Ukraine is an absolutely crazy country. It has its old Soviet roots but is progressively looking to the west for its future. It’s dark history but an opening culture makes it a place where you can do some truly crazy stuff. If you Ukraine isn’t on your radar, I hope it will be after this!
I’m sure most people have heard of Chernobyl and the nuclear disaster that occured there in April 1986. But did you know you can take a tour around the area? I did the one day tour with Solo East Tours and it was one of the best things I’ve done. You can see the new sarcophagus that they have put over the old reactor in 2016, the abandoned villages that are now in the exclusion zone and take a step back in time to the abandoned and untouched Soviet town of Pripyat. And if visiting the site of the worst nuclear disaster in human history isn’t enough, you can now see the largest (known) Soviet radar of its time that was only declassified 10 years ago.
2. Get your head set on fire
There is a secret bar in Kiev that is based on an insane asylum. The bar staff wear nurses uniforms. There are gurneys around the bar. And they can set your head on fire.
Yes, honestly! Ask for a helmet shot and for 100UAH (About £2.50) you will put on a straight jacket, a sovet helmet and drink 3 shots all whilst your helmet is flaming away.
3. Visit a town in the middle of nowhere
If you start your tripto Ukraine in Kiev, you will think that it is a bustling trendy city and the rest of the country if equally as modern.
On my road trip around Ukraine I drove through some smaller towns and villages. The rural villages are like stepping back in time. Goats and cows roam the streets and the Roma culture is still alive. Not a word of English was spoken and I was stared at the entire time.
Our tour guide from Chernobyl told us this story about rural life in Ukraine:
“I have family that live in the villages. When I went to see them, I asked a young nephew what he wanted to be when he grew up. I was thinking he may say astronaut or something like that, but no, he said he wants to visit the big city (Kiev), find the tallest building and ride the machine that takes you to the top. His dream is to ride an elevator.”
4. Take a night train
Not that crazy but taking a night train in any country is an experience. I went from Lviv to Kiev on the night train and did it in typical Ukrainian style by having a (miniature!) bottle of vodka on the train with me. Falling asleep in one city and waking up in another feels like pure luxury.
5. Drink Cherry Wine
Cherry wine is everywhere in Ukraine. In some places there are multiple bars on one street. It really is a social occasion where you can get your cherry wine either hot or cold and to have in or take away. They drop a couple of vodka soaked cherries in the bottom of the glass for you as well. It has a tart taste but I still found it delicious. In many countries, drinking on the street is illegal but in Ukraine drinking copious amounts of cherry wine whilst standing on the pavement is a perfectly normal thing to do.
6. Go to the football
I went to two Ukraine matches whilst there. Against France in Kiev and against Bosnia and Herzegovina in Lviv. Tickets started at about £10 on ticketbox.com which for international football is rather affordable. The atmosphere for both games was absolutely incredible as the stadiums were 90% full of passionate roaring fans (probably full of cherry wine and vodka). You can also buy tickets for Dynamo Kiev and Shakhtar Donetsk if you are staying in Kiev but the stadiums were far from full but will be good enterntainment if you have a spare afternoon.
7. Eating ribs with an axe
In most restaurants, when you sit down for a meal, you are given a knife and a fork. Not in Rebernya.
This ultimate rib restaurant has a paper table cloth where they draw on a plate in pen. They then deliver a rack of ribs where the waitress proceeds to chop it up with an axe. She then places it onto your drawn plate, pops the axe back in her apron and you are free to eat with your fingers.
8. Get cheap vodka
Before the night train I bought some vodka. It was only a 100ml bottle but it cost 22.50UAH, about 50p! Considering how cheap it was, it wasn’t too bad! When flying out of Kiev airport, a 500ml bottle of coke was £2. a 500ml bottle of vodka was also £2. If vodka is your thing, Ukraine is the place to go!
9. Get spanked in an S&M bar
If drinking in a bar is more your thing, but you don’t want to set your head on fire, try going to the Masoch Cafe in Lviv. The S&M themed bar has all manner of sexual paraphernalia on the walls including whips, chains and underwear. The servers walk around with soft whips and will give you a playful spank as you order. If you want to take things a bit further, I saw one couple take the whip from the server as she bent over a table and he did what he did. In the middle of the bar. Don’t go if you’re prudish, you have been warned!
10. Go to a nuclear missile base
This may be the silliest thing on the list. In Ukraine, you can push “the button” that starts nuclear war.
It isn’t very well publisised but I managed to find the Strategic Missile Forces Museum near Pervomaisk, about 3 hours south of Kiev. Our guide, Elena was organised through WhatsApp. I’m sure there will be an in depth post about the missile base in future. As well as a very informative musuem, you can do down into the missile command unit, 30m underground, protected by concrete on all sides. Elena then explained how the officers, sitting in the chairs would be there for 6 hours at a time, just waiting until they were needed to push the button that would launch nuclear weapons at pre determined targets. We then pushed the buttons and she played a video showing what would have happened. It would have ended in the destrcution of the world.
Sitting in that exact same seat, with the exact same button that was pushed for training purposes numerous times during the Soviet era, made me feel eery. It wasn’t that long ago that nuclear weapons were stored there and now I had been.
Of all the crazy things in Ukraine, pushing “the button” was probably the most pointant of them all.
Is Ukraine now on your list of places to go? With all the crazy things to do in the country, it definitely should be! Which one would you mist like to do?
Dan is an avid traveller from London. His first big adventure was in 2010 living in Malaysia for 3 months and becoming a divemaster. He has been on the road almost constantly since 2015 travelling to destinations that aren’t on the mainstream tourist trail.