A journeyman's guide to travel in western Ukraine
UPDATE 25 MAY 2022
The train from L'viv to Przemsyl may not be practically possible to board. The train from L'viv to Warsaw may be better but we are not sure of this.
Total driving time, not including checkpoints and borders, from L'viv to Cracow is estimated at 11 hours.
The border may involve a wait of 24 to 48 hours to cross.
Only use the roads between the hours of 07:00 and 20:00. It is dangerous to use them outside those hours.
To exit Ukraine via this route, proceed to L'viv and stay one to two nights there to orientate yourself before moving on. Accommodation prices in L'viv are extremely high. Indeed they may be higher for Ukrainians than for foreigners, contrary to our prior assumptions.
This is an article about travelling around the regions of western Ukraine including the cities of:
This is a complex area and there is much to say.
This region is the principal artery by which Ukrainian-speaking Ukrainian nationals are exiting Ukrainian theatre as refugees or otherwise, mostly via the E40 running west from L'viv to Poland.
That route is L'viv-Przemsyl-Rzeszow-Tarnow-Cracow.
The area is at peace militarily, save for the fact that the Russian military is periodically using hypersonic cruise missiles to destroy ammunition dumps and armed forces training camps in the region. These missiles (including the Kalibr medium range hypersonic cruise missile) are extremely accurate and you are unlikely to be killed by one unless you are involved in military training or the distribution or storage of weapons and ammunition. However the noise generated by low flying hypersonic cruise missiles can be disconcerting, as can the explosions, lights and sounds when they reach their target and detonate. If you intend to spend time in this region, you must just get used to it.
The entire region is subject to attack by Russian cruise missiles and you may hear several of them a day flying overhead.
The region is awash with internally displaced peoples, generally first language Ukrainian speakers from predominantly Russian speaking parts of Ukraine. Hence hotels and other accommodation options are often full. Expect two-tier pricing for accommodation: a Ukrainian price and a foreigners' price.
Accommodation can be booked at the foreigners' price on the usual international accommodation search engines.
Food prices have inflated; we have heard of occasional stories of food shortages but these seem to be less a problem now than they used to be.
The best way of travelling around the region, and across the border, is by train. The trains can be busy. Priority is given to foreigners and Ukrainians who are not male and of fighting age.
The train from L'viv to Przemsyl (Poland) can be highly problematic due to overcrowding and issues with the authorities imposing arbitrary requirements upon passengers. The train from L'viv to Warsaw is apparently much more tolerable.
Trains run from throughout the region to Kyiv and other destinations in free Ukraine. We also understand there are train services between the region and Odessa. However these may not last forever. Make enquiries at your local railway station. Do not rely upon internet information, which while it is being updated periodically may not be updated promptly.
The other way to travel around western Ukraine is in private vehicle, either one you buy or a private taxi (prices are not expensive by western standards). Traffic can be heavy along major refugee exit arteries, but travel by road is generally safe.
Crossing any of Ukraine's western borders in a private vehicle is contra-indicated. There may be a problem with your car's papers prohibiting exit or entry of the vehicle. The vehicle may wait hours in line to be comprehensively searched. You may be required to pay miscellaneous fees to cross the borders, including purchase of a new vehicle insurance policy. Waits have been as long as 72 hours; expect 24 hours.
The better way to cross western Ukraine's borders, if not on the L'viv-Warsaw train (itself not exactly an express service), is by foot. Arrange for a vehicle and driver to be waiting for you at the other side of the border.
There are public buses, but information about them is hard to acquire and they can be chaotic. They can also be slow. Public buses in western Ukraine are for the adventurous.
Avoid speaking Russian in western Ukraine. If you do not speak Ukrainian, speak in English or Polish.
Do not travel in this region on a Russian passport.
Beware of violent drunks and other undesirables, particularly at night.
Enquire as to local curfews (each city is different), and observe them. Police and paramilitary units are enforcing curfews with a lot of questioning and awkwardness towards anyone they find breaching them. As a foreigner you are unlikely to be required to pay an arbitrary bribe; as a Ukrainian you may be.
If you become sick, exit theatre immediately to be treated outside Ukraine. The hospitals are overwhelmed with injured soldiers and ill refugees. Ukrainian hospitals were always of poor quality and now the standards are even worse.
Unless you are a humanitarian aid worker assisting internally displaced peoples, you really have no business being in this part of Ukraine. It is overpopulated with all sorts of people in various states of suffering, and your presence is hardly useful unless you are bringing money or international aid.