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The Ukraine

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Ukraine (Ukrayina) is a country in Eastern Europe. It lies at the northwest end of the Black Sea, with Russia to the east, Belarus to the north, Poland to the northwest, Slovakia and Hungary to the west, and Romania to the south west and south, with Moldova in between.

Most of the country (the central and eastern portions) was formerly a part of Russian Empire; after WWII, the entire country - known as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic - was a part of the Soviet Union. Ukraine is the second-largest country in Europe.

Ukrainian history is long and proud, with the early dominance of Kievan (or Kyivan) Rus as arguably the most powerful state in 10th-century Europe. While this state did not last and Ukraine becoame part of the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth form the 14. th. until the 18. th. century, even modern Ukraine owes it a debt of sorts. A subsequent Ukrainian state was able to - in the face of pressure from the ascendent Muscovy - remain autonomous for more than a century, however the Russian Empire absorbed much of Ukraine in the 18th century.

Despite a brief flash of independence at the end of the czarist regime, Ukraine was reincorporated into the new USSR during the Russian Civil War and subject to two disastrous famines as well as brutal fighting during the Second World War. The 1986 Chernobyl accident was a further catastrophe.

With the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, Ukraine regained independence, however there were concerns that democracy did not really exist. These concerns came to a head with the heavily-disputed 2003 Presidential Election, where allegations of vote-rigging sparked what became known as the "Orange Revolution". This revolution resulted in the election of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko as President, with promises to be more friendly toward the west. Yushchenko's "Orange" parties lost the 2006 parliamentary elections to their rivals.

By Plane
The cheapest way to fly into Ukraine is through Kiev Borispol. The main international hubs for these flights are Frankfurt, Munich, Prague, Vienna and Warsaw with several flights a day of Austrian AUA, CSA Czech Airlines, LOT and Lufthansa; also Ukraine International, which code-shares on these routes with the respective carriers and another Ukrainian carrier AeroSvit. Special offers on flights come and go, depending on the whim of the carrier. No low-cost carriers fly into Ukraine as yet (March 2006) There are several airlines which offer direct flights to cities like Donetsk (Lufthansa, Austrian), Odessa (MALEV, LOT, Austrian, CSA Czech Airlines), Kharkiv and L'Viv (LOT, Austrian Airlines), but they are more expensive. Air Baltic flies to/from Riga (Latvia) and Vilnius (Lithuania). To fly inside Ukraine the most common airline is Aero Svyit. Although this is the national airline, and it s routes cover all of Ukraine mayor destinatios the planes may be very old, dating back to the 1960's.

By train
You can get in Ukraine by train from any land-bordering neighbour. When coming from Europe you should spend some time changing rail wheels in order to adapt to different rail distance standard. Generally, in Ukraine a railway travel is much cheaper than plane, and is comparable (but probably cheaper) to bus or car travel. It will take at most a whole day to ride across the country, so unless you are in hurry take a train. It's a good practice to take long-distance trains, which are much more comfortable. Avoid cheap third-class travels if you're cautious of local experiences.

By car
The main route into Ukraine from the West is via Poland - the only 24 hour customs post is in Lvivska Oblast at a place called Kruskavetz, which as a 'place' is essentially just the customs post - and it's not marked on most maps either.

The nearest significant town on the Polish side is Przemysl, and it's straightford to find by following route # 4 (which passes through Przemysl), also known as the E40 in European terms.

When you arrive, the road is fairly narrow (no motorway/autobahn this) with a queue of trucks and vans parked to the right of the road; a hard-core parking area with cafe/bar to the left. Don't stop behind the goods vehicles, slip up the side of them and then feed into the customs area when the guy flags you forward (for courteous Europeans, you're not jumping the queue - commercial traffic goes through a different process).

If you're in an EU registered car then make for the EU-passports, passport control section. Thence to Ukrainian passport control and then Ukrainian customs and then you're through. It used to be a nightmare, with apocalyptical tales of 5-6+ hours at the border, but the Ukrainians have made great advances in effeciency and it takes about an hour to make the crossing (September 2005 - still true in Feb 2006).

Once through, just follow the main road towards L'viv/L'vov on the E40 - this is the route right across Ukraine to Kyiv (and thence on to the East). Stick to this - the main towns on the way are Lviv/Lvov, Rivne, Zhitomir.

Watch out about 15-20 km inside Ukraine, I think the village is called Mostiska, as they have gone crazy about traffic calming measures here (speed bumps or sleeping policemen). They're like icebergs across the road, and very badly marked. And there are about four or five sets of them through the village. Other than that, take care on the road, which although the main East/West highway, and the main road route into the EU, still remains in a miserable condition (surface-wise). And you'll soon realise why Ukraine has such poor statistics in relation to driver and pedestrian fatalities and injuries. Drive defensively is the optimum advice re the roads, other road users and the walking, riding public.

Information provided by Wikipedia

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