Driving in Ukraine: Will I be safe? Read this article →

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.

Pedestrian safety in Ukraine

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.

Safety for drivers in Ukraine

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.

(We aren't kidding - some of these potholes end up in China)

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.
  • 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.

Police stops in Ukraine

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.

No Comments

  • Viktor said

    Unfortunately for me and all the Ukrainians, the author is absolutely right.
    The roads in Ukraine are horrible. So you better think about hiring a driver with a car.
    It is not much more expensive than rent a car.

  • Haluk said

    This is plain bullshit... I've been living in Ukraine for the last 6 years (4 years in Kiev) and I must say that this post exaggerates every aspect of Ukrainian traffic.. Roads are bad... but other than that people are really nice and they drive much more carefully than drivers of my country. Also they don't really aim you and they don't drive at you that fast... So you can really escape if you try... Oh, I'm from Istanbul, Turkey by the way.

  • Dima said

    Istanbul and Rome are much worse in terms of people's driving habits.
    Ukrainians use turn light signals more often than Americans.
    Roads are bad but not everywhere.
    Some cities may be different. For example Crimean South Coast has crazy narrow streets and being a good driver is a matter of survival. In Kiev people are more willing to wait, keep distance and let somebody pass, perhaps because of the traffic and safety concerns. Smaller cities and rural highways may be different.

  • Dima said

    Do not bribe the police, you may end up in Ukrainian jail.
    It is better to be ready to pay fine legally, it is not that hard as some may think, also in many cases police office will rather let you go than start doing ticket paperwork. Do not say "yes, I'm guilty" just say that you are disagree and you are really frustrated. Do not propose "to solve" - they will let you go, unless you did something really wrong.

    up to 20 km/h of speeding is punishable by verbal warning. Do not turn on red unless there is a green arrow allowing you to do so.

  • Gary Combs said

    I am a foreigner to Ukraine but my wife is Ukrainian. I have been visiting Odessa, Ukraine for more than 18 years and I have seen all kinds of drivers in action. Most seem to drive sensibly and respect the Ukraine driving laws but there are those who have no respect for the law what-so-ever and always seem to be in a big rush wherever they go (not realizing they cannot change the speed of the flow of traffic) and with no regard for the safety of others, not even themselves. It's like "get the F--k out my way, I own this planet". these are the reasons you need to have not only eyes on the back of your head but on the sides as well. The problem? The police aren't ever around to become a deterrent to these problem drivers or it appears they are out to lunch most of the time (not to downgrade the police). When the police decide to put their foot down and lay hefty fines and stronger deterrents for driver violations, even impounding the habitually bad driver's car on 2nd and 3rd offenses, the problem will simply continue to exist. I've walked through some of the cemeteries and there is a high proliferation of graves indicating people who died in car accidents, much more than one would expect.

    On using the cross walks? It is true you are taking your life in your own hands if you don't pay attention most of the time because you will inherently encounter these unlawful drivers who treat you as if you are violating their road space. Driver education and a whip may help but that is purely debatable.

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