My trip to Ukraine — answering reader’s questions

I have been flooded with questions ever since I wrote my first blog post about my trip. This is my attempt to catch up with answers. Before I start, here are some latest highlights from my life in Ukraine. The bright side: I am invited to attend a wedding party this weekend. I will make a blog post just about it. The dark side: we are fighting the red tape to renew my wife’s Ukrainian passport so we can leave the country in 3 weeks. The summer travel season jacks up the demand and the hurdles we have to go through are unbelievable.

1) What is the cost of a gallon of gasoline? In what country are most of the cars in Ukraine manufactured? What would be the price of a new car?

Trolleybus in UkraineA gallon of gasoline is approximately $3-4 depending on grade. The cars are a mix of different brands. If you consider the entire country, most are probably Russian made Lada’s. Here in the city however it is a mix of Korean, German, and Japan brands. Several years ago the Ukrainian car automaker AutoZaz signed an agreement with Korean Daewoo which allowed the Korean company manufacture and sell cars in Ukraine. As the result Korean cars are probably the second largest group right now if you count new car sales. The average Daewoo sold by AutoZaz costs between $10,000 and $15,000 with some more expensive models. Other imported brands can cost more, often much more than in the US or Europe since the price includes 10% tariff and reseller costs/profit. Also, the government recently raised tariff on used cars to 30% which adds to the price of the recently imported cars as well. Nevertheless the number of cars and their variety is astonishing. As mentioned in one of earlier comments, many people lost their savings in the past. The instability and hyper inflation of 90’s has tremendously influenced the lifestyle of an average Ukrainian. A sad thing I heard today, the pension age in Ukraine is higher than the median life expectancy for a Ukrainian male. :-(

2) What would be the cost to stay for a night in a decent hotel (with private bathroom)? What about staying in a guest house or a private home? Is this easy to do, and what might be the cost for this alternative? (Lucky you–to have friends and inlaws with whom you can stay!)

Tourist industry is very underdeveloped in Kharkiv. The situation is probably different in Kiev since it is the capital but I can’t say for sure. The room in a decent hotel in the city center is $50-75. If you have contacts, or if you speak Russian, you can get a room in a private furnished apartment for as low as $10-15. Some agencies recently started offering rooms commercially and I can look up a few phone numbers in Kharkiv if you really need it. Some of those agencies may speak English.

3) How much of the Ukrainian population carries a cell phone? Is it still common to see telephone booths or are they disappearing as is the situation in the US? How much does it cost to make a local telephone call at a phone booth?

Phone Booth in UkraineI have asked around if anyone knows how much is a call from a phone booth and it took me a while before I found out. Apparently none of my friends uses them any more. Cell phones are very popular and probably ever other person in Kharkiv carries one these days. This certainly doesn’t apply to the regions. A minute from a phone booth costs around $0.02. The phones are card operated with cards sold at UkrTelecom branches around the city and in the subway. I have embedded a picture of a phone booth not far from my house.

4) What is the cost to mail a letter locally and internationally (say, to the US)?

A letter to the US is around $1, a letter mailed within Ukraine is less than $0.2. A postal mail parcel to the US is around $7 / lb.

5) This is something I hope you do not need during your stay, but what is the cost of some common (prescription) medications which are so expensive here in the States? Do you need a prescription to buy drugs at a pharmacy? (I was so surprised to discover in Mexico that no prescription was required. Anyone could walk into a pharmacy & buy anything, and the drugs were MUCH cheaper there.)

Many typical prescription drugs are freely available in drug stores in Ukraine. Antibiotics are from $1 for penicillin to $10-15 for more sophisticated brands. Many cardio related pills can be bought for around $10 as well. As I was told, only the drugs that require extra caution (can potentially lead to lethal outcome) require prescription.

6) I am not a smoker, but I am wondering, are cigarettes much cheaper in Ukraine? Is smoking permitted in public places & restaurants?

Cigarettes are MUCH cheaper in Ukraine. The brands I recognize are Marlboro ($0.6 / pack) and Camel (around $1 / pack). I was told however that these cigarettes are locally made out of Turkish tobacco and the quality is different. The content of nicotine and oils is higher and they are not as mild and lack the aroma of American equivalents.

7) Are there long lines of people waiting to conduct business or make purchases in most places, such as at the bank, post office or in the grocery store, or does the line move quickly as in the US?

There are no lines. Period. Most places you have to pay at are private organizations and they are doing a great job streamlining the operations. At every restaurant I went I was served withing 2-3 minutes. Every grocery store had the longest line of 2-3 people.

