Visiting Ukraine in a Campervan – A Culture Shock!

Ukraine in a campervan

We knew well before crossing the border into Ukraine that it may well be a sketchy experience in a campervan. The first major warning sign was the border police in Poland telling us not to go. “The roads there are terrible” they said and “you will get robbed”. We took their warnings with a pinch of salt. Probably just neighbourly rivalry is what we thought. The second bad omen was when we drove down a road on our map that was marked up as a border crossing. The road went on for miles, gradually deteriorating as it went. Eventually, we reached a lone police car at the end. The police officer got out of his vehicle and waved his hand for us to pull over; not that we had much choice. He asked us what we were doing and where we were going which, after driving for miles down a dirt road into the middle of nowhere, seemed like reasonable questions. The man was very stern looking and was not at all interested in anything other than what we were up to. He did not smile once whilst checking our documents and did not put our minds at ease. He scrutinised our van and checked the tyre depths, the documents and even the VIN plate inside the engine. He took our documents and went to sit in his car for about half an hour leaving Heather and I to reflect on the situation and try to find exactly where we had gone wrong on the map. When he returned to our van, he said everything was ok, handed back our documents and finally let his guard down a bit, even offering to help us with directions to the actual border crossing. It turned out we had driven down a road that had not been used as an official crossing for decades.

Ukraine in a campervan
The non-existent border crossing.

Our last night in Poland was spent looking after a small sausage dog who decided to take shelter in our van. We fed him sausages and red cabbage. He ate the sausages and left the red cabbage. When the rain stopped the next morning, he decided to venture out into the wild and we did not see him again. We drove the short distance from where we had stayed that night, and where the police had given us some friendly advice, to the border between the two countries. There was a large queue of vehicles but for some reason we drove straight to the front. I can’t remember if we were to or whether we just used our initiative.

The dog that spent a night in our van.

At the front of the queue we were met by an elderly border guard who wanted our passports and vehicle documents. He also asked us why we wanted to visit the country. “We would like to see Kiev” we responded confidently. Our van was prodded and probed inside and out whilst our documents were being checked. It was by far the most intense examination we had experienced thus far. Whilst the van was being prodded we spoke to a friendly group of people who again asked why we wanted to visit their country. The conversation was cut short by an angry border control officer who needed to see their passports. Shortly after this we were handed our documents back and told, with a stern nod, that we could continue on our way.

Visiting Ukraine in a campervan
Stuck behind a truck.

Our excitement had not been quashed and we were still looking forward to exploring Ukraine and even reaching Kiev. We started the engine and drove across the border into Ukraine. The Schengen Agreement is a great thing but it certainly takes some of the excitement of entering a country away. The first road we drove along was in a decent condition and we soon hit a small village with a parting in the road. Consulting the map, we chose a road that was marked up as a national road. A major road that would take us in the right direction for Kiev. The major road was in terrible condition. It was like nothing we had driven on before. Before long we found ourselves weaving from side to side just to avoid the huge potholes. The vehicles we passed were an even mix of either normal cars, which were also weaving all over the road to avoid holes, or huge military looking trucks with wheels resembling those from a monster truck. These trucks had no need to weave between potholes and simply drove straight through them.

Road Conditions were shocking.

We continued like this for a few miles. A short distance but it took us an hour or maybe more. We tried to look for a better road on our map but this was the most major road available. Eventually after many hours of skilful pothole avoidance, the road conditions improved.

We passed through a city which had a petrol station. We filled up with diesel which at the time was half as cheap as Western Europe.

Our journey continued with difficulty. Roads were not well marked and every wrong turn could result in a very long and awkward drive down a pothole ridden road. The weather was grim. It had been grim since we left Poland and the sun was nowhere to be seen.

We passed many elderly ladies selling homemade drinks and vegetables but were in too much of a bad mood to pull over and attempt to speak to them.

We looked for somewhere to spend the night and eventually found a layby. It was a strange place, seemingly the only pullover for miles. There was somebody serving food but by the time we arrived here they were shutting down for the night.

We made the decision to head for the border with Romania the next day. It had been such a long hard day and every mile we travelled had been hard work. It would be nearly impossible to reach Kiev in this way and would possibly take us forever.

The next day the weather was grim. We managed to find the border with Romania but it took us another full day of driving. Ukraine is a very big country and was a nightmare for us to navigate using our map.

Overall our experience in Ukraine was not a good one. We would certainly visit again just not in a campervan and preferably at a warmer time of year. Our trip was a real eye opener though. The country seemed so poor compared to neighbouring Poland and Romania (both EU countries) and the vehicles and buildings that we saw all looked very old and dilapidated.

Ukraine in a campervan

2 Comment

  1. Wow! This sounds like a crazy experience & you guys are brave for attempting it. Did everyone you meet along the way speak some English? Or do you guys speak Ukrainian or Russian? Just curious as I know when you go off the beaten track language can be a barrier too. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    1. Some spoke English but not many. German was much more common. We found that the few words we had picked up in Poland for hello, please, thank you etc were very similar to Ukrainian which also helped.

Leave a Reply