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Ukraine 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Ukraine. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Ukraine country page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Travel Advisory

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Ukraine at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution due to crime and civil unrest. Do not travel to Crimea due to arbitrary detentions and other abuses by Russian occupation authorities; or the eastern parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, especially the non-government-controlled areas, due to the armed conflict.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Kyiv as being a HIGH-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. In Kyiv, National Police reported an overall decrease in crime in 2019 from 2018, similar to recent years. Despite this declaration, the public’s overall perception is that crime remains a problem, largely due to media reports highlighting sensational crimes like public assassinations, armed robberies, and violent assaults.

There are an estimated 3 million illegal weapons in circulation due to the conflict with Russia-led forces in the east. The use of improvised explosive devices (IED) and firearms in broad daylight is of more concern, but these incidents have caused minimal collateral injuries and damage.

The most common types of non-violent property crime affecting the expatriate community include pickpocketing, bag snatching, theft from parked vehicles, street scams, and residential burglaries. Criminals may target tourists due to perceived wealth. Review OSAC’s report, All That You Should Leave Behind.

Criminals typically commit residential burglaries by forced entry when the occupant is not at home, or when doors are unlocked.

Scattered reports of spiked drinks in bars continued to occur in 2019; some victims claimed to have been robbed while unconscious. General situational awareness and caution regarding accepting drinks can mitigate the risk. Review OSAC’s Report Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.

The Wallet Scam remains a common confidence scheme used to victimize foreigners. There are many variations to this scam, but all involve a criminal accusing the victim of stealing cash and then bullying the victim into paying to avoid further conflict. These incidents occur at locations foreigners frequent, including major tourist attractions, western hotels, shopping malls, sporting and other large-scale event venues, and throughout downtown Kyiv. The typical scam involves a suspect who drops a wallet or a plastic bag in front of a potential victim hoping the potential victim will pick it up. The suspect then states that money is missing and loudly/aggressively (but not violently) accuses the victim of stealing, threatening to call the police to panic the victim. Often an accomplice interjects by introducing himself as a police officer and flashes identification to the victim. The police officer will ask the victim to produce his or her wallet to ensure the victim did not take the money. The officer counts the money in front of the victim, the criminal grabs it and flees, or more often steals the money by sleight of hand. The best defense is to not pick up the wallet/bag, walk away, and do not engage the perpetrators in conversation. Foreigners are more likely to experience confrontation with this confidence scam, and U.S. citizens are main targets.

Identity theft involving ATM/credit cards is prevalent, occurring on a regular basis. Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.

Government buildings, metro stations, shopping malls, and train stations receive bomb threats on an almost daily basis throughout the country. Ukrainian authorities continue to respond appropriately to all threats (the vast majority of which are hoaxes).

Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and Outs and Considerations for Hotel Security.

Cybersecurity Issues

Cybercrime in Ukraine remains a major concern. In recent years, U.S. law enforcement pursued a number of joint cybercrime/identity theft investigations with Ukrainian law enforcement authorities. The Embassy strongly recommends using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) for personal internet use.

Ukrainian government officials, private-sector experts, and journalists report that Ukraine experiences several hundred to several thousand cyberattacks against government ministries and information portals each month. These have included run-of-the-mill denial-of-service (DOS) attacks, which prevent users from connecting to a site or server for a limited period, to attacks that affect critical infrastructure, and attacks that deface publicly accessible information and service portals—often with a political message.

Targeted individuals routinely report marriage and dating scams via the Internet. There have been numerous instances of online contacts extorting U.S. citizens for thousands of dollars after ingratiating themselves as supposed friends or romantic interests. These scams also include lotteries, online dating/introduction services, and requests from a “friend” in trouble. In such scams, supposed doctors, nurses, or civilian officials may contact the victim, claiming the victim’s friend has been injured, detained, or is otherwise unable to communicate and is in need of financial assistance to overcome the supposed hardship.

Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Roads throughout the country are in various degrees of disrepair. Traffic in Kyiv is heavy on weekdays during commuting hours, and unexpected traffic patterns often delay travel in the city during workdays. Main thoroughfares are well illuminated and maintained, but side streets and less commonly used avenues are often poorly illuminated, narrow, and poorly maintained. Driving can be a challenge to foreigners. Local drivers routinely disregard traffic laws and engage in excessive speeding, driving the wrong way on one-way streets, driving in oncoming lanes to maneuver around blocked traffic, and driving on sidewalks. Using sidewalks for parking is common practice, often blocking pedestrian access and endangering pedestrians.

