Ukraine – Not such a long time ago there was an article posted about the 5 reasons why now is a great time to visit Ukraine. But to give a full picture of this country there must be an article pointing out the negative sides of visiting Ukraine at this current moment. Of course, well known facts about corruption, bureaucracy and a non stable economical and political situation are the things that are well-known to almost everybody in Europe and the world.
But there are smaller, more prosaic things that every tourist can actually influence before coming to Ukraine. “Forewarned means forearmed” – as they say in Ukraine.
Angry shop assistants, poor customer service
When Ukrainians see a new person for the first time as a rule they don’t try to smile and look nice. In fact it is very common that people frown and make the other person feel uncomfortable. The same happens in the shops, restaurants, hotels and other places where the attitude towards the customer is so important! This problem comes from the USSR and the values that people used to have at that time. The level of customer service wasn’t important because there was no competition, people didn’t have a choice and would buy things anyway and the workers didn’t see the reason to go out of their way to please the customer.
As a conclusion when you come to a shop in Ukraine you feel guilty for asking the shop assistant to show you things. The whole look of a person working there shows you that it was a mistake to come there, make him or her look up from her mobile phone, get of the seat and make an effort looking for your size or type.
This is a painful thing to admit but this is the truth. The customer is not always right in Ukraine. In fact the customer is always wrong, even when the customer is right.
Luckily this is so only in small, unpopular shops nowadays. Big shops or hotel and restaurant chains where the managers work with personnel, providing them with training and necessary motivation looks completely different. The positive tendency is visible throughout the whole industry. Nevertheless occasions with a grumpy shop assistant are still quite common.
This is a piece of advice for people planning to visit Ukraine in winter. The climate of this country changes from very hot in the summer to very cold in the winter. It often snows, rains and the temperature drops up to 25 degrees below zero. The work of the services taking care of the roads and safety on the streets in winter time is another weak point of Ukraine.
It is the responsibility of pedestrians to assure that there are no one-meter long icicles hanging dangerously from the roof right above their heads. Just as it is their responsibility to be very careful walking on slippery roads when the snow melts and ice appears.
You will probably see the sand or salt being thrown only on the main roads and in the city center. Try to go a bit further into the suburbs and you might find yourself as what you may think is a skating rink. But no, it is just a pavement and you don’t have any skates.
People fall, people break legs and arms but there are no changes. If you try to complain the answer from the street maintenance service will probably be something like: “We were on our way to put some salt there, but we can’t take care of everything at the same time”.
If you plan on coming to Ukraine in winter don’t underestimate the possible weather and bring some proper shoes with good grip soles. They might come in super handy.
Expensive electronics and clothes
Whilst the Ukrainian Hryvna is weak and the majority of goods and services look extremely cheap there are still things that are definitely not worth buying in Ukraine, such as electronics and clothes. The price difference between a TV in a big Ukrainian electronic store and amazon in England can be up to 40%! It cannot be justified in any way.
The same story happens with clothes. The same piece of clothes from the same brand can cost differently in Ukraine and in Spain. You can of course buy cheaper things on the markets but they will not be of well-known brands and don’t expect them to have a high quality. All services connected to foreign brands, for example, macbook repair, are extremely expensive and rarely found in Ukraine. In fact, many Ukrainians go abroad just to buy clothes and do grocery shopping due to the step up in quality. The proof of this fact is a so-called “shopping visa to Poland” that Ukrainians can apply for in the embassy and use it just for shopping purposes abroad.
Poor level of English
2016 was announced by the Ukrainian president as the year of the English language in Ukraine. This fact on its own proves a lot. An average Ukrainian will most likely not be speaking English so don’t expect to get much help on the streets.
Besides the lack of knowledge many Ukrainians are also very shy. When you come up to people on the street asking for help in English some people, even if they know the language will be too shy to answer just because they would be afraid to make a mistake. On the other hand, if you try to speak to them in the worst Ukrainian possible they might sympathize with you and realise that their English is not as bad as your Ukrainian and give you all the information you need.
Therefore it will be much better if when coming to Ukraine you bring a dictionary or a phrasebook or even learn some words that you might use during your visit.
Restricted access to some areas
Due to a difficult political situation in Ukraine the access to some territories is temporarily restricted. Some tourists looking for new emotions, experiences and extreme situations want to visit Donbass or Luhansk, the areas which are currently the centers of the war. People are just curious and want to see what is going on “with their own eyes”.
But the Ukrainian army will not let anybody into the territory which is potentially dangerous for tourists. So the furthest place and the most extreme situation a tourist can get to is the “border” between the safe and unsafe zones. Sometimes you can hear the bombing and shooting sounds, but for their own safety they are not allowed to go any further.
Another restricted area is Crimea. Don’t expect to be able to lie in the sun or hike in the mountains. Even though Ukrainian politicians still say that Crimea is Ukraine, there is Russian law being used on that territory. Citizens of the European Union need a visa to get there and even if for some reason you don’t need the Russian visa or you already possess one, Ukrainian military forces that are controlling the “border” between Ukraine and Crimea will make it almost impossible for you to cross it.
If you are already in Ukraine and want to see the sea coast go to Odessa, if you want to hike in the mountains, go to the Carpathians. Crimea is without a doubt very beautiful but it is better to wait for better times to visit it.
One shouldnt generalise and think that these points can be applied to all Ukrainians or the whole territory of Ukraine. Such behaviour is more common in small towns and villages rather than in big cities. Besides that, seeing a foreigner is still a big event for many Ukrainians who have never been abroad and heard English words only on the TV.
That’s why sometimes the service provided for foreigners is much better than the one for Ukrainians, the answers are more polite and the attitude is much more positive. Therefore don’t be surprised if you don’t encounter any of the points mentioned in this article. Maybe you met real professionals, maybe you were lucky with the weather or met highly educated people with a good knowledge of English. It is also possible that these negative sides of Ukraine have changed.