Ukraine 2013 Crime and Safety Report
Travel Health and Safety; Transportation Security; Surveillance; Stolen items; Winter weather; Information Security; Financial Security; Elections; Economic Espionage; Cyber; Burglary; Theft; Fraud; Extortion; Hate Crimes
Europe > Ukraine > Kyiv
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
The current government, which came to power in March 2010 and maintained its majority during the October 2012 parliamentarian elections, has made slow progress with regard to reform. Economic recovery remains relatively stagnant, and democratic reforms have stalled or are reversing. Ukraine is still working off the effects of the 2008-2009 global financial crisis. The Ukrainian hryvna has depreciated over 40 percent since 2008. The economy showed signs of contraction toward the end of 2012, and most analysts see GDP expanding slowly in 2013 (1-3 percent). These economic challenges create conditions favorable to the criminal element, and crime remains a significant day-to-day threat facing American citizens resident in or visiting Ukraine.
The U.S. Department of State rates the crime threat in Ukraine as “High.” The number of crimes reported to the U.S. Embassy remained steady in comparison to last year. Ukraine's resident expatriate community and visiting tourists, including American citizens, are the target of street crimes of opportunity and property crimes. Short-term visitors remain more susceptible to street crime and confidence scams and are specifically targeted by criminals. The crime situation in Kyiv--and throughout the country--is aggravated by widespread government corruption and inadequate law enforcement support. There was no improvement with regard to corruption or inefficiency in the last year. The U.S. Embassy expects crime to remain a problem in 2013, especially during the warmer months when street crime normally increases due to an influx of tourists and outdoor activities.
When compared to other Eastern European cities, the criminal threat in Kyiv does not appear to be significantly different. The patterns observed in crimes reported to the U.S. Embassy indicate a significant percentage of incidents transpire on public transportation or in locations frequented by large numbers of foreign tourists. These incidents tended to be non-violent; street criminals are not prone to violence. In 2012, the majority of reported criminal activity consisted of petty theft (pick-pocketing, purse snatching) or fraud.
Identity theft involving ATMs and credit cards is extremely widespread, with a continued increase in reported incidents in 2012. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) considers Ukraine a hotbed of cyber crime activity. In recent years, U.S. law enforcement (the FBI, the U.S. Secret Service, and the Department of Homeland Security) pursued a number of important joint cyber crime/identify theft investigations with Ukrainian law enforcement authorities, including several ongoing investigations in 2012. U.S. law enforcement anticipates continued expansion of joint investigations in 2013.
The most common scam is the “Wallet Scam.” In many cases, these incidents occur at locations frequented by foreigners, i.e., high-end hotels, Saint Sophia’s Cathedral, Saint Michael’s Cathedral, the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, Andriyivskyi Uzviz, etc. As in previous years, American citizens in 2012 were specifically targeted. There are many variations to this scam, but the typical scam involves a crook who “inadvertently” drops a wallet or a plastic bag in front of a potential victim. The crook asks the victim if the wallet/bag belongs to him/her. More often, however, the victim picks the wallet/bag up and returns it the person who “dropped” it. The criminal will then try to get the victim to handle the money in the wallet/bag or will handle/count the currency himself. After this, the criminal will state that money is “missing” and then loudly and aggressively (but in a non-violent manner) accuse the victim of stealing the money. The crook will threaten to call the police to panic the victim. Then an accomplice interjects by introducing himself as a “police officer” and briefly showing false 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 "police officer" will then count the money in front of the victim. As the victim did not take any money as claimed by the first crook, many victims hand over their wallets without hesitation to the “police officer.” When the wallet is produced, the criminal(s) may grab it and flee, or more often, steal a large portion of the victim’s money by sleight of hand. There is no doubt that criminals will use the “Wallet Scam” in 2013 to continue to victimize unsuspecting foreigners.
Marriage and dating scams via the Internet are also routinely reported. There have been numerous instances of U.S. citizens being extorted for thousands of dollars by Internet contacts they thought were their friends, loved ones, or romantic interests. These Internet scams include lotteries, on-line dating or introduction services, and requests from a “friend” in trouble.
Ministry of Internal Affairs crime statistics indicated an increase in all categories of crime, including violent crime, in 2012. The number of property crimes--theft, burglaries, and fraud--remained high. The main foreign targets for property crime are longer-term foreign residents, including diplomats, business people, and persons affiliated with missionary groups and private voluntary organizations. Violent crime directed against foreigners is relatively uncommon. Both violent and non-violent property crimes have been reported, albeit infrequently. The most common types of non-violent property crime affecting the resident expatriate community are vandalism, theft of personal property from parked vehicles, and residential burglaries. Violent property crimes are less frequent.
