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Traveler Spotlight: What It’s Like to Travel to Ukraine Now

Are you wondering what it’s like to travel internationally right now? MIR’s Director of Custom Group Tours, Dmitry Rudich, recently returned from a trip to Kiev, Ukraine. We caught up with him on his return with a list of burning questions.

Traveling to Kiev, Ukraine in March. Photo credit: Dmitry Rudich
Traveling to Kiev, Ukraine in March. Photo credit: Dmitry Rudich

How is it traveling these days?

I did not find travel these days to be much more complicated than usual, and in some respects, it was actually more pleasant (quick airport security and some empty flights). As I was making travel plans on short notice, I had to ensure that I booked flights that actually operate (airlines are making a lot of schedule changes these days), something that normally wouldn’t be a concern.

I also had to be familiar with the current regulations for entry into Ukraine from a “red zone” country like the United States, download the app that the Ukrainian government uses to enforce quarantine, set up my testing plan, and order masks that offer greater protection than those I normally use. Other than that, there wasn’t anything out of the ordinary that I had to do in preparation for the trip.

The Golden Gate (Zoloti Vorota) is one of the only remaining city gates of ancient Kiev. Photo credit: Jessica Clark
The Golden Gate (Zoloti Vorota) is one of the only remaining city gates of ancient Kiev. Photo credit: Jessica Clark

What was it like at the airports and on the planes?

On this trip I took four airlines and visited six airports. My route was Seattle-Frankfurt on Lufthansa; Frankfurt-Istanbul-Kiev on Turkish Airlines; and on the return, Kiev-Warsaw-Chicago on LOT Polish Air, and Chicago-Seattle on Alaska Air.  

Overall, airports were very pleasant: not many people and plenty of space to distance from everyone while waiting; quick check-in, security, and boarding; and flights were generally on time. The changes from the normal and pandemic safety measures varied by airline and by airport, perhaps reflecting to some extent the overall attitude in that country.

I needed to have negative COVID-19 test results taken within 72 hours of the flight, in print in English, both going there and coming back – they were checked both times, and both times the airline agent wanted to see them in print in English. That’s the only extra paperwork that I had to have besides a passport. I did not have to fill out any contact-tracing forms, although that is not because they don’t exist but due to the nature of my destinations. Passengers for whom Frankfurt, Istanbul, and Warsaw were final destinations had to fill out additional forms, which were passed out by flight attendants during the flight. The United States does not require any forms besides the usual customs form. I did not experience much health screening either: the whole time my temperature was only taken once in Frankfurt and once in Kiev.

When I was preparing to depart Seattle, there was a lot in the news about mask requirements on planes, and I had KN95 and N95 masks with me just in case. But in the end, regular paper masks were allowed on all of my particular flights.

Ready to explore Kiev, Ukraine. Photo credit: Dmitry Rudich
Dmitry ready to explore Kiev, Ukraine. Photo credit: Dmitry Rudich

Seattle Airport

Quick check-in, security, and boarding. Far shorter security lines than usual with fewer people traveling. Shops, food court, and bars are open with some tables blocked for social distancing.

Frankfurt Airport

Long walk from the U.S. concourse to the train to the main part of the terminal, secondary security to access the main terminal. McDonalds and all sit-down restaurants around there are closed. Stands and shops with food to-go are open. Duty Free and other shops are open. Temperature check in the jetway before getting on the plane.

Istanbul Airport

Long walk from the gate to secondary security, long slow line through security due to people crowding. Then walk to the gate. Almost missed the connection. Big place, seems very nice for someone who has time to enjoy it, many people, shops and restaurants are open. Would not recommend connections less than 2 hours here.

Kiev Airport

Small enough to be comfortable and familiar as ever. Quick immigration, and baggage claim took about 30 minutes from plane to hall. Then another 30 minutes to take a COVID-19 test and pick up the rental car. Like my arrival, there was fast check-in, security, and immigration on my departure. Kiev now allows only ticketed passengers and airport employees inside the terminal building. Greeters meeting arriving passengers must wait outside on the street, and on departure those seeing people off can only see them as far as the entrance into the terminal building. But inside the building, all cafes and shops are open with no capacity restrictions.

Warsaw Airport

Excellent place to connect, similar size to Kiev and easy to navigate, no long walks, and no secondary security. Shops and cafes are open, no capacity restrictions.

Chicago Airport

There was somewhat of a line at passport control, about 20 minutes, probably nothing compared to how it normally is. The interaction with the border officer lasted no more than 10 seconds, and baggage was already out by the time I came to the carousel. On departure similar experience to Seattle with quick check-in and security. Everything inside is open with tables and chairs more spaced out than usual, but otherwise open.

Lufthansa flight from Seattle to Frankfurt

By far the emptiest flight of the trip with only about 40 people on the plane. There was one meal service after departure and one breakfast before landing. No more choice of main course in economy – only vegetarian pasta was available. Breakfast was also vegetarian. No drinks are available during other times, not even for purchase.

Turkish Airlines from Frankfurt to Istanbul and Istanbul to Kiev

I was shocked to find both flights completely full, but everyone diligently wore masks. Nice long-haul planes with personal entertainment system. One round of drinks and something edible served on departure; nothing else is available for the rest of the flight, not even for purchase. The Frankfurt-Istanbul flight was the only one of the trip that was late, by almost an hour, which made my connection to Kiev too tight for comfort and I was resigned to my baggage not making it, but was pleasantly surprised to see it on the carousel in Kiev.

