Ukraine and Russia are beautiful places to visit, but recent separatist fighting in the Donetsk region, and the shooting down of a Malaysian airliner, highlight the importance of knowing how to travel safely. The current conflict in Eastern Ukraine, and the political climate in Russia, have led many travelers to postpone or cancel travel plans to the region.
Globe-trotting to any part of the world requires the traveler to employ every available precaution to ensure personal safety. Most airlines publish flight path information, and understanding the route to be flown is important. It is also prudent to learn about the airports and customs procedures for each country to be visited.
The state department periodically posts travel warnings for citizens who are planning to travel to these countries, and except for the eastern areas of Ukraine, this region is generally safe for travelers. Upon arrival, it is recommended to contact the nearest American embassy or consulate. Registration ensures that the embassy is aware of Americans who have entered the country, in case of emergencies that may occur.
Proper documents are the foundation for knowing how to travel safely to Ukraine and Russia. An entry visa is not required of U.S. citizens to enter Ukraine for a visit of less than 90 days. To enter Russia, visitors are required to obtain an entry visa prior to travel. Upon arrival, the visa must be officially registered within seven business days. In Russia, travelers are issued a migration card that must be carried along with the passport at all times.
Modern communication methods make it easy to stay in touch with loved ones at home and communicate with local contacts. Research on the type of mobile phone carriers and Internet services available locally will facilitate the purchase of any additional services needed upon arrival.
Mobile telephone service in Russia and Ukraine requires an unlocked GSM 900/1800 compatible phone and SIM card. Often it is best to purchase a basic phone and loaded SIM card upon arrival. Instead of unlimited plans, as are popular in the U.S., mobile phones in Ukraine and Russia operate on a pre-paid basis and are reloaded as needed. Purchase of a phone upon arrival will eliminate costly roaming charges for international voice and texting services.
Safe travel practice mandates the respect of privacy for others. It is one thing to tweet the arrival and location to friends and followers when at home, but not every host desires such publicity, and some might view it as an invasion of privacy. It is reasonable to alert a friend or family member upon arrival, but only in rare emergencies should a guest text messages or make calls once inside the home of a host.
Avoiding behaviors that might be misunderstood in another culture is vital to safe travel, and smart travelers adapt to local traditions as much as possible. In Eastern Europe and Asia, it is impolite to shake hands across a threshold or to wear shoes inside a home. Safe travelers avoid styles of dress or habits that identify them as tourists, as blending in decreases the risk of being a target. Safe travel includes being on time, and it is never fashionable to be late, even if others do not arrive on time.
Knowing how to travel safely in Ukraine and Russia will reassure loved ones back home that proper preparation has gone into planning the trip. Whether traveling to the modern cities of Kiev, Moscow or Saint Petersburg, or out into the steppes of Siberia, Ukraine and Russia are fascinating places to visit–unique countries that most Americans rarely have the opportunity to explore.
By Jim Hanemaayer