Drivers must always be alert for pedestrians crossing busy streets outside of crosswalks. In many locations, the only indication of an authorized crosswalk is a signpost, instead of markings in the street visible to drivers. Drivers must be ready to stop on short notice and drive defensively.

Highways and roads in smaller towns are not illuminated, and emergency services are not reliable or prompt. Use caution driving outside of major cities after dark. Snow removal is intermittent and unreliable, creating dangerous conditions especially along secondary roads. Subsequent snowfall and ice build-up cause considerable traffic delays, parking problems, and accidents.

Vehicle accidents are common, and even fender-benders routinely tie up traffic. Drivers involved in accidents may not move their vehicles unless not doing so presents a clear safety concern. Drivers must notify police, who will then decide responsibility, take each driver’s personal information, and file an accident report. Even in Kyiv, accident evaluation can take up to two hours before vehicles can move. The introduction of the Patrol Police has reduced response times, but heavy traffic and limited resources, especially outside major cities, continues to delay the arrival of police and ambulances.

Internal Affairs Ministry statistics on traffic accident related fatalities and injuries are alarming; on average, road accidents kill eight people die and injure 90 more every day nationwide.

2019 Statistics:

·         160,675 road incidents, the majority accidents (15.5% increase from 2018)

·         32,736 injuries on roads (13.5% increase from 2018)

·         3,454 deaths on roads (12.4% increase from 2018)

The speed limit within city limits is 50 kilometers per hour. Ukraine has a zero-tolerance policy for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Violations may result in fines, imprisonment, and/or deportation. Non-payment of traffic or parking fines may result in travel bans, which means you cannot leave the country until you pay the fines (plus any penalties). Using a cellular telephone or texting while driving is illegal. Do not turn right on a red light, unless there is a special green arrow sign attached to the stoplight. Front seat belts are mandatory.

Ukrainian authorities restrict travel in a 30-kilometer radius surrounding the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.

Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

Public Transportation Conditions

Ukraine has an extensive train, bus, subway, and airport transportation system. Large cities also have aboveground trolleys and small shuttle buses (marshrutkas). Buses and trolleys in Kyiv occasionally break down but are generally safe. Many incidents of criminal activity occur on the public transport system, including the metro. When riding public transportation, keep purses, shoulder bags, and backpacks closed, in front of you, or tucked under your arm to prevent theft.

Only use marked taxis. Fares are given in advance when you order a taxi by phone, but passengers typically negotiate prices with the driver in advance if hailing a cab in the street. Do not sit in the front seat of the taxi, enter a taxi with unknown passengers, or travel to unfamiliar areas. Many cars, including some taxis, do not meet U.S. safety standards.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has determined that Ukraine complies with the international safety standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

A restricted air space zone exists over Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. In 2014, a Malaysia Airlines civilian aircraft was shot down in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatists, killing 297 people.

Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Kyiv as being a MEDIUM-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Small-scale bombings continue to occur throughout Ukraine. Regular acts of low-level terrorism target Ukrainian government establishments and result primarily in property damage.Most attacks occur at night and appear intended to cause property damage and incite fear. Multiple attacks within the past year have been fatal, sometimes occurring in populated areas during daylight hours. Seizures of weapons caches are common, and intermittent reports of individual use of grenades and similar ordnance to settle disputes underscores the availability of weapons. In 2019, many incidents related to illegally obtained grenades or explosives. Ukrainian security services response to these threats has been deliberate, coordinated, and increasingly proactive.

Notable incidents in 2019:

  • In April 2019 in Kyiv, an unknown individual died while attempting to install an IED under the vehicle of a Ukrainian military officer.
  • In October 2019 in Kyiv, a man entered a local market on the left bank in the late evening and threw a grenade; the explosion caused some damage to the store, but no injuries.
  • In November 2019 in Kyiv, a police officer died during an assassination attempt on the director of a pharmaceutical company. The assailant, riding a motorcycle, placed an IED on the roof of the target’s moving vehicle, killing the police officer and injuring the driver and a passenger.

