Driving in Ukraine: Beware of Poor Road Safety

Every country has their perilous aspects, Australia has deadly snakes and spiders, Indonesia has angry volcanoes, and Ukraine has chaotic roads.

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A formidable contender to traffic chaos in Turkey or India, Ukraine drivers are notoriously unpredictable and dangerous.

If you plan on driving in Ukraine – or, for that matter, even being close to the roads – there are a number of things to consider.

Pedestrian Safety in Ukraine

Even if you aren't stepping foot inside a car, if you're walking along the roads in Ukraine, you are in danger.

Essentially, pedestrians have no right of way – even in designated areas like crosswalks. It's safe to assume that if you are in the way of the car, the driver won't slow down, and you'll be hit.

The pedestrian safety threat isn't limited to just crossing roads, either. A favorite 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're 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'll 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.

Okay, we might be overemphasizing the dangers a little bit, but it really must be noted: Ukranian pedestrian system is fraught with danger, and you need to be careful.

Safety for Drivers in Ukraine

So, you've kitted yourself out with a nice little Yuko, and you're ready to hit the roads. But first, there are a few things you need to check off your list before you pull out into the main 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 identification. This is good for dealing with the police – which we'll get to shortly.

The most important thing you should have on you, is your car registration. You must have this with you at all times while 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 pot holes are for real. Photo credit: Supplied

Our Top Tips for First-Time Drivers in Ukraine

Now, you have all your bits and pieces, it's time to bite the bullet and hit the road. Here are our top tips:

  • If you cant drive manual, you'll need to learn fast. 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's an extension of their own body. It comes in handy for squeezing into 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).
  • There aren't any indicating lanes. You make your own.
  • Traffic lights are 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 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 bribe.

If you have all your documents with you, then they cant pin you for much more than a fine for "speeding", which can usually be paid off with around 20 UAH (US $4).

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 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, bribery is still considered illegal. You do not have to bribe any police officer, but in a country like Ukraine, where police corruption is at an epidemic level, we are merely highlighting the realities you may face.

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11 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.

  • Natalya said

    No seatbelts are used in cars. At first you will feel terrified and surprised how they drive. After you experienced 3 or 4 times in the car you will probably trust them completely even if it feels like you'll get in a wreck each second. The lines are pointless in my opinion, drivers just do what they want. They do get mad when cars in front is being retarded. The road from Odessa to Kiev is a lot like in United states most of the way. In villages, towns, and small places/city's the roads absolutely suck. Potholes everywhere. One more thing...if you speak English and need a taxi ride somewhere... they'll probably charge you 3 times more. Ones the accent comes out the prize for is high.

  • Martyn said

    I have just returned from 89 days in Ukraine. I drove my own car from the UK. Generally smaller towns and villages are home to the worst roads. In fact a decent stretch of road will often deteriorate when you arrive at a village or small town. I personally think this is to keep the speed of vehicles passing through these villages down. Bad roads means reduced speed. Many of the main roads between bigger towns and cities are much better and it is a continous effort to update the road surfaces. I spent most of my time in Ternopil region. They are working on updating the road surfaces in places but in others parts of the same road, you can come across the very worst Ukrainian roads. So the fact is you need to be on your toes at all time. I cannot stress how important it is to drive defensively in Ukraine. By doing that and assuming every other drives may do something crazy, you will have a better driving experience. I was stopped twice by the police and on both occasions allowed to continue without a fine or bribe needing to be paid. The country is using a new style police force who are educated younger people and bribes are becoming much less common, if confronted by one of these. If stopped by an older style militia police, then the bribe system is probably still in play. Better still take with you the phone number to your country's embassy and tell them you will call the Embassy if stopped. Or of course pay the bribe. Overall I had a great time. It is my third time driving in Ukraine and although it has many challenges, there are some parts to it much better than driving in regular wester countries. An example would be....I have an 2012 Audi. Basically if you are out in a decent car and trying to go fast, people will move out of your way and even help you overtake by using their indicators to help you know when the road is clear. Ukrainians don't get upset that they are being overtaken by a better or faster car. This is the exact opposite of here in the UK where people will purposely try and slow you down or get upset if you overtake them. I hope this bit of information helps. Good luck, enjoy a beautiful country with hard working people, beautiful women and great Borscht! :)

  • David C said

    Ukraine drivers are some of the worst in the world. There are several reasons. First, many drivers buy a drivers license and have no clue as to what the rules of the road are. Second, the police are preoccupied with taking reports of accidents and there is no enforcement of traffic laws. Third, the roads are in such a bad state of Disrepair that drivers watch the road surface meters in front of their car and swerve into other lanes without looking to avoid a pothole.

  • David C said

    It is not uncommon to see drivers turning right from the third lane from the right just to get to the front of the line. Similarly, cars will pass other cars waiting in line in the oncoming traffic lane. They drive on the sidewalks here

  • Olha said

    Please remove article "the" before the name of my country. It looks quite insulting.

  • Amelia Mcgrath said

    Hi Olha,
    Thanks for pointing this out, we've just updated the article to remove "the".
    If you've got any other advice on updating the article, we'd love to hear from you.
    Cheers,
    [email protected]

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