Driving a car in Ukraine is not about to drive 100 kilometers per hour. On the Ukrainian roads, it’s about ingenuity, quick reactions and a smile on your lips. This is how I experienced Ukraine’s road network.
Ukraine is a big country – one of the largest in Europe indeed. It has sometimes been called Europe’s grains for infinite fields, yet there are deep forests and marshes. Nor should you forget the hectic metropolitan areas like Kiev, Kharkiv, and Lviv.
Use your own car or car rental in Ukraine?
Release waiting time and bureaucracy at the border by renting a car in Ukraine. At the airports, there are several international car hire companies available. Car rental prices change more than in many other European countries.
A small car, such as Skoda Fabia or Toyota Yaris, costs around 50 euros a day. If you choose a bigger and more powerful car, the price can quickly be 200 euros/day.
A credit card that you can leave 500-800 Euro in the deposit with is required for rent.
Passport, international driving license (and your usual driving license) and insurance that reduces deductibility is important to have.
Signs on the roads
Traveling through Ukraine is easier if you have basic knowledge of the Cyrillic alphabet. On so-called Europe roads, names are printed with both the Latin and Cyrillic alphabet. My tip is to download a good GPS app to the phone, so you do not have to think about the signs at all.
The leading navigation software providers often offer 30-day testing of their paid apps, which allows you to use all features and maps during a one-month trip.
Gas Stations – Can be as messy as possible
Refueling the car can be a little complicated. To fill it up by yourself, forget about it. Instead, you drive to the pump, a (usually) older gentleman arrives and asks about if you want gasoline or diesel and how much. When he refueled, go into the gas station and tell them how many liters he refueled and then pay.
If you do this without language problems, just go ahead! At some service stations, the cashier can see how many liters you should pay for. All gas stations do not accept credit cards, so be sure to have cash. Also watch out for fuel of bad quality, which is really cheap, but not at all suitable for modern cars.
For those who do not speak Russian or Ukrainian:
- Open the fuel cap and point to the inside mark showing fuel and quality.
- Say “povnyy” which means “full”.
- Get the calculator on your mobile. Enter the number of liters.
- Show for the cashier inside.
- Bonus: They will in 9/10 cases offer you to buy coffee. Da = Yes, Ni = No.
Here is a good map of gas stations in Ukraine.
The conditions on the roads
Describing how the standard of the roads is, becomes as describing how far a string is. It is difficult. It varies somewhat unbelievably.
As a rule, the roads are in a terrible state. Therefore, always calculate at a lower speed than allowed when planning your trip. Large potholes, craters, and fractures occur frequently. Often, a road can keep the acceptable standard and then suddenly you have a big pit in the middle. Of course, there is no warning sign about this.
In fact, in some ways, I have had to panic brake, stop the car, and think about how to get past the hole.
It is also not uncommon to drive several kilometers on the left side of the road if the roadway has fewer holes.
One advantage is that the roads are wide, which means that you can sick-sack all over the road.
Three types of roads in Ukraine
Actually, there is only one real highway of European standard. It is the 18 km long four-lane road between Kiev and Boryspil Airport.
Because such a small part of the road network is a motorway, it does not count to the three types of roads that exist.
It’s a mix of highway and wide country road (semi-highway) between Kiev and Chop and Kiev and Odessa.
These roads have two lanes in each direction and maintain high quality. Street lighting is missing on most stretches. On maps, they are labeled “M-roads”.
H-roads are roads that are of national relevance in Ukraine and are heavily used. These, however, differ greatly from the M motorway when it comes to maintenance. Here you can count on much longer travel times. True Ukrainians, however, try to drive faster on the better parts to minimize the delay.
You will encounter these if you choose to drive a car in Ukraine 🙂 Country roads are the most common types of roads in this vast country, on which you can truly experience Ukraine!
On these roads, it is slower and standing still waiting for a cattle herd to move is not uncommon. Even goats, cocks and chickens like to stand on the road.
The road can consist of asphalt with holes in or dirt road with holes in. There are also cobbled roads that are tens of kilometers long. These are the worst ones!
Because the Internet is missing in many villages, people interact with each other – usually outdoors. There are much more life and movement in the villages. Disabled with wheelchairs runs in the middle of the road due to no existing sidewalks.
The country roads are struggling a lot with the car. Punctures are common. Be sure to check the suspension and condition on the tires before departure.
Traffic police, speed signs, and traffic rules
Traffic polices are very common in Ukraine. For a long time, they had a reputation of being corrupt and it may still be true. The fact that corruption is so widespread in the traffic police in comparison with the ordinary police, is because they are two different authorities.
They often stand at entries and exits to larger communities. They are usually nice to you controlling seat belts, sobriety and speed.
In Ukraine, it is a law to have a belt on all passengers in the car. There is zero tolerance for driving under alcohol influence. A beer to the meal can result in unrestricted bureaucracy or corruption close up.
Speed signs and other signs are not excessively frequent. Therefore, read them carefully as soon as they appear. Speed in an urban area is 60 km / h, and on M and H road usually 90 km / h.
Survive with the other drivers
There is some sort of controlled chaos on many Ukrainian roads. The mortality of traffic is high. No seat belts and own invented speed limits is more a rule than an exception.
Being able to improvise in traffic is important. Horses with a carriage in the dusk, terrible roads and endless congestion belong to everyday life. The drivers drive where there is space. Whether it’s a sidewalk or grass fields does not play such a big part.
There is a clear hierarchy where owners of German premium cars are at the top. They drive at very high speed and do not hesitate for dangerous overtakes. These drivers are often some kind of government officials.
Cooperation with other drivers is a must. An “advantage” in Ukraine is that you can overtake another vehicle despite encountering vehicles on narrow roads. Everyone helps each other and drives in the opposite lane leaves room for three vehicles in width. Just staring straight ahead and hold a steady course in your lane is not recommended. Keeping the pace of the other traffic reduce many idiotic overtakes.
A lot of vehicles from Soviet times remain in traffic. It is impressive that they are able to keep alive in these old relics. But they are not fast. In particular, the trucks can keep very low speeds on the slopes and swirl up a dust cloud which makes it difficult to see something forward.
Other drivers are usually nice. Obscene gestures are very unusual if you follow the mentioned unwritten rules.
Ukraine is best experienced with a car so do not let anything in this text deter you. Good luck with the trip! Ask a question if you are wondering.