Ukraine travel advisory update
17 JUNE 2022
This advisory takes precedence over all prior advisories, that should not be relied upon.
The entirety of Ukraine is becoming increasingly difficult to travel to and around. The roads between Kyiv, Kharkiv, L'viv and Odessa are all tolerably navigable using private vehicles between the hours of 7am and 8pm EET, and railway services are running.
However the Polish Hungarian and Slovakian borders are all impossibly choked with traffic and can take an indeterminate but extremely long and uncomfortable time to cross.
The only western borders of Ukraine that remain easy to cross are those at the Palanca Tri-Point; and perhaps some borders in northern Moldova.
Life in Kyiv has substantially returned to normal although a curfew remains in force, war damage is visible in some outer districts and people in general are extremely paranoid about infiltration by Russian interests. Do not breach the curfew without demonstrable legitimate reason, or you may be harassed by vigilante militias.
Quality of life in L'viv and the other western cities is fairly bad. The region is awash with refugees numbering the millions; accommodation is in short supply; the shops may be short of food; routine businesses may or may not be open; a series of people trafficking regimes are underway to smuggle 'suitable' Ukrainians into the 'best' refugee homes.
Kharkiv is moderately dangerous due to periodic Russian land-based bombardments of Ukrainian military positions. Life there is not normal; many shops are closed and food may be short. Moreover imminent Russian military actions in and around Kharkiv may render the city less safe. Again people there are paranoid of Russian infiltration, of which there appears to have been substantially more than in Kyiv.
Odessa remains eerily open and tolerably safe to visit, as long as one stays away from areas with a Ukrainian military presence. However Odessa is not a particularly pleasant place to hang around. There appear to be two city administrations: the Ukrainian one and a Russian FSB shadow administration. There are probably better places to spend one's summer beach vacation.
Nikolaev remains for now only slightly dangerous; Russian forces continue to shell Ukrainian positions to the north of the city. The centre of the city is safe even if it is disconcerting to hear shells whistle overhead on a frequent basis. Again a shadow Russian FSB administration seems to have appeared in the background. Everyone is totally paranoid and they go about their business privately with an aversion towards foreigners that they want nothing to do with lest it gets them into trouble. Nikolaev may become extremely dangerous should the Russian Armed Forces elect to seize it after completing their domination of the Donbass.
It is not very safe for foreigners (and not even particularly safe for Ukrainians) to travel east of Nikolaev into the rublised zone of Russian occupation stretching from Kherson to Melitopol, Mariupol, Donetsk etcetera, although the transport facilities for travelling from Nikolaev to Kherson and beyond do exist. As a foreigner, if you act in any way remotely suspicious in the eyes of the Russian military-civilian administration, and/or cannot plausibly explain why you are there, then you are liable to interrogation, mistreatment, arrest for espionage (if you do not look like a military person) or mercenaryism (if you do), and you may be summarily tried and sentenced to non-commutable execution by firing squad. This will provide your government with an acute and likely insoluble consular affairs problem, as the areas of Ukraine occupied by Russian forces are not recognised by any foreign state.
To enter or exit Mariupol you will probably have to pass through Russian FSB filtration camps, at which the contents of your mobile telephone, social media accounts, luggage and person will be searched thoroughly for evidence of Free Ukrainian political sympathies. Should the FSB find any such evidence, you can expect a comprehensive beating and period of detention without food and water. This is obviously highly unsatisfactory as a means of routine border checkpoint control. Plus you may be arrested for espionage and mercenaryism on top, depending on what the FSB finds. Mariupol is to be avoided at the current time; it is also continuing to suffer from the effects of infrastructure collapse (cholera outbreak; no running water; little electricity; mobile telephone and internet connections non-functional, and so on).
We have also heard of reports of what appear to be public buses in Russia-occupied Ukraine taking passengers to destinations in Free Ukraine; only in fact the bus drives everyone to an FSB filtration centre in a village, where the bus passengers may be required to wait up to two weeks to get filtrated. The moral of this story is that if a bus service out of Russian-occupied Ukraine appears too good to be true, then it probably is and in fact you are buying a ticket to a filtration camp.
It is not quite so easy to leave Russian-occupied Ukraine for Free Ukraine! This requires substantial planning and potentially off-road clandestine travel. Of course if you are caught doing this then you can expect your eventual filtration to be all the more unpleasant.
Do not enter the Donetsk or Luhansk People's Republics as a foreigner. This author has been warned against travel to both these regions by the Russian government. If you are found in either of them, you may be arrested straight away by domestic police forces (i.e. not Russian authorities but Donetsk or Luhansk authorities) without questioning and you may then be summarily sentenced to death by firing squad. It is not currently clear how long the authorities of the Republics take to execute the death penalties they impose, but their public statements indicate the time frame may be one of four to six weeks.
