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Can I Travel to Ukraine Right Now? January 2024 Edition

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7 months ago

I recently returned from an extensive trip across Ukraine and it seems everyone around me is asking Can I Travel to Ukraine Right Now?

From Syria to Karabakh, over the last few years I have visited every active war zone on earth. Since February 2022, the entire territory of Ukraine has been in an active state of war and sadly, falls into the category of conflict zone travel.

Before planning a trip to Ukraine in 2024, it’s essential to be well-informed and prepared with the most up-to-date information on the ground. 

russian tank in ukraine between kyiv and bucha
A tank on the road between Kyiv and Bucha

In this article I share 9 things you need to know before visiting Ukraine during the war. At the end, I will also share my own personal tip for visiting war-torn countries.  

1. Is Ukraine Open For Travel Right Now? 

Many are surprised to find out that Ukraine’s borders are open and technically foreigners are still able to enter and exit Ukraine according to normal visa regulations.  

lviv ukraine during the war with monuments protected and church windows
Lviv Old Town: If you look closely, you will see how the Church windows are boarded up and the Monuments are protected with scaffolding.

At the time of writing, most Western nationals do not require a visa to visit Ukraine (USA, Canada, UK, EU, Australia and New Zealand).  

lviv old town with air raid siren
An air raid siren installed into Lviv’s old town

Technically, this means you can travel to Ukraine right now. Ukraine is open for tourism – although don’t be surprised to get some questions from border staff on why you would want to visit a war zone (Volunteer?!). 

missile in street ukraine war
a missile in the street by a popular Lviv restaurant

2. Safety and Government Advice 

The situation in Ukraine can change rapidly, with active frontlines and some regions and towns regularly changing control. It’s super important you check with official government advice on what areas are safe to visit. I would also always recommend registering with the foreign office of your country!  

when considering 'can i visit ukraine right now', its worth mentioning that cities like Lviv haven't experienced much direct fighting
Lviv, Ukraine

I generally refer to the UK’s travel advisories, which are the most up-to-date and reflect the current conditions and risks on the ground.  

3. Getting to Ukraine Right Now

Ukraine used to be a hub for European budget airlines and a few years ago I would have given you all my tips for finding cheap flights to Ukraine.  

street scene in lviv, ukraine in 2023
Western cities like Lviv do feel ‘normal’ – yet there are still regular drone strikes, air raid sirens and curfew.

Sadly, at the time of writing, Ukraine’s airspace is still closed and no commercial airlines are flying to Ukraine. The only way of getting to Ukraine is overland from Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania or Moldova. As Western Ukraine is the least impacted area by the war, most travelers will travel to and from Poland

train conductor in ukraine
Train conductor on the Kyiv to Chelm, Poland train

For those looking to travel from outside Europe, the best way, for example, to travel from USA to Ukraine would be to catch a flight to Poland and then find a bus or train across the border.

From Poland, the options are quite extensive, including: trains (going as far as Kyiv) and regular buses. If you are already in Poland any train station ticket desk will be able to help.

warsaw old town with lantern and pink building
Poland is the main gateway to visiting Ukraine during the war (Warsaw Old Town)

For those looking to travel by bus, there are daily buses from Warsaw and Lublin across Western Ukraine, including to former tourist hubs like Lviv and Lutsk.  

Lutsk castle
The grand Lutsk Castle: one of the major attractions of western Ukraine

4. Ukraine Travel Insurance 

If you are planning to visit Ukraine now, you will want to make sure you have travel insurance for Ukraine.  

kyiv ukraine with russian tanks
Many cities, including Kyiv, are full of tanks, missiles and captured Russian materials

Travel tip: Many ‘worldwide’ coverage plans will include a carve-out in their terms and conditions for any country or zone which has a Western government warning in place. This means that a regular worldwide or Europe insurance coverage may exclude Ukraine without you realizing!  

To make sure your travel insurance covers Ukraine during the current war, I would recommend emailing the company and directly asking them. I have prepared the below text for you to copy and paste:

I am currently planning to visit Ukraine, which the [Foreign Affairs Department] advises against all travel [or relevant language]. Under such warnings, would I still be covered for [medical/health/personal belonging] insurance in Ukraine?’ 

4x4 in kyiv ukraine with bullet holes from russian army

You will also want to double check your coverage for: emergency evacuation and trip cancellations or interruptions due to unforeseen circumstances.  