While most foreigners do not encounter problems with violent crime, there is potential for racially-motivated attacks. Persons of various ethnicities have been targeted, and victims have also included members of the diplomatic community. Crimes directed against non-Slavic and religious minorities (especially members of the Orthodox Jewish community) increased through 2008 but have steadily decreased since. Victims have reported verbal harassment, discrimination, and physical assault.
Overall Road Safety Situation
Steering wheels are on the left, and cars drive on the right side of the road (the same as in the U.S.). Traffic in Kyiv is heavy on weekdays during commute hours, and routine travel within the city during workdays is often delayed due to heavy, unexpected (and often, inexplicable) traffic patterns. In Kyiv, main thoroughfares are usually well-lit and maintained, but side streets and less commonly used avenues are often poorly illuminated, narrow, and less well maintained. During heavy snowfall, snow removal can be haphazard especially along secondary roads. The subsequent snowfall and ice build-up can cause considerable traffic delays and parking problems.
Driving in Kyiv can be a challenge. Traffic laws are routinely disregarded by local drivers: 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 an accepted practice. Cars also routinely drive on sidewalks, especially in central Kyiv, moving to and from sidewalk parking, much of it illegal. Drivers will stop in busy traffic lanes to frequent roadside kiosks or to pick-up/drop off passengers; pedestrians often cross busy streets without hesitation. Drivers should be prepared to stop on short notice. Defensive driving is a fundamental rule that should always be observed.
Motorists involved in vehicle accidents are not permitted to move the vehicles unless it presents a clear safety concern. Fender-benders routinely tie up traffic. Police must be notified and will go to the accident to conduct the investigation. Persons should be prepared to wait until the police arrive and complete their report. Due to traffic and slow police response, it may take several hours for police to arrive, especially outside of Kyiv. When police arrive, they will ascertain responsibility, take the drivers' personal information, and file a report of the accident.
Road conditions deteriorate rapidly outside Kyiv. Although there are some modern highways that connect main cities (for example, the highway from Kyiv to Odessa), a majority of these roads are in poor condition. In winter months, snow removal outside of Kyiv is rudimentary. Construction hazards are not always well marked. Most highways and roads in smaller towns are not illuminated, and emergency services are not reliable or prompt.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
Political discord during the past year increased with a corresponding increase in public demonstrations, but there were no significant anti-American incidents.
The Embassy’s Chancery compound was the site of nine anti-American protests and demonstrations in 2012, organized by various groups. Demonstrations ranged in size from 10-100 people. All demonstrations were peaceful and concluded without incident The largest anti-American protest in recent memory occurred at the Chancery compound on March 2008, to protest the April visit of then-President Bush to Kyiv. Approximately 2,500 individuals protested peacefully without incident.
There is no widespread, organized anti-American political movement. Certain groups do espouse anti-American rhetoric and/or are opposed to U.S. “encroachment.” These groups tend to be regionally-based (for example, in Crimea); are very issue-specific (the Cuban 5); or have an aging and diminishing demographic base (the Communist Party of Ukraine). As a result, these groups do not have widespread support, and none of the major political leaders or their parties condone an anti-American platform. The Embassy does not expect that the level, frequency, or scope of anti-American rhetoric and/or protests will change considerably from 2012 levels. Politically-motivated anti-American demonstrations are always a security concern.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
Regional, indigenous, or transnational terrorism are not considered to be major threats. This assessment takes into account historical data relevant to terrorist activities and current and projected law enforcement and security service anti-terrorist activities. There have been no recorded acts of transnational terrorism committed on Ukrainian territory to date. Admittedly, Ukraine's borders are porous, which transnational terrorist groups potentially could exploit. To counter this, the government is taking steps, with U.S. and Allied assistance, to improve border security.
Harassment, extortion, protection rackets, and intimidation with ties to organized crime have been reported against American investors or business interests. In some cases, it appears that individuals with local commercial interests, who may have had links to organized crime groups, were behind these incidents. Although still a concern, these types of reported incidents have declined over the past few years. In 2012, there were no incidents reported to the Embassy of American businesses being targeted by organized crime. However, American businesses did report similar problems with local government entities engaging in such practices as arbitrary termination or amendment of business licenses; arbitrary “inspections” by tax, safety, or other officials; and overt surveillance that appeared designed to harass or extort payments.
