Western Ukraine

View of Carpathian National Park from Hoverla. Carpathian National Park, Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast

Western Ukraine (Ukrainian: Західна Україна) makes up about a quarter of Ukraine, and has the closest affinities with Europe of all Ukraine's regions.

Regions

Cities

Other destinations

Understand

Western Ukraine was under the reign of different, mostly European, countries throughout history and only relatively recently (mostly after WWII) got merged into the Russian circle of influence. Therefore, there are considerable minorities still living in the area as well as many remnants of the Central European/Turkish past of this region still to be seen in architecture, religious practices, languages cuisine and politics.

As of 2014, it is by far the safest region in Ukraine and has been spared from the ongoing conflict in the South and East.

Talk

Unlike in Southern Ukraine and Eastern Ukraine, the Ukrainian language is more predominant in this region, although everyone can also speak and write in Russian very well and are not very prickly about it. Nevertheless, learning a few basic phrases in Ukrainian will endear the locals. Most signs are only Ukrainian, and only a few also include Russian, something prevalent even as a Soviet province. Minority languages include Romanian, Hungarian, Polish, Slovak and German. Foreign languages (apart from Russian) are mainly English and German. Polish is spoken well among people with mature memories of the interwar era.

Get in

By train

By bus

By car

Ukrainian roads are bad, and Ukrainian drivers have an aggressive driving style. When you drive into Lviv, make sure you have a good map because getting lost in this town is very easy.

Pay close attention to speed limits (which are often badly marked, with signs far off the road, covered with branches etc.), but the speeding fines are usually low if nothing else is wrong with your car. In towns, the speed limit is usually 60 km/h (40 mph). Speed limits on "nationals" (single carriageway countryside roads) is 90 km/h (55 mph). The poor average quality of the roads already acts as a speed checker. Speed limits on highways (motorways) is 110–120 km/h (75 mph).

Be aware that corruption is widespread among Ukrainian police. When you are stopped for speeding or other violations, officers might aggressively try and extract ridiculous sums of money from you (€100 and up), offering "reductions" if you pay on the spot (the proposed alternative being some unpleasant and more expensive way, all made up).

The highest actual legal fine in the Ukraine is the equivalent of about $200. But the fine should be paid in the bank, not directly to police officer! So if you're asked for fine demand a written ticket for you to pay later instead. Don't let them intimidate you. It's very useful to have an embassy phone number handy for these cases (you should NOT under any circumstances travel around Ukraine without your embassy/consulate number handy anyway). If you mention your embassy/consulate, they'll let you off the hook quicker than you know it. At any rate, write down the officers' badge numbers, rank, plate number of the police car, and notify the nearest embassy/consulate in detail, to help fight these corrupt practices.

By foot

Take a train to Przemyśl near the Polish-Ukrainian border. From Kraków it costs about ~50 PLN and takes between 4 and 5 hours. From Przemyśl you take a bus to Medyka at the border ('granica' in Polish) for PLN2. Private buses are found just outside of the train station on the opposite side from the main bus station. They head to the border when they are full, which can take a while at night and travel to the border is about 15 minutes (about 10 km of rough road). The mini-buses drop you off at the   footpath to the pedestrian crossing Medyka-ShehyniPrestatyn .

PEDESTRIAN CROSSING: Queues at the border crossings can be unpredictable and hellish. If you do encounter a queue and are in a hurry, get the guards attention, explain your situation and they will more than likely let you go through immediately. Be polite! 30 minutes from Medyka to Sheheni (Шегині) on foot is now the norm.
There are lots of "ants" - these are people who cross into Poland with relatively cheap Ukrainian cigarettes and spirits, then buy meats and cheeses at low EU prices and return to Ukraine to sell them for a profit. Everyone has to pass through a turnstile and the bulky bags and suitcases they carry are too big to fit. There is a huge log jam of people trying to fit their bags through that turnstile and ugly words are common. Tourists with backpacks are sometimes let through by the "ants".

On the Ukraine side private buses can be taken to Lviv; these take about 1.5 hours, and can be found at the bus station around 300m up the main road, past all the shops, on the first major road to your left. Right outside the border you will probably meet touts who will tell you that they have best prices and invite to their cars and buses, this option may be faster but is definitely more expensive. The price for a bus from the station is UAH24.5 (Apr 2013); the buses are often packed and can be uncomfortable at times. Be aware that there are NO ATMs in Sheheni, period. However, there are lots of money changers, so make sure you bring enough currency of some sort to pay for your ticket to L'viv.The bus from Shehyni will most likely arrive next to the main train station in Lviv.

The total cost for this route is approximately €15 and maybe less if you have a student card. It is around half the price of the next cheapest option. Whether to take it depends on your stress tolerance, Polish language skills and ability to push and shove at the border, but it's an adventure!

Smuggling

Smuggling is a fact of life between Eastern Poland and Western Ukraine. The harsh economic situation in these two respective regions forces many into the trade, involving people of all ages. You may witness individuals unscrewing panels and pulling out plastic wrapped cigarette cartons, and may even be asked to politely move to enable access to a hidden cavity. Similarly if you decide to use the toilet you may find it blocked with cartons of cigarettes and your seat may feel uncomfortable if someone's removed the soft filling and replaced it with cigarettes. The key here is to exercise your common sense. These people are only doing their 'job' and thus should be treated with respect. There is no need for alarm! In fact it can be fascinating watching just how many cigarettes a single train carriage can hold and later watching as everything is removed on arrival in the EU. Border guards may ask you if anyone has been smuggling but the best response is to claim that you were sleeping or pretend not to understand.

You are legally allowed to bring through the EU border 40 cigarettes (two packs) or 20 cigarillos or 10 cigars or 50g of smoking tobacco and 1L of spirits (above 22% alcohol) or 2L of alcohol (e.g. sparkling wine below 22% alcohol) and 4L of non-sparkling wine and 16L of beer. If you are below 17 years old it's half of these amounts.

Get around

Best way to get around Carpathian part of Western Ukraine is to use trains or buses. Check the local train schedules and bus schedules, both only in the Ukrainian language.

See

Lviv Oblast

Do

National Parks

Skiing, Trekking

Go next

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, December 19, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.