Ukraine is one of the largest countries in Europe, both in area and population. It's a country with a rich, albeit conflict-heavy, history. Things are constantly in flux as Ukraine navigates its future. The country is establishing closer ties with the European Union and reimagining itself as a cultural centre of Eastern Europe.
Ukraine's Soviet past has given many expats the impression that it is grim-faced and gloomy, but those who stick around for a while will discover that the pros outweigh the cons in this misunderstood country. Individuals who enjoy a good challenge will find life in Ukraine to be a new and captivating adventure.
Accommodation in Ukraine
Expats moving to Ukraine will find that accommodation can be inexpensive, even in metropolitan areas. However, buying and renting property should be done with caution and possibly a lawyer, as there are frequent reports of expats being scammed.
+ PRO: Cheap housing
Compared with the rest of Europe, Ukraine has an astonishingly low cost of living, despite it becoming slightly more expensive in the larger cities.
- CON: Finding an apartment
While it is possible to find an apartment on one's own (using online or printed classifieds), many people opt for a realtor. Realtors run the real estate game in Ukraine: some merely provide the phone number of a landlord, while others will escort house hunters to the apartment and interact on their behalf, but fees can be high. Meanwhile, Ukraine is riddled with real-estate scams that go mostly ignored by the government. Expats should be cautious and never hand over money before finding out exactly what is being offered.
Culture and lifestyle in Ukraine
Ukraine has a rich cultural history and the lifestyle of its people is characterised by good food, deep friendships and a love of nature. That said, the near constant threat of conflict and corruption are among the problems that face expats in Ukraine.
+ PRO: Captivating history, art and architecture
Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, was founded approximately 1,400 years ago and was a major centre of cultural and political influence even into the Soviet era. Throughout the centuries, Ukraine has seen rich, global influences on the entire country's art and architecture: from the fluted domes and spires that crown Kiev to the industrial modernism of later years.
+ PRO: Amazing food
Ukraine is making the old new again by using traditional methods to make food that appeals to the contemporary palate. Expats should try local favourites such as a steaming bowl of borscht (beet soup) with a creamy dollop of sour cream on the side. If this does not appeal, thin pancakes filled with anything from strawberry jam to garlic-fried mushrooms will hit the spot. Everything from cherry dumplings, cabbage rolls and cold summer soups to delicious honey cake is on offer.
+ PRO: Deep friendships
While Ukrainians can appear stiff and uncaring on the outside, it's a different story once one gets to know them. Friendships are taken seriously and people will go out of their way to help a friend.
+ PRO: Beautiful landscape
The geography of Ukraine is bewilderingly diverse, and this means there is a lot to see and do. Summertime beaches are packed with families on a fun day out and young adults looking to party. Aside from the beautiful beaches, there seems to be an unlimited supply of castles, ancient ruins and caves to explore. Meanwhile, the nighttime party circuit is legendary.
- CON: Corruption, bureaucracy, poor customer service
Unfortunately, corruption is still commonplace. Police often hassle foreigners for a 'small gift'. Shady businesses operate with seemingly no repercussions. Getting anything done officially takes a lot of time, patience, and the occasional 'extra fee' for officials. Additionally, the concept of good customer service is only just beginning to make itself known. Waiters and cashiers tend to view customers as annoyances rather than people.
Transport in Ukraine
+ PRO: Train travel
Getting around Ukraine is easy. While a small number of people prefer to fly or drive, most travel by rail. Trains criss-cross the country on short day trips and overnight journeys.
+ PRO: Easy access to transport
Private cars are almost prohibitively expensive on the average Ukrainian salary, so many people rely on public transport. Because of this, it's impossible to go more than 15 minutes without seeing a taxi, city bus or tram. Larger cities, such as Kiev, have metro systems that are affordable, incredibly clean and convenient.
Cost of living in Ukraine
+ PRO: Cheap alcohol and travel abroad
It probably doesn't come as a shock that alcohol (especially locally produced beer and wine) retails for much less than it does in other countries. All this means that unless a huge amount of luxury is involved, a night out on the town will leave partygoers with more than enough money for breakfast the next day.
For those who have a holiday coming up, travel packages are sold at local travel agencies. All-inclusive vacations to Turkey and Egypt are hot sellers, while outbound plane tickets from Ukraine to other destinations in Europe are available at a low price.
- CON: Expensive electronics and clothing
All the newest electronic devices are available in Ukraine but at a premium. For this reason, expats often ask friends travelling abroad to bring back electronics when returning to Ukraine.
Clothing is another popular item to buy abroad because the quality of fabrics sold in Ukraine can be rather low. This can be partially avoided by buying more expensive articles, but this isn't always a sure bet.
Healthcare in Ukraine
+ PRO: Affordable medicine and healthcare
The word is getting out about healthcare in Ukraine and each year brings more medical tourists to the country. Dental work is one of the most common requests and English-speaking dentists are becoming increasingly common in large cities.
- CON: Healthcare is still ironing out some problems
While the healthcare situation in Ukraine has improved radically, some remnants of an inefficient and uncaring past still remain, particularly in terms of bribery – in many cases bribes are still expected in order for patients to receive proper care.