Ukraine has been free of significant civil unrest or disorder, with the significant exception of the November-December 2004 Orange Revolution. More recently, there were a number of political demonstrations with several hundred to several thousand participants in the center of Kyiv in the lead-up to the presidential elections in February 2010.
In 2011 and 2012, there was an increase in the number of demonstrations in response to domestic political and economic issues. None involved U.S. interests.
In 2011 and 2012, major cities experienced protests by disaffected Afghanistan war veterans and Chernobyl responder veterans. The majority of large demonstrations (some numbering up to 15,000) took place at the parliament building or on major public squares in Kyiv and other large cities. Police presence was routinely extremely heavy at political demonstrations, often with deployed riot police almost equaling the number of demonstrators. There were occurrences of minor violence associated with a number of demonstrations as protestors clashed with police or counter-protestors.
In late 2012, there were a number of minor demonstrations, fights, and protests in response to alleged falsifications during the parliamentarian elections in October.
There are no major natural disasters that routinely occur except for flooding, whic routinely occurs in western Ukraine, particularly in the Carpathian Mountains during the spring thaw. In summer 2008, there was serious and widespread flooding that resulted in significant damage and loss of life. Flooding occurred again in 2009 and 2010, but not at 2008 levels.
Industrial and Transportation Accidents
Radiation and Nuclear Safety: In 1986, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (unit no. 4), 90 kilometers northwest of Kyiv, experienced an explosion and fire, followed by an uncontrolled release of radiation. The accident resulted in the largest, short-term, accidental release of radioactive materials in the atmosphere ever. The highest areas of radioactive ground contamination occurred within 30 kilometers of the station. A favorable wind direction kept most of the contamination away from Kyiv, although the capital was not spared completely. The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant's last operating reactor officially closed on December 15, 2000. All identified stabilization measures on the existing sarcophagus are complete. Construction of the new structure around the existing sarcophagus started in 2009 and is scheduled for completion in 2014.
Ukraine has 15 operating commercial nuclear reactors, but none are of the Chernobyl design. The U.S. has provided extensive assistance to enhance nuclear and operational safety of these reactors.
The government has an effective program of monitoring fresh foods and meats sold in local markets. In the event of any accident at a nuclear power station, the U.S. Embassy has the capability to confirm local government reporting of background radiation levels and food contamination. The Embassy continuously monitors the radiological and operational conditions at nuclear facilities.
Due to heavy traffic and local driving habits, vehicle accidents are common. No significant aviation or other transportation accidents occurred in 2012.
Economic Espionage/Intellectual Property Thefts
The lack of adequate intellectual property rights protection is evident in weak enforcement, continuing use of pirated software within the government, widespread retail piracy, the transshipment of pirated and counterfeit goods, Internet piracy, a lack of an authorized music royalty collecting society representing rights holders, and inefficiencies in the judicial system. In 2012, the U.S. government moved Ukraine from the Special 301 “Watch List” to the “Priority Watch List” in response to the continued deterioration of its IPR protections.
Foreign business should take steps to protect their computer operations and financial transactions conducted online.
Regional Travel Concerns and Restricted Travel Areas/Zones
Travel is restricted and controlled for a 30 kilometer radius surrounding Chernobyl.
Combating narcotics trafficking is a national priority, but limited budget resources hamper Ukraine's ability to counter this threat effectively. In addition, coordination between law enforcement agencies responsible for counter-narcotics is stilted due to regulatory and jurisdictional constraints and bureaucratic intransigence. Ukraine is not a major drug producing country; however, it is astride several important drug trafficking routes into Europe. Ukraine's ports on the Black and Azov Seas, extensive river transportation routes, porous northern and eastern borders, and inadequately financed Border and Customs Agencies make Ukraine an attractive route for drug traffickers. In 2010, Customs officials at Odessa, in cooperation with U.S. government agencies, made three significant cocaine seizures from South America.
There are no known links between transnational terrorist and narcotics organizations, and in 2012, there were no charges or allegations of corruption of senior public officials relating to drugs or drug trafficking.
Although criminal activity directed against foreigners is likely comparable with similar Eastern European countries, the underlying issue of why criminal activity remains a serious concern is due to the lack of adequate police enforcement and response. In general, law enforcement agencies do not meet U.S./Western European standards, and their ability to deter street-level criminal activity or to investigate criminal incidents is low. This situation is not expected to change.
