckless is another!
Unless you are a journalist who is tasked to cover the conflict in Donbas (Donetsk and Luhansk regions) in the ATO zone, you have no real business to go there. You will only endanger yourself and raise the interest of our security services toward you.
If you are looking for an adventure, you will find many in my post Kiev’s Amazing Adventures. Ukraine is full of many remarkable safe cities and regions welcoming you to explore.
As for Donbas, I believe, as well as many of my fellows Ukrainians, that peace will eventually return to be the lord of our lands, and once this happens, your chance to explore the east of Ukraine to its fullest will present itself.
Do not talk politics with strangers
Especially with those who had one too many drinks.
Personally, I find it fascinating how people will initiate and engage others in political discussions then end up getting vexed when they hear what contradicts their own views.
The situation between Ukraine and Russia over the war in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, and annexation of Crimea, became the core of Ukraine’s politics. If you discuss politics with a local, you two are deemed to stumble on this touchy subject, and the wrong word can trigger him/her, so why bother?
It would be wise for you to avoid discussing this matter with locals you meet during your visit to Ukraine.
A wise man once told me to always avoid talking about politics, religion, and money with strangers. So, I am passing his advice forward!
Walk away from protests and demonstrations
The local political scene has been as vibrant as Ukraine itself during the last few years, and demonstrations of workers, doctors, political parties, veterans have become quite common nowadays. On the one hand, it is a way some people choose to voice their concerns; on the other hand, it might rise concerns about safety of travelers to Ukraine.
Such protests usually take place in front of the parliament building in Kiev and regional administration buildings as well as in front of some ministries and governmental organizations.
Generally, they have significantly declined and I have not noticed anyone lately, so you are less likely to come across one.
Although observing such demonstrations/rallies from afar (if you happen to step upon one) might be tempting, common sense hints to turnaround and walk away, please listen to it!
Do not get wasted!
You do not need me to tell you that partying and having a good time without drinking yourself to a blackout is possible!
And now, story time!
I recall that a tourist complained about getting robbed in a hotel in Kiev. My curiosity made me ask about how did this happen?
As it was an unusual thing to hear about, especially knowing the hotel he stopped in,(the hotel that shall stay unnamed) is not one of the best in Kiev, but decent enough and among budget hotels.
Then I came to realize that him choosing the word “robbed” was to describe getting wasted in the hotel’s bar with a “lady” he happened to meet there, later blacking out, then waking up in the morning in his room without the wallet or the woman, not remembering how he got there.
You and I can speculate about what happened and try to fill the blanks in many different ways, but I think we all agree that drinking to the verge of blacking out in that place and time was probably not a good idea.
There is a long distance to cover between teetotal and being wasted, so try to stay in the middle!
Stay in a good neighborhood
I cannot emphasize enough on how important it is to pick good accommodation in a good neighborhood when you travel to any Ukrainian city.
Always try to stay in the city center. Look there for highly rated holiday rental, hotel, or hostel that fits your preferences and budget.
Consider keeping your choice of hotels to the popular tourist-friendly neighborhoods of Kiev, discussed in Where to Stay in Kiev if you are traveling to the Ukrainian capital anytime soon.
Do not carry too much cash
No matter where you go, showing large amounts of cash in the hands of a foreigner in a strange country, in the wrong place and time is an open invitation for ill doers to buy new stuff and have a goodtime at your expense!
I am sure you agree that flashing hundreds of dollars when paying for a $0.50 coffee cup is not a smart idea. Nevertheless, I will not tell you to carry only $100 on you, just try not to carry more than what you are comfortable to spend that day or night.
Try to minimize any unwanted attention more by keeping foreign currency apart from the local currency you have exchanged.
Use a separate debit card when you travel
A travel tip I learned long time ago from a friend is to keep a separate debit card to use it in the countries I travel to on vacation. It is an approach adopted by many frequent travelers and an effective precaution in my opinion to reduce any potential damage from credit/debit cards scams.
Asking your bank to issue a separate debit card when you travel to Ukraine or anywhere else is probably a good idea. This should give you a peace of mind while minimizing the risks of ATM and cyber frauds as a debit card is limited only to the funds you deposit into it.
You can top your debit card later if you need to from your main credit card. Make sure your bank allow these transactions.
Money aside, safety is also an issue as many of these taxis you might find parked here and there in Kiev are not even registered with any service or licensed to provide transport passenger.
So, better stop yourself from jumping into cabs/taxis you stumble upon parked in front of major tourists gathering places. While this might be the go-to move, especially late at night, it is certainly not the wisest or safest option. The best that can happen to you (almost guaranteed) is getting charged double, triple, or quadruple the average price for your ride!
Of course, some might be honest professionals, but it is better to avoid this chance of encountering shady characters. Order an Uber to pick you up or use one of our local taxi applications like Uklon.
If you were in a restaurant, nightclub, or hotel, you can ask them to book a taxi for you. Just tell them what your destination is and they will order you a taxi from a company that they trust and will even tell you how much you should expect to pay.
Avoid shady people
You can find them around the places where tourists usually spend their time. Hustlers, prostitutes, and scammers are always on the look-out for a victim. Around Arena City complex and Khreshchatyk Street there are young men who offer business cards to foreigners and advertise massage services. I strongly advise you to not even talk to them.
If you arrived from the airport by the shuttle bus or shuttle train, you will come across people offering to rent you a flat.
While these are mainly elderly women, many of whom are decent people looking to make some money by renting rooms or flats to tourists, among them hide several hustlers who will offer cheap place in the heart of the city then take you to the edge of town to an unpleasant neighborhood that is dangerous for tourists. Or they even will set you up with an apartment from which your money and valuables will disappear when you go out!
Gentlemen, I am speaking to you now!
As you get to meet women on the streets, clubs, or other places in Ukraine, it is useful to follow sound reason and try to be a good judge of characters before letting someone you have just met get close to you.
Avoid prostitutes and others who are interested in mainly your pockets, as they might do anything to empty them, including setting you up in different ways going all the way to endangering your health or freedom. Avoid shady people and stay safe!
If you are planning to travel to Ukraine and are wondering if it is a safe country to visit, I address this matter in detail in my post Is Ukraine safe for tourists?
Of course, you can always contact me for consultation or to request a private tour of Kiev.