You may be interested to know that the government structures of the Luhansk People's Republic appear to have been taken over by the President of the Donetsk People's Republic, so do not expect a substantially warmer reception in Luhansk.
Crimea remains open for tourism (with a Russian visa if you need one) but you should travel from the Russian mainland using the Kerch bridge, not from Russia-occupied Ukraine, unless you have an extremely good story that checks out. Again, the consequences of mishap may be summary execution by firing squad. It remains the case that the Crimean frontier with Russian occupied South Ukraine may be traversed relatively straightforwardly (with questions) but only in a private vehicle; no public transport traverses that frontier as of yet. We hear that Crimeans remain entirely welcoming to foreign visitors, although the Crimean authorities may be somewhat more suspicious than those elsewhere in Russia of equivalent visitors. Remain calm and polite and everything should be fine.
It would be a mistake to attempt to travel in any part of the northern provinces of Kherson or Zaporizhzhiya occupied by the Russian Armed Forces. In particular, the closer you get to the Enerhodar power station complex, the less welcome your visit is likely to be. Although this is not summary death penalty territory, the Russian checkpoint guards are unlikely to be friendly and accommodating. Our last information was that IAEA officials were attempting to reach Enerhodar to investigate the apparent radioactive exclusion zone imposed around the town. At the same time the Russians were threatening to cut off power supplies from Enerhodar to northern and western Ukraine unless Ukraine paid for the power (from the Ukrainian power stations the Russians had seized) in Rubles. We have no idea how that 'difference' worked out, if at all.
Zaporizhzhiya remains in the same category of safety as Kharkiv: not particularly safe, given that it is a large frontline city. Hotel and other accommodation and other basic necessaries may be in short supply. The city is awash with refugees from the southern-occupied south in transit to the north.
Dnipropetrovsk appears relatively calm so far and life continues reasonably normally.
Law and order has broken down in Free Ukraine. If the Police determine that you are guilty of a criminal offence, they may exact justice summarily (in the form of a beating or, if you are a foreigner, more likely a bribe). All sorts of people accused of collaborating with Russian occupiers or invaders are being arrested for all manner of offences and the prisons are overflowing with such people. The Ukrainian Prosecutor's Office is heaving with investigations relating to wartime activities (and not just war crimes but collaboration and espionage too). A number of senior political and public figures have gone missing, including one of Ukraine's wealthiest oligarchs. We have no idea whether this person is dead; incarcerated in secret circumstances; or just in some sort of enforced hiding.
Stay away from Opposition political figures, or those perceived as aligned against the President, in Free Ukraine. For as long as you are in Kyiv, tow the party line in any public or private statements that you make. Otherwise you may, at the least, encounter unpleasantness or hostility. Recall that this is a country under siege and emotions are running high.
The areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts under Free Ukrainian control are diminishing by the day. These areas are active war zone front lines. Obviously you are undertaking a mortal risk to your life should you proceed to such a place. Lysychansk has been a beautiful historical town; at the time of writing it is being progressively destroyed by Russian shelling. We understand that you can still travel there at the time of writing; but you stand a high chance of dying if you go there.
The most reliable and safest way to travel anywhere is by private taxi with an experienced driver who knows which checkpoints to use and which to avoid. With trains you may be in good luck and nobody checks anyone on the train; or there may be cursory and selective, or comprehensive, checks. Searches of public buses and marshrutkas are more likely in Russian occupied territory or when crossing in and out of it.
We have been asked whether a Russian visa national (i.e. most western European passport holders) needs a visa to visit Russian occupied Kherson or Zaporizhzhiya oblasts. The answer is that we don't think that anyone has even considered that question yet, because the Russian authorities have yet to decide just what the status of those territories will be. However it is probably safe to say that it wouldn't hurt to have a valid Russian visa in your passport, if you travel to those territories.
The Russian government has also advised us that Russian visa nationals must hold a Russian business visa to enter the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics, although they aren't allowed to do any business there (!). What we think the Russian government meant by these cryptic remarks was (a) be very careful what you do there, because we cannot control the authorities' reactions to it; and (b) if something does go wrong for you while there then there is nothing we can do to help you unless you have a Russian business visa, in which case we may somehow be able to 'take jurisdiction over you' and get you out of there. We are grateful to the government of the Russian Federation for clarifying the position. We must add that we have found them responsive as a general matter to our queries, as is also the case with the Ukrainian government. While staying strictly neutral in all ways, we are grateful to both sides for their preparedness to share information with us.