Ukraine is one of those countries where speaking Ukrainian or Russian is a must if you want to communicate with people. Many Ukrainians don’t speak much English, especially outside of the big cities. So, if you are learning Ukrainian, you should plan a trip to Ukraine to practice. When you decide to go for it, here is a short check-list of the things to prepare before coming to Ukraine.
1. Prepare your visa
First things first, find out if you need a visa to travel to Ukraine. It is not needed for the citizens of the European Union, USA, Canada, Japan, former Soviet Union countries, or some others.
However, citizens of 46 countries do need to prepare an e-Visa in advance. You can find out all about the Ukraine visitor visa to at Ukraine visa application form.
2. Choose when to come to Ukraine
Ukraine is one of those countries where speaking Ukrainian or Russian is a must if you want to communicate with people. Many Ukrainians don’t speak much English, especially outside of the big cities. So, if you are learning Ukrainian, you should plan a trip to Ukraine to practice. And when you decide to go for it, here is a short check-list of the things to prepare before coming to Ukraine.
Image source – Ukr.media
There are four very distinct seasons in Ukraine and all four are unique and interesting. Life in Ukraine changes a lot depending on the season; people dress differently, they have seasonal hobbies, different diets, etc. So, in the future, you should try to experience all the seasons of Ukraine.
If you come to Ukraine for the first time and only for a couple of weeks, you should know what weather to expect and what to pack for your trip to Ukraine.
Spring and autumn are considered to be mild, but not for everybody. November and March are often snowy and cold with temperatures below zero Celsius. Some days in spring and fall can be warm and sunny, others will be rainy though.
Winter is a great holiday season, especially for New Years Eve and Christmas. Most Ukrainians celebrate Christmas according to the Orthodox Christian tradition – on the 7th of January. This is when there are many interesting things happening but the weather can be very cold. Just be ready to pack your warmest coat, boots, scarf, and hat (or buy them when you arrive to Ukraine).
Plan your trip for holidays! Check our our list of holidays in Ukrainian in 2019.
Summer is mild in June and quite hot in July and August making it a great season to explore the seaside with Odessa and the Carpathians. Kyiv becomes quite empty and slow in August, as Ukrainians go on vacation.
3. Pick where to go in Ukraine to practice Ukrainian
The state language of Ukraine is Ukrainian, however in the big cities in Eastern Ukraine (on the map it’s on the right side of the river Dnipro) people mostly speak Russian. If you would like to really immerse into a Ukrainian speaking environment with no “distractions”, study this map:
Image from UAinfo
Orange – Ukrainian as the main language used at home; Dark blue – Russian; Less dark blue – Ukrainian and Russian; Green – others
Image from UAinfo
Note that this map is from 2015 – the language situation in Ukraine has been slowly becoming more Ukrainian.
This map only represents the main cities of the regions; there are generally more Russian speakers in Ukrainian cities than smaller towns and villages.
Learn more about the differences between Ukrainian and Russian here.
Also, keep in mind also that Ukrainian language is not the same everywhere – there are different accents and dialects.
In general, there are 3 main groups of Ukrainian dialects in Ukraine.
- Northern group (blue below)
- South-eastern group (yellow below)
- South-western group (red and orange)
Image source – Wikipedia
The official Ukrainian language is based on the South-eastern group of dialects (yellow on the map) so the Northern and Western dialects are quite distinctive. The differences are mainly felt in the smaller towns and villages.
A big part of Ukraine is “polluted” by surzhyk, a mix of Ukrainian and Russian languages, that can be very confusing for people trying to learn Ukrainian. People speak surzhyk mainly in the smaller towns and villages in the central regions of Ukraine. This is an approximate map of surzhyk in Ukraine from 2003:
Source – Wikipedia
This doesn’t mean you should avoid regions where they speak surzhyk, but you should be aware that people might use some Russian words as they speak Ukrainian. Actually, you should be ready for this anywhere in Ukraine.
4. Learn some basic Ukrainian before coming to Ukraine
It’s definitely a good idea to know basic Ukrainian before you come to Ukraine. That way you will be able to communicate with people right away, like negotiating the taxi fare from the airport and ordering your first borsch. This will give you motivation to continue practicing.
When you start learning Ukrainian, try to focus on the most common vocabulary (you can start with our free 100 most common Ukrainian words flashcards) and basic grammar. When in Ukraine you won’t have much time or energy to dive into the conjugations and genders. You can take your first steps by listening to typical simple situations in Ukraine and my grammar explanations in our free series of Ukrainian Lessons Podcast. The cultural tips on the podcast (in English) will help you to prepare for your trip too.
Here is what Cortney, a Peace Corps volunteer and a Ukrainian Lessons Podcast listener, told us in her testimonial:
“I am a Peace Corps Trainee, and I just moved to Ukraine, where I will be serving for 2 years. I listened to this podcast A LOT in the months before my departure, and now that I am here I made it into the advanced language study group. My teacher said I speak very well, and she was especially impressed that I know how to conjugate some verbs. When she asked where I learned, I told her about this podcast! I’ve listened to every episode.” (Find this and other testimonials here)
I am very grateful to Cortney for her testimonial, as I now know that the Ukrainian Lessons Podcast works!
If there is not much time for learning, just learn the basic Ukrainian phrases. You can even do that on the plane! Download the free cheat sheets of 14 basic phrases for your trip to Ukraine and Short & useful questions you should learn before your trip to Ukraine.
Finally, if you are looking for a Ukrainian conversation partner or professional Ukrainian teacher online, check out our instruction of how to do it on italki.
5. Sign up for a class or find a tutor
If you have time in Ukraine for some Ukrainian classes or tutoring, you should definitely go for it. That way you will be able to make more language progress from your trip to Ukraine. In my opinion, taking classes with a local teacher and discovering Ukrainian culture with other students could even become a highlight of your trip.
Truthfully, my colleagues and I don’t have much experience with Ukrainian language schools in Ukraine so consider the list of schools below as a reference, not as recommendations. However, if you have had good experience at a Ukrainian language school in Ukraine, please share your experience with us in the comments below.
Ukrainian language schools in Kyiv
Ukrainian language university courses at Kyiv-Mohyla Academy (my alma mater <3)
Ukrainian language schools in Lviv
International Ukrainian studies summer school “Step to Ukraine” from MIOK – International Institute of Education, Culture and Relations with Diaspora. Contact MIOK for more information here
Ukrainian language tutor in Ukraine
If you wish to take Ukrainian classes when it’s convenient for you, you can find a Ukrainian language tutor.
My recommendation is the service called Ваш репетитор where I used to work as a tutor. You can fill in the form on their website or chat with them online by requesting a teacher with Ukrainian as a foreign language. They have a database of teachers and they will choose one for you for free! This is the form:
Their website is in Ukrainian and Russian so it would be the best if you ask a Ukrainian friend to help you with this.
Did you have to prepare any other things before coming to Ukraine? Share with us in the comments below! And if you are all ready to come, ласкаво просимо до України! – Welcome to Ukraine!
This article is sponsored by the Ukraine visa application form. All opinions remain my own and I was in no way influenced by the company.