LOT Polish Airlines from Kiev to Warsaw and Warsaw to Chicago

Both flights were surprisingly about 80% full. Modern comfortable planes and best food of the trip on the Warsaw-Chicago segment. Again no choices of main course, but the chicken that was available was very good. They also served a turkey sandwich before landing. It was fun to address flight attendants in Ukrainian and for them to reply in Polish and understand each other. Beer and other drinks were available for purchase on the Kiev-Warsaw flight, surprising for such a short flight and very reasonable prices. Combined with how easy Warsaw is as a connecting airport and the low fares, I was pleasantly impressed with LOT.

Alaska Airlines from Chicago to Seattle

Nice modern plane, flight about 50% full. One round of crackers and soft drinks after departure and one round of crackers and water before landing. Nothing else was available during the flight, not even for purchase. Those who wanted food could pre-purchase it on Alaska’s website in advance. Great personal entertainment for a U.S. domestic flight, with many movies and shows available to watch for free on your own device via the plane’s WiFi. Cloth masks and face coverings are allowed. Baggage out very quickly in 20 minutes.

What was it like entering Ukraine?

Besides the Diy Vdoma app, there was nothing unusual. The same line at passport control and 30-second interaction with immigration officer. If I had said I came from Turkey (“green zone”), I wouldn’t have to do anything at all. But coming from the United States, the officer checked that I had the app and activated it – that was it. It is important to have insurance when entering Ukraine on a foreign passport (see below for more details).

Current requirements for entry into Ukraine:

Note: Information in this post was current as of March 11, 2021. Regulations are ever-evolving; please contact us for the most current information.

From “green zone” countries (where the epidemiological situation, as determined by the Ukrainian Ministry of Health, is better or the same as in Ukraine):  no requirements regardless of nationality. Passengers must have remained in the “green zone” for at least 14 days before arriving in Ukraine. [NOTE: the United States was placed on the “green zone” list following my return from Ukraine.]

From “red zone” countries (where epidemiological situation is worse than in Ukraine), which included the United States at the time of my visit:  evidence of negative COVID-19 PCR test prior to arrival is not required. Instead, Ukraine is testing once in the country. Passengers must download the Diy Vdoma app and activate it during passport control. Non-Ukrainian citizens must demonstrate that they have medical insurance that will cover all expenses related to the treatment of COVID-19 while in Ukraine – insurance certificates are checked and enforced at passport control. You can find more information on the Ministry of Health’s website.

Passengers have 24 hours to travel from the airport to their place of self-isolation, which can be a home or hotel. Arrival has to be noted in the app. The app then activates the 8-day quarantine period – but this period can be reduced with receiving a negative COVID-19 test result. During this self-isolation period, arriving passengers are allowed to go outside within 1 km of their place of isolation for up to 2 hours per day. They must activate the timer on the app when leaving the house and stop it when they come back. The time can be split into several walks each day. In Kiev, there are always several grocery stores within 1 km of anywhere, so it is fairly easy to stay in isolation like this.

Passengers have the option to end isolation any time by producing a negative COVID-19 PCR test result. Most labs are connected to the Diy Vdoma system. The lab communicates the result to the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry then updates the app to show that one is clear to end isolation.

PCR tests that reliably produce results within 24 to 48 hours are widely available in Kiev (and I’m sure in other big Ukrainian cities). I took a test at the airport as soon as I arrived, received the negative result in a little more than 24 hours, and got the clearance to end isolation through the app the following morning. So in all, it was only about a day and a half of isolation before being able to freely move around.

On preparing for my return to the United States, I was able to obtain another PCR test in Kiev to satisfy the U.S. re-entry requirement with equal ease.

Kiev's St. Sophia's Cathedral shines on a beautiful day. Photo credit: Jessica Clark
Kiev’s St. Sophia’s Cathedral shines on a beautiful day. Photo credit: Jessica Clark

What was it like traveling in Ukraine as a tourist right now?

Ukraine is currently in “adaptive quarantine,” with levels of threat determined regionally. Kiev was in the yellow level when I was there, which is the baseline: everything is open. Masks are required in public transport and in public places like shopping centers.

Everything is open in Kiev and life is normal. People go to work, shop, ride public transport, eat at restaurants and drink at bars, traffic is a mess, everything is as usual. Barely any foreigners these days, even though the country is open. For people who are vaccinated and want to experience a normal open life, Kiev and regions of Ukraine that are not in a “red level” of adaptive quarantine make excellent places to get away.

How was the food?

The restaurant life in Ukraine is diverse and open. All types of restaurants and public dining are operating in Kiev, both eat-in and carry-out, without restrictions on capacity or number of people per table or how many households can gather. Masks are required to enter, but not required at the table. Food is excellent and very affordable. Payments by credit card are accepted everywhere.

Any advice for those thinking about a visit to Ukraine right now?

Get vaccinated and enjoy an opportunity to discover Ukraine!

Sunny Kiev, Ukraine. Photo credit: Jered Gorman
Sunny Kiev, Ukraine. Photo credit: Jered Gorman

Travel to Ukraine with MIR

MIR has more than 30 years of travel experience in Ukraine and has an affiliate office in Kiev. We have a roster of contacts that can take you to places that you didn’t even know you wanted to go. Our full service, dedication, commitment to quality, and destination expertise have twice earned us a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.” 

Whether you’re thinking of traveling sooner or later, don’t miss out on the layers of cultural history and variegated beauty of Ukraine. MIR’s small group tour Belarus, Ukraine & Moldova features time in Ukraine, or you can travel privately with our Essential Ukraine itinerary or create your own independent Ukrainian exploration with the help of our private tour specialists.

Chat with one of our destination specialists now!

PUBLISHED: March 16, 2021

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