It’s a pretty scary world out there at the moment. Israel and Palestine. Ebola outbreaks. The fighting in Crimea. It’s enough to make anyone want to curl up into a ball and hide beneath the duvet in fear. The latter is particularly scary for travelers though, given that it most likely (the results of the investigation are pending) led to the shooting down of a passenger plane – the felling of flight MH17, which killed all 298 people on board.
For visitors to the region and air travelers alike, the big question is: how does the situation in Ukraine affect travelers?
What’s Going On?
The crisis in Ukraine is all unfolding largely because Crimea – a peninsula to the east of the country –has been illegally annexed by Russia. Following the Ukrainian Revolution in February and the ousting of parliament, an interim government was set up. Although the US and EU recognized this government, Russia did not. Russian troops then moved into Crimea – which has a largely ethnic Russian population – and set about taking control by installing Russian military personnel and calling for a referendum, which turned out overwhelmingly in favor of joining Russia but was widely rejected as violating constitutional and international laws.
Now there is much wrangling both on an international scale and on the ground, with pro-Russian separatist rebels taking over areas close to the Russian border. It is these rebels that have been accused of shooting down flight MH17, although they have not admitted responsibility.
Should you Visit Ukraine?
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has advised against all travel to:
- Crimea – Russia is currently in control, and all foreign nationals should leave. Some flights are operating but with disruption, while train and bus routes are still open
- Donetsk and Lungansk oblast – Donetsk oblast is where flight MH17 went down, and there is heavy fighting and a high risk of kidnapping and violence across both regions. Flights are not currently operating from these airports
They advise against all but essential travel to:
- Kharkiv oblast – this region borders Donetsk oblast, is close to the conflict and is affected by disruptions
As for the rest of eastern and southern Ukraine, the situation is currently calm in the cities of:
The rest of the country, including western Ukraine and Kyiv, is now generally considered safe. The official advice is to travel carefully within the country, especially in the south and east, and to avoid all demonstrations and public gatherings.
Of course, events can change quickly at any time, so be sure to check for updates periodically.
Should you Visit Russia?
For the most part, Russia is safe (after all, it’s massive!)
However, the FCO advises against all travel to within 10 km of the border to the Ukrainian Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts, and all but essential travel to within 10 km of the Ukrainian Kharkiv oblast border, as the violence is spilling across the borders in these regions.
Given that some of the border crossing points are insecure and fighting is happening on both sides, it is wise to avoid the regions surrounding the Ukraine-Russia border, and to definitely avoid demonstrations and public gatherings.
What About the Rest of Europe?
The violence in Ukraine is contained, and travel across the rest of the continent is unaffected.
Is Flying over Ukraine Dangerous?
Of course, the felling of flight MH17 has left many air travelers wondering what the risk is of flying over or near to Ukraine. It’s a fair questions – the Ukraine flight path has been one of the most popular routes connecting Europe with Asia until now.
A lot of people were shocked to hear that flights such as MH17 had been flying over the conflict zone to begin with, and worried what dangers planes may still be at risk of. The fact is that although in certain instances a flight ban can be issued across certain airspaces (remember Iceland’s volcanic eruption in 2010?), during military upheavals involving surface-to-air missiles this is often not the case, as the risk is seen as reduced or removed as long as the altitude is high enough. Staying above 30,000 feet was generally considered secure, so Ukraine cleared flights to fly as long as they stayed above 32,000 feet, and Malaysia Airlines flew at 33,000 feet. Tragically, we now know 33,000 feet is not as safe as was supposed.
As a result, the Ukrainian authorities have declared the east of the country a no-fly zone, and nearly all major airlines have declared that they are no longer flying over the Ukraine-Russia border. However, some still are flying over western Ukraine, where the situation is deemed safe.
If you have concerns about an upcoming flight, contact your airline to discuss the route before buying your ticket. Overall though, you shouldn’t be too worried – after the tragic events of last month, no commercial airline is likely to be taking any chances at the present time.
Stay safe, ladies.