Corruption is a tremendous problem in Ukraine (Transparency International’s 2012 corruption perceptions index lists Ukraine as 144 out of 176 surveyed countries). Law enforcement agencies are part of the problem rather than the solution. In IFES public opinion polls sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the police and the judiciary are consistently in the top three of least trusted/most corrupt government institutions. Low salaries, inadequate training, poor working conditions, and shortages of basic equipment contribute greatly to systemic internal corruption and general ineffectiveness. Police units rarely have English-language capability, even among officials working in units designated to combat crimes against foreign nationals. As a result, reporting a crime to the police is often a difficult and lengthy process. Subsequent follow-up to determine the status of a case often requires lengthy visits to police stations.
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
Incidents of police harassment and discrimination against minorities are occasionally reported. Slow response to hate crimes is a serious and continuing concern. Although senior government officials have deplored these hate crimes, street-level law enforcement officials are either unwilling or are unable to deter hate crimes effectively or to protect racial minorities adequately. Police more frequently stop minorities for identity checks and often question them about drug possession. Uniformed police have harassed American private citizens and U.S. government employees simply because of their race. Americans who are the subjects of official or other violent/nonviolent harassment should report such incidents to the American Citizen Services section of the U.S. Embassy.
Under Ukrainian law, individuals are required to carry personal identification documents at all times, and it is common for local law enforcement to stop persons on the street to conduct identification checks. Unlike the United States, no "probable cause" is required. For foreigners, often these police identification checks are simply an excuse to elicit bribes, extort money, or harass minorities.
Harassment or detention by police should be reported to the Embassy at (044) 521-5000 or to the Consulate at (044) 521-5566, as soon as possible. Authorities are required to notify the U.S. Embassy within 72 hours of the detention of a U.S. citizen. If detained by police, it is strongly recommended that you ask (and continue to ask) for access to the U.S. Embassy as soon as possible.
Where to Turn to for Assistance if you Become a Victim of Crime
Although there is no comparable "911" service, the general fire emergency telephone number is "101"; the police emergency number is "102"; the ambulance/emergency medical services number is "103." These numbers can be used in Kyiv and in major cities; however, there may not be an English speaking operator.
The Embassy recommends that Americans report crimes to the police, despite their rampant corruption, and the Embassy. In the event that police will not accept a crime report, the Consulate's American Citizen Services can forward the complaint to the police. Reporting a crime is also advisable even if time has elapsed since the crime occurred, as criminals often repeat the same crime within the same general locale. Finally, a police report also is strongly recommended when an American passport has been lost or stolen.
Various Police/Security Agencies
The Internal Troops for the Ministry of Affairs (MVD) is the civilian police agency. The MVD consists of a variety of divisions or sections to include traffic police, militia, riot police, and the criminal division.
The SBU (Security Service of Ukraine) is the main government security agency dealing with counter-intelligence issues and combating terrorism.
Medical facilities do not meet Western standards. Travelers with pre-existing conditions should carefully consider whether adequate care would be available during a trip. Travelers who have chronic medical conditions, which require medication, should bring enough medicine since it may not be readily available in-country, with the exception of narcotic pain relievers, which may not be imported even in small quantities and with a prescription.
The Embassy encourages Americans to purchase traveler's insurance before departing and to familiarize themselves with the conditions of their existing medical coverage and medical resources to ensure access to substantial lines of credit to cover the cost of medical evacuation. The fastest way to secure Western medical care remains medical evacuation to Western Europe. This is a very expensive option, and assistance may not arrive until several hours after the need for care arises.
Contact Information for Recommended Local Hospitals and Clinics
Minor Emergencies & Routine Care in Kyiv:
Address: 55A, Velyka Vasylkivska Street, Kyiv
24-HOUR PHONE: 238-0000
Address: 8, Kondratyka Street, Kyiv
24-HOUR PHONE: 432–8888 or 055
Main Military Clinical Hospital of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine
24 hours a day
Address: 18 Gospitalnaya Street, Kyiv
24 hour phone: 269-7095
National Emergency and Trauma Hospital
24 hours a day
Address: 3 Bratislavskaya street
24 hour Information Service: 518-5111
24 hour Admittance department: 518-0629
24 hour Multi-Trauma department: 518-7259
24 hour Hospital Resuscitation/Intensive Care Department: 518-7020
Recommended Air Ambulance Services
There are several European firms that provide private jet evacuations, and the AMC and Boris Clinic in Kyiv can organize and assist with evacuation for a fee. Boris Clinic has a limited agreement with Tricare. Contact information for additional insurance and medevac companies can be found at the Embassy's Consular website at http://kyiv.usembassy.gov/amcit_medical_eng.html.