5. Air Raids and Sirens 

Traveling to Ukraine right now is not your regular tour to Eastern Europe. Most Ukrainian cities are still under direct threat from drones and missiles, particularly at night. This includes ‘safer’ cities in the West like Lviv and Lutsk.  

yellow building with ukraine flag in lviv

Your mobile operator will send you emergency notifications if you are in the vicinity of a siren, but please make sure you: 

1. Always ask your hotel where their air raid bunker is, in case you need to evacuate at night.

2. Download the ‘Повітряна тривога’ application for warnings on your phone (you can set the region and customise sounds).

3. Always, always, take shelter when a siren goes off.

traditional craft work from ukraine folk

You generally have a very short window to get to the shelter, so before you go to sleep: 

(a) try to sleep in pyjamas; and

(b) make sure your essential documents (passport, credit cards) are handy and ready-to-go.

monument in podil, kyiv covered for bombing
Most major public spaces will contain air raid protections like this.

6. SIM Cards for Ukraine

As you will be arriving in Ukraine by train, I would recommend to pre-buy an eSim (if even just for a few GB) so that you can enjoy internet and keep updated upon entering Ukrainian territory. I always recommend using AirAlo: it’s affordable and super straightforward to set up. 

trams in western ukraine which show that public transport is running - an important consideration when you consider if i can travel to ukraine right now
Public transport is still operating in most major cities (Lviv, Ukraine)

Otherwise, I recommend buying a local Ukranian SIM with KyivStar. It costs 275 UAH ($7.50) for 275 GB and you do not need a passport to purchase your SIM. There is a stall in Kyiv’s Pasazhyrskyi train station and shops pretty much everywhere in most major cities.

fresh cookies at first point cafe in podil
After two years of war, many of Kyiv’s cafes are still open and functioning

7. Curfew 

At the time of writing there is a curfew across all of Ukraine from midnight to 5 am. These curfews are imposed for safety reasons and are taken very seriously!  

monument in lviv ukraine which is covered up. Before you consider if i can travel to ukraine right now, remember many sites are closed
Most major monuments are covered in scaffolding to protect them from air raids (Lviv, Ukraine)

While many cafes, bars and nightlife venues are open in major cities, make sure you start heading home at around 11:15 pm as the streets will tend to get very quiet. 

ukraine woman in traditional clothes with instrument

For those who run early in the morning (this is not me), your hotel will not let you out before 5 am. Some cities do maintain different curfew times. Always double check with your hotel!  

bomb shelter in ukraine
A bomb shelter in an apartment building

8. After Dark 

Apart from curfew, most city lights are heavily dimmed after dark to avoid detection by drones. Don’t be alarmed if the streets are darker than you may expect from big cities!  

russian missiles turned into art in ukraine
Missiles being turned into art

9. Electricity  

The experiences of war change between different cities and even within Kyiv itself. Try and keep a torch or mobile torch handy, as you may experience unreliable electricity.  

queen olga statue in kyiv, ukraine with bulletproof vest for the russia-ukraine war
A statue of Queen Olga in Kyiv, where is she is decorated with a bulletproof vest

For those braving the Ukrainian winter, bring some extra sweaters and warm clothes – without electricity the evenings can get very cold!  

kyiv podil wheel

10. Dan’s top tip: War is personal  

If Visiting Every Country has taught me anything, it’s that war and conflict is often ongoing and deeply personal. As you consider whether you can visit Ukraine right now, never forget that there are real people here living behind the headlines. Rather than asking ‘can I travel to Ukraine right now?‘, take a moment to consider how you plan to interact with people on the ground.

portrait of war victim in lutsk ukraine, old lady

Before asking people about their experience or political opinions, it is important to remember that talking about the war is often a very traumatic experience. Most people you meet will have heartbreaking stories of tragedy and angst, for example: they may have lost loved ones or are worried about their children fighting on the fronts.  

Always

1. Listen actively: let people offer information, their thoughts and feelings. Avoid interrupting or judging their narratives.

Orest Zub war reporter from ukraine
For the latest local advice, we interviewed Orest Zub: Your Local Lviv Insighter

2. Show empathy: acknowledge the hardships and challenges.

3. Avoid political discussions: war often involves complex political and historical narratives. No matter how much you have read, as the visitor this is not your story to tell.

jewish holocaust mass grave in lutsk
A mass grave from the Holocaust near Lutsk

4. Respect privacy: understand that some individuals may not want to discuss their wartime experiences 

5. Ask open-ended questions: this will encourage them to guide the conversation as they wish. For example, ‘Can you share more about your experiences during the first few months of the War?’ rather than ‘did any of your friends or family die?’. You will very quickly get an idea of whether the person is willing to share their experiences.

cemetery for mass grave in bucha, ukraine
A civilian mass grave in Bucha, Ukraine

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