  • In December 2019 in Kyiv, the three-year-old son of a Kyiv Regional Deputy Council died during an assassination attempt on his father. The assailants fired shots into the Deputy’s vehicle from a nearby building, killing his son. 

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Civil Unrest

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Kyiv as being a HIGH-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. In 2014, Russian forces illegally invaded the Crimean Peninsula. There is extensive Russian Federation military presence in Crimea as part of Russia’s occupation and attempted annexation of this part of Ukraine, which the international community, including the United States and Ukraine, does not recognize. There are continuing abuses against and arbitrary imprisonment of foreigners and the local population by the occupation authorities in Crimea, particularly abuses against individuals seen as challenging Russian authority on the peninsula. Significant human rights issues in Russia-occupied Crimea include abductions; torture and abuse of detainees to extract confessions and punish persons resisting the occupation; unlawful detention; significant problems with the independence of the judiciary; restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including for members of the press; and restrictions on the rights of peaceful assembly, association, and religion. The U.S. government prohibits employees from traveling to Crimea and is unable to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens there.

Russia-led forces took control of certain territories in the oblasts of Donetsk and Luhansk in 2014, have prolonged the conflict, and prevented reintegration of these territories with the government-controlled areas of Ukraine. Diplomatic negotiations conducted most prominently though the Trilateral Contact Group and Normandy Format have not yet ended the armed conflict, though negotiations are ongoing. Russia-led forces reportedly have engaged in killings of civilians, forced disappearances and abductions, torture, unlawful detentions, and gender-based violence. Gunmen representing the self-proclaimed authorities have been specifically targeted U.S. citizens and threatened, detained, or kidnapped them for hours or days. Other egregious human right issues in the areas controlled by Russia-led forces included harsh and life-threatening prison and detention center conditions; political prisoners; the absence of judicial independence; severe restrictions on freedom of expression, the press, and the internet; restrictions on the rights of peaceful assembly, association, and religion; restrictions on freedom of movement across the line of contact in eastern Ukraine; and unduly restricted humanitarian aid. Shortages of water, power, medicine, and food supplies have also occurred in Russian-proxy-controlled territory, and widespread disorder and looting has been confirmed in these areas. The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in this area.

Since the fall of the Yanukovych government in 2014, demonstrations, marches, and commemorations occur regularly through the center of Kyiv, especially near the Parliament (Rada) and Presidential Office buildings. These near-daily events are mostly peaceful and vary in demands, inspiration, and size (ranging from dozens of people to thousands), but on occasion result in violent confrontations with police. In general, avoid large demonstrations and crowds -- even peaceful ones -- as they may become violent without warning and attract petty criminals and hooligans. If attending such events, remain on the perimeter of any crowd and identify easy exit routes should problems occur. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Although religious and ethnic violence is rare in Ukraine, there have been some such incidents involving known hate groups. While most foreigners do not encounter problems with violent crime, there is potential for violently motivated racial and biased-motivated crimes against non-Slavic and religious minorities. Victims have reported verbal harassment, discrimination, and physical assaults on the streets. Although senior government officials have publicly condemned these crimes, slow response to hate crimes is a continuing concern.

Occupation authorities in Crimea continued to engage in violence against and harassment of Crimean Tatars and pro-Ukrainian activists in response to peaceful opposition to Russian occupation.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Flooding has occurred in western Ukraine, particularly in the Carpathian Mountains during the spring thaw.

Critical Infrastructure

A 1986 explosion and fire at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant, located 90 km northwest of Kyiv, led to an uncontrolled release of radiation. The accident resulted in the largest short-term release of radioactive materials into the atmosphere ever recorded. The areas with the highest radioactive ground contamination occurred within 30 kilometers of the station. This area is now an uninhabited exclusion zone. Favorable winds kept most of the contamination away from Kyiv, although the capital was not immune. The plant's last operating reactor closed in 2000. The Embassy maintains a close cooperative relationship with authorities responsible for monitoring the radiological and operational conditions at nuclear facilities.

Forest fires continue to be a concern in the 30-mile exclusion zone around Chernobyl. Although fires have occurred, authorities have been quick to extinguish them and have reported no significant increase in radiation levels outside the zone.