8) Are stores open long hours for the convenience of the customers, as in the US? (For example, are there 24-hour grocery stores & restaurants?) Also, have fast-food restaurants & Western chains (McDonald’s, Starbucks, etc.) invaded Ukraine yet? What is the average cost of a cup of coffee?

Inside Tram in UkraineLunch breaks are a thing from the past. Grocery stores are open long hours with many big chains open 24 hours. The bank I use is open from 8:30am till 7pm, no lunch break. If a bank has a branch in a grocery or department store then the branch is open till 10pm (or whenever the store closes). There are several McDonald’s in the city (there was just one in 1995). I have not seen a single Starbucks though. A cup of Coffee is around $1. You won’t be seeing a typical American kind here. All coffee is Espresso style in a small ceramic cup. I just heard the news that the first Starbucks was recently opened in Kiev. Where do you think? Near the US embassy. ;-)

9) I am really enjoying the photos as well. Pictures of any of the following would be appreciated: the house or apartment where you are staying, a typical mailbox, phone booth, grocery store, department store, post office, different modes of transportation–a tram, a taxi, etc.

There are no mailboxes as such in the area I live. The postman drops mail into a narrow opening in the fence close to the door. I am including a picture of a typical Ukrainian trolleybus. For a picture of a tram see my earlier post. I also made a shot inside a tram, see it above. I will try to take more shots as I explore the city and will be including them with my future posts.

See also:

11 Responses to “My trip to Ukraine — answering reader’s questions”

  1. 1 Vasin Alexey Jun 21st, 2007 at 4:42 am

    Hi, Yan!
    i’m Alexey Vasin!
    I’ve found your website :-))
    and i’ll read your coment about Ukraine

  2. 2 Yan Jun 21st, 2007 at 6:31 am

    Good you found it! Feel free to make any corrections to my answers.

    To the rest of my readers — Alexey is a Kharkiv Polytechnic University alumni. We attended the same school back in 90’s.

  3. 3 Deborah Jun 21st, 2007 at 9:58 am

    From the person who flooded you with questions–thank you so much for all of the information, really fascinating! It is as if I have a local Ukrainian tour guide right from my armchair! I am always curious about the daily lives of people around the globe, and you are providing a great perspective of Urkaine for those of us in the States.

    The wedding you’ll attend should be quite interesting. I just heard on the television news last night that the average couple in the Washington, DC area spends $40,000 on the wedding events and honeymoon. I don’t know the source of information or if it’s true, but if yes, that’s shocking–so much money!


  4. 4 Dean Jun 21st, 2007 at 12:02 pm

    Awesome Yan, thanks for the insider information.

  5. 5 Alex Jun 21st, 2007 at 2:38 pm

    A friend of mine from Kiev claims more people speak Ukrainian now…(I supposed to Russian) Is that the case in Kharkov? How in general do people feel towards Russia in Kharkov?

    Good luck with the passport renewal. That’s one thing that kills any nostalgic feelings left inside of me – dealing with authorities. ;)

  6. 6 Yan Jun 22nd, 2007 at 3:28 am

    Yes, Ukrainian language is becoming popular… again. There are singers and bands who get very good ratings, unlike 10 years ago.

    Since I am in the East of Ukraine, people mostly are very pro-Russian however someone told me that during the Orange revolution Kharkiv was appx. split in half.

  7. 7 m Jul 14th, 2007 at 6:58 am

    Hey, Yan.
    Realised you are a Kharkiv Polytechnic University alumnus.
    Aren’t you going to show us some pics of the enormous Gigant hostel (!), the Pushkinskaya area and the metro? The metro used to be very nicely maintained in the early 1990s.
    Did you get to meet any of your old professors at the KPI?

    Have fun.

  8. 8 Gregory Sep 21st, 2008 at 11:50 pm

    Are there any Starbucks in Ukraine? Do you have pictures?
    Thank you,

  9. 9 Yan Sep 22nd, 2008 at 12:29 am

    I actually lived in the “Gigant” hostel for over 4 years while I studied in the Polytech. :-) I am not sure I have any pictures though, I will look some up.

    Starbucks in Ukraine? Have not seen any. There are plenty of small locally owned shops that server very good coffee though. There are a few called “Kofein” (Caffeine in English) in Kharkov which I recommend. The coffee is European style so you should be prepared. It is not the watery stuff people are used to drink here in the US. ;-)

  10. 10 kmr Jul 8th, 2009 at 9:54 am

    in big cities , will people understand english for normal communicatioN??

  11. 11 jaff Mar 5th, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    whats the price for average wedding, like family and friends only.. close relatives?

Leave a Reply