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Ukrainian Road Trips: The Good, The Bad… and the Potholes

Ukrainian Road Trips: The Good, The Bad… and the Potholes

With international travel on hold, it’s time to get on the road and discover Ukraine

Despite its relatively low COVID-19 infection rate, Ukraine has not made it onto the EU’s ‘safe to fly’ list, so we’re all set for a summer of domestic travel. Let What’s On steer you towards some of the best (and worst!) drives around this country.


Mykolaiv: Hang On To Your Steering Wheel

Among several hair-raising Ukrainian road trips, one particularly bad personal experience springs to mind: a business trip to Mykolaiv. The journey started well, as the first 60% of the drive is straight down the (decent) Kyiv – Odesa highway. The problems start soon after Uman, when you turn off the major road and have to contend with a potholed single-laner for the rest of your journey. Should you need to go down to this shipbuilding city adjacent to the Black Sea, you’ll need to be prepared for the potholes, some of which are so large that they can only be avoided by swerving onto the other side of the road. In the face of oncoming traffic, this is not always possible: in this case, just hang on to the steering wheel with all your might and hope that the suspension doesn’t get torn off the underside of your car. When planning your journey, be aware that the latter 40% of the journey will take twice as long as the first 60%.


Odesa: Full Speed Ahead

Now for the good news. Ukraine has actually spent quite a lot of money on road repairs in recent years, and although some sceptics might suggest there’s an ulterior motive to such infrastructure investments (like electioneering and skimming cash off the budget for personal enrichment) the country now has several roads it can be proud of.

First of all, there is the aforementioned Odesa highway. If you’re heading from Kyiv to the Black Sea party city, it isn’t difficult to beat the ‘official’ journey time of five hours and twenty minutes. You can get from A to B in under five hours; some even claim to have cracked it in less than four. That said, drivers should take care not to get carried away by the sight of smooth asphalt stretching for miles ahead: a large number of speed cameras have been installed across the country in recent times. 

Kharkiv: The Pull Of The East

Another very good road is the Kyiv – Kharkiv highway, which was upgraded in the run-up to Euro 2012, the football championship jointly (and very successfully) hosted by Ukraine and Poland. The road to Kharkiv forms three-quarters of the journey to Donetsk, one of the championship’s host cities. Although Russia’s temporary occupation has put Donetsk out of reach for the moment, Kharkiv is a superb choice for anyone wishing to get a feel for Ukraine’s easternmost extremes. The centre of Kharkiv is dominated by a vast public square, said to be the largest in Europe. At the lower end of the square, visitors will find some of the universities that are the lifeblood of this city, which was the capital of Ukraine from 1919 until 1934. The city’s most modern and luxurious hotel, the Kharkiv Palace, sits alongside the square; its Sky Lounge offers stunning views across the city skyline.


Kaniv: In Shevchenko’s Footsteps

A bit closer to home, Kaniv is a great destination that works well as a day trip from Kyiv. Located at one of the widest points on the Dnipro river, the views are so stunning that Ukraine’s national icon Taras Shevchenko asked to be buried here. The walk up to the Shevchenko monument is likely to leave you short of breath; when you reach the top, the view will take your breath away completely.

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