Ukraine’s ongoing conflict with Russia has periodically raised concerns about the security of Ukraine’s natural gas supply. In addition, the Ukraine-Russia conflict has resulted in coal supply interruptions that could affect power generation, especially at anthracite coal-fired plants. Ukraine is working to improve energy efficiency, diversify supply of fuels, and convert anthracite units to gas-grade coal to mitigate these concerns.

Economic Concerns

Ukraine has a long history of inadequate intellectual property rights (IPR) protection. The United States designated Ukraine a Priority Foreign Country in the 2013 Special 301 Report due to the widespread use of unlicensed (pirated) software within the government and in the private sector. Other issues included the transshipment and sale of counterfeit goods and rampant Internet piracy. In 2015, the U.S. Government upgraded Ukraine to the Special 301 Priority Watch List based on evidence that the Government of Ukraine had made progress in tackling these problems as part of broader economic reforms. However, tangible progress in protecting IPR has been limited, and Ukraine remains on the Priority Watch List.

Ukraine has improved anti-money-laundering controls, resulting in its removal from the Financial Action Task Force's (FATF's) Noncooperative Countries and Territories List in 2004. FATF continues to monitor Ukraine's anti-money-laundering regime.

Personal Identity Concerns

Racially motivated attacks occur in Ukraine. Victims report verbal harassment, discrimination, and physical assaults. All foreigners – including those who are not racial minorities – should exercise an appropriate level of caution. Senior government officials have publicly condemned these crimes, but slow response to hate crimes is a continuing concern.

Domestic violence against women remains a serious problem. Spousal abuse is common. Women’s rights groups report continuing and widespread sexual harassment, including coerced sex, in the workplace. Women rarely seek legal recourse because courts decline to hear their cases and rarely convict perpetrators. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for female travelers.

Same-sex sexual activity between consenting adults in private is legal in Ukraine, but the prevailing social attitude is intolerant of the LGBTI+ community. Societal violence against LGBTI+ persons often involves members of violent radical groups; authorities often do not adequately investigate these cases or hold perpetrators to account. Police rarely classify attacks against members of the LGBTI+ community and other minorities under criminal provisions pertaining to hate crimes, which carry heavier penalties. Crimes and discrimination against LGBTI+ persons remain underreported. Radical groups consistently try to disrupt LGBTI+ events with violence or threats of violence. There have been consistent attempts to disrupt Pride Week activities. Annual LGBTI+ parades took place in downtown Kyiv and Kharkiv in 2019. Although police were robust in their support for secure parades, a few minor incidents occurred, as did a small number of arrests. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

There has been a drop in anti-Semitic violence and vandalism due to better police work and prosecution of those committing anti-Semitic acts. Review OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice, and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based travelers.

Accessibility is an issue in Ukraine. Public transport systems are not fully accessible to individuals with disabilities. Some newer buildings feature ramps and elevators, but older buildings do not. Check ahead with your hotel/destination to learn more about options to accommodate disabled traveler needs before visiting. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Drug-related Crime

There is limited cultivation of cannabis and opium poppy in Ukraine, mostly for consumption in former Soviet Bloc countries, as well as some synthetic drug production for export to the West. Ukraine is a transshipment point for opiates and other illicit drugs from Africa, Latin America, and Turkey to Europe and Russia.

Kidnapping Threat

Recently, there has been an increase in reports of criminals luring unsuspecting visitors to Ukraine with promises of cheap lodging and/or companionship. The criminals then forcibly abduct the visitors and proceed to make unauthorized transactions via their victims’ bank cards and accounts. Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Other Issues

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to defer all travel to the eastern regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, and the Crimean peninsula. Russian-backed separatists continue to control areas in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. These groups have established illegal checkpoints and have threatened, detained, or kidnapped individuals, including U.S. citizens, for hours or days. Travelers to, in, near, or through these areas are subject to threats of mines and other unexploded ordnance (UXO), as well as sniper and other small arms fire exchanges. The situation is constantly changing.

Police Response

The police emergency line in Kyiv and other major cities is 102. There may not be an English-speaking operator available. Ukrainian law enforcement agencies do not meet Western standards, and their ability to investigate criminal incidents adequately is limited. While there has been some significant progress (e.g. the Patrol Police in Kyiv), response time remains below Western standards and case resolution remains an ongoing problem. The police are often reluctant to take victim statements in cases of a minor criminal act, primarily to avoid poor crime statistics and additional work. Due to insufficient pay, law enforcement officers often lack the motivation to solve crimes.

