Many people will tell you that you can take a copy of your visa with you. Sadly, some people experience trouble over this. It's always better to carry your passport with you. A photocopy can be refused as proof of identity. A phone call to a local who can help can prove very effective.
Get the details of your local embassy and/or consulates in advance and note their emergency numbers.
If you can it is useful to have a bilingual acquaintance who can be called in an emergency or if you encounter difficulties. If staying for any length of time, it is advisable to get a local SIM card for your mobile for emergencies and for cheaper local calls/texts. These are widely available, cheap often free and easy to 'top-up',
There is radiation contamination in the northeast from the accident at Chornobyl nuclear power plant in 1986. However the effect is negligible unless you permanently live in Chornobyl area itself. There are even tours to the town of Prypyat' which is the closest to the station. The town is famous for the haunting scenery of blocks of apartment buildings abandoned in 1986, now standing out amid the vegetation which spawned from years of neglect.
Do not drink tap water. Major reason of this is that water in many regions is disinfected using chlorine, so taste is horrible. Whenever possible buy bottled water, which is widely available and generally OK.Ukraine has the highest adult HIV prevalence rate in Europe at nearly 1.5% or 1 in 66 adults. Be Safe.
Ukrainian is the official language. Near the neighbouring countries, Russian, Romanian, Polish, and Hungarian are spoken. Russian is a close relative of Ukrainian and is most often the language of choice in the south and east of Ukraine. It is safe to assume that virtually any Ukrainian will understand Russian; however, note that in the western parts people may be reluctant to help you if you speak Russian, though to foreigners, Ukrainians will be more forgiving than to Russians.
On the other hand, in the eastern parts and especially Crimea, Russian is the most commonly spoken language. In the central and eastern parts of the country, you may also find people using these two languages simultaneously so called surzhyk—mix of languages. It is also common for people to talk to others in their native language, irrespective of the interlocutorâs one, so a visitor speaking Russian may be responded to in Ukrainian and vice versa.
Kiev, the capital, speaks both languages, but Russian is more commonly used. So Ukrainian is more frequently met in Central and Western Ukraine, Russian in Eastern and Southern Ukraine.
Young people are more likely to speak a little English, as it is the most widely taught foreign language in school. Most people in the tourism industry hostels etc. however do speak English.
If you are traveling to Ukraine, learn either basic Ukrainian or basic Russian beforehand know your phrase book well and/or have some means of access to a bilingual speaker, a mobile/cell/handy number almost everyone has a mobile phone can be a godsend. Virtually nobody in any official position train stations, police, bus drivers, information desks, etc. will be able to speak any language other than Ukrainian and Russian. If you already know another Slavic language, you will, however, be able to communicate as the Slavic languages are closely related. Be aware though that some people simply do not wish to communicate with foreigners, even you speak some Russian/Ukrainian or some other Slavic language.
It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the Cyrillic alphabet to save you a lot of time and difficulty.
see: Ukrainian phrasebook; Russian phrasebook
Respect the fact that Ukraine is an independent nation. You may find that people here are sensitive about being grouped as "Russians". The Ukrainians have their own ethnicity and do not like being seen as Russians.
Don't say "the Ukraine," because that usage is outdated and implies that Ukraine is a region and not a country.
Ukraine is by no means a conservative country with respect to clothing, behavior, and overcharges you if they can get by with it, getting what you paid for quality.
Raising the issue of Ukraine in the context as being part of the Soviet Union may not be welcomed by the locals. The Holodomor, like the Holocaust, is a sensitive issue. It is probably best to not praise the Soviet Union or Joseph Stalin, Soviet leader during the time of WWII and the Holodomor. Nevertheless, many Ukrainians also remember the recent period of the Soviet Union as the time of economic prosperity.
While there's a lot of swimming and diving attractions throughout Ukraine, local water rescue is tremendously underfunded. It is unlikely that you would be noticed while drowning, especially on the river. Use only officially established beaches.