SOS: 007-495-937-6477 (24/7 phone)-Moscow
TRICARE/SOS (for U.S. military): 00 44-20-8762-8133 (24/7 phone) London
EURO FLITE: 00 358-20-510-1900 (24/7 phone) Finland
MEDEX Assistance Corporation: 00 410-453-6330 (24/7 phone) US
CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
Travelers may wish to review further medical advice for conditions in Ukraine at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/ukraine.htm.
Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim
ATM and credit card fraud are extremely widespread, and on the rise.
"The Wallet Scam" remains a common confidence scam used by criminals to victimize foreigners. If presented with this scenario or any variant (sometimes more than two criminals are involved), do not pick up the wallet or bag, simply walk away, and do not engage the perpetrators in conversation. Foreigners are more likely to be confronted with this confidence scam since they do not know local laws.
Best Security Practices
Increased awareness, common sense, and a regular review of your personal and residential security measures are strongly recommended. Visitors must maintain an increased level of security awareness and use common sense. To avoid becoming a victim of routine street crime, be alert and aware of your surroundings at all times. When riding public transportation, where pick-pocketing and snatch thefts are a concern, keep purses, shoulder bags, and backpacks closed, in front of you, and tucked under your arm. Men are advised to place wallets in a front pocket while on public transportation. Maintain a low profile and to not carry large sums of cash. If possible, leave wallets or purses secured at your residence and carry only necessary cash and identification in a front pocket. Refrain from carrying unnecessary items in your wallet or purse. It is further recommended that you do not establish routine travel patterns or habits; vary your departure/arrival times and routes as much as possible between frequented locations.
The U.S. Embassy advises staff that the only safe ATMs are the ones located on the Embassy compound.
American firms should pay close attention to information protection when establishing operations. A heightened awareness of cyber crime is essential, as evidence strongly suggest that organized crime is actively supporting professional cyber criminals.
Due to corruption and the government’s inability to provide a Western-level police force, foreign visitors and residents must be prepared to exercise an increased level of awareness, implement precautions which would be appropriate for any large city in the United States or Europe, and review their personal security measures regularly.
Regardless of racial or ethnic background, all foreigners--even those who are not racial minorities--visiting or resident in Ukraine should be aware of hate crime and exercise an appropriate level of caution.
Pedestrians, especially those walking with small children, should exercise caution. It is recommended to drive outside of Kyiv only during daylight hours. Visitors should plan any driving trips accordingly.
It is advisable for American citizens to avoid all demonstrations.
Street purchase of produce should be avoided. Wild berries, mushrooms, and wild fowl and game should be avoided, as these have been found to retain higher than average levels of radiation. Flying and other modes of transportation used to evacuate people when nuclear material may be in the air can present a greater hazard than sheltering in place. If external radiation levels are high enough to require evacuation, the U.S. Embassy will notify the American community via the Embassy's warden system (on-line registration is available at https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs).
The Embassy recommends that you carry your passport at all times.
U.S. Embassy/Consulate Location and Contact Information
Embassy/Consulate Address and Hours of Operation
U.S. Embassy Kyiv
4 Aircraft Designer Igor Sikorsky Street, Kyiv, Ukraine 04112
Вул. Авіаконструктора Ігоря Сікорського, 4, Київ, Україна 04112
Operational hours of the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv (and associated offices/sections) are Monday–Friday, 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. The Embassy is closed to the public on weekends and U.S. and Ukrainian Holidays.
Embassy/Consulate Contact Numbers
Country Code: 380
Kyiv City Code: 44
Embassy Kyiv General Number: (38-044) 521-5000 (from another country) or 044-521-5000 (from within Ukraine)
U.S. Consular Section Telephone: (38-044) 521-5460, fax (38-044) 521-5425
American Citizen Services unit telephone: (38-044) 521-5566, fax (38-044) 521-5544
Regional Security Office: (38-044) 521-5515
Embassy Kyiv Website: http://kyiv.usembassy.gov
The Embassy strongly recommends that all Americans visiting or residing in Ukraine register with the U.S. Consulate in Kyiv at: https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs. Registration will permit the Consulate to contact American citizens quickly in the event of an in-country emergency.
Travelers should be aware of the State Department's periodic Worldwide Caution Public announcement reemphasizing the continued threat of terrorist actions and violence against Americans and interests overseas. Public announcements and the Consular Information Sheet for Ukraine are available on the Department of State website at http://www.travel.state.gov.
OSAC Country Council Information
There is an active OSAC Country Council in Kyiv. The current Country Council chair is the president of the AMCHAM. The Kyiv Country Council can be contacted through the U.S. Embassy's Regional Security Officer, who is an ex-officio officer of the Country Council.