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Driving in Ukraine. Beware of poor road safety
Every country has their perilous aspects- Australia has deadly snakes and spiders, Indonesia has angry volcanoes, Colombia has kidnappings, and the Ukraine has chaotic roads.
A formidable contender to other traffic chaos zones like Turkey and India, Ukraine drivers are notoriously unpredictable and dangerous.
If you are planning on driving on the roads in the Ukraine (or, for that manner, even being close to them) there are a number of things to consider.
To start with, even if you aren't stepping foot inside a car, if you are walking along the roads in Ukraine, you are in danger.
Essentially, pedestrians have no right of way, even in designated areas like crosswalks. It is safe to assume that if you are in the way of the car, the driver will not slow down, and you will be hit.
The pedestrian safety threat isn't limited to just crossing the roads either. A favourite pastime for Ukranian drivers is to simply mount the footpath if the traffic is too dense. Do not expect the driver to slow down as a result of this- they will usually maintain normal speed and treat the footpath like a road.
A good hint- if you are walking on a footpath, and there is a high level of dense traffic, grow a set of eyes in the back of your head, because you are going to need them.
Sometimes, the driver may be generous enough to honk their horn to notify you that they are approaching, if you are crossing the road. If this is the case, take a tumble dive to the curb. If you are on the footpath and the same thing happens, take a tumble dive into the nearest building.
O.k, we might be overemphasizing the dangers a little bit- but it really must be noted, the Ukranian pedestrian system is fraught with danger, and you need to be careful.
So, you have kitted yourself up with a nice little Yuko and are ready to take the plunge. There are a few things you need to check off your list though, before you pull out into the mean streets.
Make sure you have some kind of identification on you. It could be an international drivers license, your license from your own country, passport or other forms of I.D. This is good for dealing with the police, which we will discuss at a later point.
The most important thing you should have on you however is your car registration. You must have this with you at all times when driving. If you don't own the car, you must hold a power of attorney (Dverinost) issued by a Ukrainian Notary.
Now, you have all your bits and pieces, it's time to bite the bullet and hit the road. Here are the most important things you need to know:
- If you cant drive a stick shift, you'll learn quick. All cars in the Ukraine are manual transmissions.
- Get used to potholes and open manholes. Road maintenance isn't the best, and Vodka hungry thieves steal manhole covers to sell for scrap metal.
(We aren't kidding - some of these potholes end up in China)
- Know the width of your car. Every Ukrainian driver knows their own car like it is an extension of their own body. It comes in handy for getting in those tight nooks and crannies to avoid traffic jams. Especially if you want to drive on the curb. (Although we advise you don't follow their lead and mount the pavement. For sanity's sake.)
- There aren't any indicating lanes. You make your own up.
- Traffic lights are kinda rare, but when you do find them, the order is Red = Stop Yellow = Get Ready Green = Go.
- The horn is your friend. Use it, and you will make your way a little bit easier.
- Speed limits are usually not obeyed.
- You need to become a hard, defensive driver, very quickly, unless you want to wind up being a gooey, blubbering nervous wreck.
Being stopped by police
It's fairly likely that at some stage you will be pulled over by a police officer. It's also fairly likely that if the police officer determines that you are a foreigner, they will be after some kind of a bribe.
If you have all your documents with you, then they cant pin you for much other than a fine for "speeding" which can usually be paid off with around 20 UAH (Or $4 USD). Sometimes they wont ask for a bribe at all. Sometimes they will make up ludicrous accusations- but remember, that it's simply easier just to pay a small bribe of a couple of dollars than try to argue, which will see you wind up in more trouble. (Although really, the "trouble" isn't that significant)
Ukrainian police are very busy, so if you front up with a bribe initially, they will probably just take it and be on their way.
Having said all this, however, bribery is still considered illegal. You do not have to bribe any police officer, but in a country like the Ukraine, where police corruption is at an epidemic level, we are merely highlighting the realities you may face.