Ukraine has some of the worst statistics for road related deaths and injuries in the world so act accordingly. Take care when crossing the roads; walk and drive defensively: be aware that traffic overtakes on both the inside and outside. Sometimes you even need to take care when using the sidewalks, as in rush-hours the black, slab-sided Audi/BMW/Mercedes sometimes opt to avoid the traffic by using the wide pavements; pedestrians or not. Owners/drivers of expensive cars have been known, at times, to be more careless of the safety of pedestrians. Drivers rarely grant priority to pedestrians crossing a road unless there are pedestrian lights. Always watch out for your safety.
Also be warned that pavements suffer in the same way as the roads in terms of collapsing infrastructure. Take care when walking, especially in the dark and away from the downtown areas of the main cities a torch is a useful possession as the streets are poorly lit, as are most of the entries/stairwells to buildings, and the street and pavement surfaces are often dangerously pot-holed. Don't step on man-hole covers, as these can 'tip' dropping your leg into the hole with all the potential injuries!
your financial security
Ukraine is a predominantly cash economy. The network of bank offices and ATMs Bankomats has grown quickly and are now readily available in all but the smallest villages. Do check the security of the machine - it would be wise to use one that is obviously at a bank, rather than in another establishment. You can use your credit cards mostly MasterCard & Visa or cash traveler's cheques easily. Credit and debit cards are accepted by the supermarkets. But avoid using your credit/debit cards for payments at establishments in smaller towns as retailers are not trained and controlled enough to ensure your card privacy. Instead, it is widely acceptable to pay cash. Locals especially businesspeople sometimes carry and pay in cash amounts considered unusually large in other countries. Don't suspect criminal activity in every such case.
Also, it is strongly recommended to avoid individual street currency exchangers as there are thieves among such exchangers, that may instead give you old, Soviet-era currency or also coupons that have been withdrawn from circulation since the mid 1990s. Use special exchange booths widely available and banks; also be wary of exchange rate tricks like 5.059/5.62 buy/sell instead of 5.59/5.62.
The Euro and US dollar are generally accepted as alternative forms of currency, particularly in tourist areas. They are also the most widely accepted convertible currency at the exchange booths, with British pounds in third place.
The area around the American embassy in Kiev is known for the provocateur groups targeting black people, and there have been reports of such attacks on Andriyivski, the main tourist street that runs from Mykhailivska down into Podil. Particularly in rural areas, having dark skin is often a source of prejudice. Antisemitism is still a lingering problem in some Western regions and/or other parts of Ukraine. However there are two Jewish mayors elected in Kherson and Vinnitsa.
Anecdotal experience is that there is some underlying racism in Ukraine, indeed much of the former Soviet Union. Migrants from Middle and Central Asia and gypsies receive much closer and frequent attention from the militsiya police. Always have your passport or a photocopy of the main pages if you're concerned about losing it or if you're staying in a hotel that is holding it as foreigners are treated more favorably than others. This is not to say that it is unsafe or threatening, but it is better to be forewarned of the realities.
As in any other country, using common sense when traveling in Ukraine will minimize any chances of being victim of petty crime and theft. Try not to publicize the fact that you're a foreigner or flaunt your wealth: by clothing or otherwise. With the exception of Kiev, Odessa, and other large cities, foreign tourists are still quite rare. As in any other country, the possibility of petty theft exists. In Kiev, make sure to guard your bags and person because pickpocketing is very common, especially in crowded metro stations. Guides have told tourists to watch certain people because they heard people say, "They look like Americans: let's follow them for a while and see what we can get."
Robberies and scams on tourists are fairly common, especially the wallet scam in Kiev.
But if you are arrested by police or other law enforcement, do your best to inform them that you're a foreign visitor. Not many police officials speak foreign languages freely, but many people are eager to assist in translation.
Don't drink alcohol in the company of unknown people which may be suggested more freely than in the West. You don't know how much they are going to drink and convince you to drink with them and what conflicts may arise after that. Also, many Ukrainians, known for a penchant for a good drink, can sometimes consume such an amount of vodka that would be considered lethal for the average beer-accustomed Westerner.