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|Introduction to Ukraine
A country whose state song declares that 'Ukraine has not yet died' might not seem the most uplifting destination, but don't let that deter you. The country rewards travellers with hospitable people, magnificent architecture and miles of gently rolling steppe.
Nearly every city and town has its centuries-old cathedral, and many have open-air museums of folk architecture, caves stuffed with mummified monks, and exquisite mosaics wherever you look. The food sticks to your ribs and the bandura tunes lodge themselves in your brain for weeks.
Ukraine has its share of the thoroughly modern, but it's also replete with Gothic, Byzantine and Baroque architecture and art - reminders of its many foreign overlords. There are also dozens of villages with picket fences, duck ponds and overloaded horse carts, where time seems to stand still.
Full country name: Ukraine
Area: 603,700 sq km
Population: 48.05 million
Capital City: Kiev (pop 2.6 million)
People: Ukrainian 73%, Russian 22%, Jewish 1%
Language: Ukrainian, Russian, Romanian, Polish, Hungarian
Religion: Ukrainian Orthodox, Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox, Ukrainian Catholic, Protestant, Jewish
Head of State: President Viktor A. Yushchenko
Head of Government: Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko
GDP: US$218 billion
GDP per capita: US$5,400
Annual Growth: -1.7%
Major Industries: Coal, electric power, ferrous and nonferrous metals, machinery and transport equipment, chemicals, food-processing (especially sugar), grain, sugar beets, sunflower seeds, vegetables, beef, milk
Major Trading Partners: Russia, China, Turkey, Germany, Belarus, US, Poland, Italy
Member of EU: No
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Visas: All visitors (except Russia and some nearby CIS countries) need visas. 'Emergency' visas good for 72 hours are available at border posts, and a one month visa can be obtained on arrival at Kiev's Boryspil Airport. Passengers may be required to show a legitimate invitation from an official sponsor in Ukraine so check in with your embassy first.
Health risks: cholera, diphtheria, Lyme disease, HIV/AIDS (HIV (Human Immuno-deficiency Virus) develops into AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), which is a fatal disease. Any exposure to blood, blood products or body fluids may put the individual at risk. The disease is often transmitted through sexual contact or dirty needles - body piercing, acupuncture, tattooing and vaccinations can be potentially as dangerous as intravenous drug use. HIV and AIDS can also be spread via infected blood transfusions, but blood supplies in most reputable hospitals are now screened, so the risk from transfusions is low. If you do need an injection, ask to see the syringe unwrapped in front of you, or take a needle and syringe pack with you. Fear of HIV infection should not preclude treatment for any serious medical conditions. Most countries have organizations and services for HIV-positive folks and people with AIDS. For a list of organizations divided by country, plus descriptions of their services, see www.aidsmap.com)
Time Zone: GMT/UTC +2
Dialling Code: 380
Electricity: 220V ,50Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
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Ukrainians place gifts under fir trees and sing holiday songs for New Year's Day. The country celebrates Orthodox Christmas Day on 7 January. Paskha (Easter) is the main festival of the Orthodox Church year, beginning with midnight services and continuing with parades around village churches throughout the country. In Lviv, the National Virtuoso fills the month of May with musical and theatrical performances focussing on national themes. The capital celebrates spring during Kiev Days, held the last weekend in May. In August, Crimea fetes itself at Yalta's Crimean Stars. On 28 August, religious pilgrims flock to the monastery in Pochayiv for the Feast of the Assumption. Cities and towns honour Independence Day on 24 August with performances and special events.
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|Best time to Visit
The best time to go to Ukraine is in spring (late April to early June), when the trees and flowers are in bloom. During this season attractions are less crowded and rainfall is lighter than in summer. The beaches at Odessa and Crimea are packed in summer (July and August). Winter (December and January) is cold and snowy, so travellers should be prepared to don thick wool sweaters and eat their vegetables pickled.
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|Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending
Currency: Ukraine Hryvnia
Food is ridiculously cheap in Ukraine, and accommodation isn't much more, especially outside Kiev. You can travel comfortably for around US$50 a day, though prices are 15-30% higher in the capital. If you stick to mid-range restaurants and hotels, you can expect to spend around US$30 a day. If you self-cater, share accommodation and rely solely on public transport you can reduce your costs even further.
Exchange kiosks have the best rates, while hotels generally have the worst. Hard currency can be changed into hryvnia anywhere, but travellers cheques credit cards are only accepted at certain banks and exchange offices in a few larger cities. You'll need to bring wads of cash, the most commonly accepted being the US dollar and the euro. Using hard currency in restaurants and retail shops has been officially banned, but many services aimed at foreign tourists are exempt from this ruling and expect hard currency.
At upscale tourist-oriented eateries, a tip of about 5-10% is expected; many include a 5% service charge in your bill, and you can add a bit more for excellent service. Haggling at the country's many food, art, souvenir and craft markets is expected and sometimes fierce.
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Founded in the 5th century, Kiev is the mother city of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. All three descend from Kievan Rus, the Slavic super-state that existed from the 9th to the 11th centuries. Kiev has survived Mongol invasions, devestating fires, communist urban planning and the destruction of WWII.
The Old Town is concentrated around the north-eastern end of vulitsya Volodymyrska and contains a number of Kiev's historic landmarks. The main attraction is the 11th century St Sophia Cathedral, the city's oldest standing church, which contains some of the country's greatest mosaics and frescoes.
Kamyanets-Podilsky is about 25km (16mi) north of the point where Moldova and Romania meet at the Ukrainian border. This old town has stood since at least the 11th century on a sheer-walled rock island carved out of the steppe by a sharp loop in the Smotrych River.
The south-western bridge, for centuries the only link between the town and the mainland, is guarded by a nine-towered stone castle that dates from the 16th century. Most of the towers are open to visitors, and many offer great views of the town and the surrounding countryside.
Cosmopolitan Lviv is the capital of western Ukraine. Until 1939 it had never been ruled from Moscow, and it was here that Ukrainian nationalism re-emerged in the late 1980s. Having escaped the urban devastation of WWII, Lviv is a living museum of Western architecture from the Gothic to the present.
Just east of the modern downtown is Old Town, centred on the broad ploshcha Rynok, once the hub of Lviv and still the best preserved urban square in Ukraine. At its heart is the 19th century town hall, and around the perimeter are beautiful 16th to 18th century buildings with ornate stone carvings.
Odessa is a curious mix of enticing seaside holiday retreat and polluted industrial port. A long-time Black Sea shipping centre and southern Ukraine urban giant, the city is famous for its role in the 1905 revolution, when the mutinous battleship Potemkin Tavrichesky supported rebellious workers.
Today it's best known for its excellent collection of museums. It's filled with beautiful low-rise buildings and tree-lined streets, and is home to the elaborate and famous 19th-century Opera & Ballet Theatre, designed by Viennese architects who gave it a Baroque cast with a Renaissance twist.
Perched on the southern coast of Crimea, Yalta passed through many hands over the centuries until Russia took control in the late 18th century. The city became the Black Sea's classiest resort when Tsar Alexander II made nearby Livadia his summer residence.
The city centre stretches back from the eastern end of Yalta Bay, straddling the Bystra River. Everyone gravitates to the naberezhna Lenia, a vehicle-free waterfront promenade with jetties, palms, pebble beaches, snack bars and art markets. Some of Yalta's best beaches lie along Yalta Bay.
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