Individuals must carry personal identification documents. Local law enforcement may stop people on the street to conduct identification checks, and require no probable cause. Foreign visitors should carry a copy of their passport’s identification page at all times.

Corruption remains a persistent problem in Ukraine, including reports of prosecutions of anti-corruption activists. Some see law enforcement agencies as part of the problem, but there has been some progress with the establishment of a new police structure. Police rarely possess English-language capability, even in units designated to combat crimes against foreign nationals. As a result, reporting a crime and following up on the status of a case is often a difficult and lengthy process. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

Police/Security Agencies

The Internal Affairs Ministry (MVD) is responsible for maintaining internal security and order. The Ministry oversees police and other law enforcement personnel. The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) is responsible for state security broadly defined, nonmilitary intelligence, and counterintelligence and counterterrorism matters. MVD reports to the Cabinet of Ministers, and the SBU reports directly to the president. The Defense Ministry protects the country against foreign and domestic aggression, ensures sovereignty and the integrity of national borders, and exercises control over the activities of the armed forces. The president is the supreme commander in chief of the armed forces. The Defense Ministry reports directly to the president. The State Fiscal Tax Service exercises law enforcement powers through the tax police and reports to the Cabinet of Ministers. The State Migration Service under the MVD implements state policy regarding border security, migration, citizenship, and registration of refugees and other migrants.

Medical Emergencies

The medical emergency line in Kyiv and other major cities is 103. There may not be an English-speaking operator available. Ambulance crews do not respond quickly and do not often include trained paramedics. The general quality of healthcare in Ukraine does not meet U.S. standards. Travelers with pre-existing conditions should carefully consider whether adequate care would be available during a trip to Ukraine. Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Travelers with chronic medical conditions that require medication should bring enough medicine with them, since medicine may not be readily available. You may not import narcotic pain relievers into Ukraine, even in small quantities and with a prescription. Review OSAC’s report, Traveling with Medication.

Fees at government clinics and hospitals are lower than those at private clinics, but there have been reports that doctors request bribes or additional payments before treating patients. Private physicians and private hospitals charge fees for services, and some do not accept local health insurance.  Public facilities only accept cash payments, while most private clinics accept credit cards. Consider purchasing traveler's medical evacuation (medevac) insurance before arriving. Familiarize yourself with the conditions of existing medical coverage and medical resources in Ukraine. The fastest way to secure Western medical care remains medevac to Western Europe. This is a very expensive option, and assistance may not arrive until several hours after the need for care arises. The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Department’s webpage on insurance overseas. By Ukrainian law, all foreigners coming to Ukraine must have medical insurance covering their period of travel.

The government has a service to control fresh foods and meats, but it is difficult to confirm its effectiveness. Avoid wild berries, wild fowl and game, and mushrooms originating from areas surrounding Chornobyl, as these retain higher than average levels of radiation. Radiation background levels vary in different areas depending on natural/geological conditions, industrial development levels, and specific industries. In Ukraine, the allowable limit for background radiation is 25 microrems per hour. Since 1987, levels exceeding that figure have not been observed in Kyiv; the average and constant numbers for Kyiv are 12-14 microrems/hour. The State Emergency Service website posts daily readings on background radiation.

Tap water is not potable, but it is safe for bathing and cooking in large cities. Review OSAC’s report, I’m Drinking What in My Water?

Influenza and Tuberculosis are prevalent in Ukraine. The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Ukraine.

Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Kyiv Country Council meets at least four times a year and has approximately 50 members. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Europe Team with any questions or to join.

U.S. Embassy Contact Information

4 Aircraft Designer Igor Sikorsky Street, Kyiv, Ukraine 04112

Вул. Авіаконструктора Ігоря Сікорського, 4, Київ, Україна 04112

Hours of Operation: Mon-Fri, 0800-1700

Telephone: +38 (044) 521-5000

American Citizen Services: +38 (044) 521-5566

Regional Security Office: +38 (044) 521-5515

Website: https://ua.usembassy.gov/

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

·         OSAC Risk Matrix

·         OSAC Travelers Toolkit

·         State Department Traveler’s Checklist

·         Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)

·         Ukraine Country Information Sheet

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