UPDATE 24 February 2022: Russia
has launched a military invasion of Ukraine and I'm left speechless. Needless to say, tourism in Ukraine is for now impossible. So all the Ukraine texts on this website are currently outdated and everything said in them regarding tourism is on hold. I can't see a solution at the moment, but hope that one can be found eventually.
UPDATE September 2022: since the Russian attempts at capturing Kiev were repelled and the Russian troups withdrew from the region, some forms of dark tourism have come back, especially within Kiev
where various war relics are now on display, but also in visits to the formerly Russian-occupied towns of especially Bucha and Irpin. I've had a report from one such visit, but haven't been on any such thing myself (and am very reluctant to do so anytime soon) and hence can't report any more details here. It's certainly dark tourism on the very edge of that concept (were one caveat has always been "don't go back too soon"), but apparently foreign visitors are welcome to see the war destruction first hand and tell about it back at home. While Kyiv is currently out of the firing line and apparently not under immediate threat, travelling further towards the active war zones in the east and south continues to be out of tourism's scope and has to be advised against.
UPDATE October 2022: and now Kyiv has come back into the firing line, by missiles and drones attacking important infrastructure and residential complexes; war against civilians. So whatever possibilities of tourism may briefly have come back are basically gone again. Better stay away.
UPDATE February 2023: a year on and the war is still raging, no diplomatic solution is anywhere in the horizon, and much of the world is affected (however directly or indirectly). It really is a "Zeitenwende" ('change of era'), as the German chancellor called it a year ago. And there is still the threat that this could escalate into a proper World War Three. Very dark times indeed.
Ukraine is the second largest Eastern European country (after Russia
), and was formerly an important constituent part of the Soviet Union
, before becoming independent again after the latter's collapse.
Ukraine may not offer the widest range of dark tourist attractions but amongst them is one of the very top dark destinations
in the whole world: Chernobyl
The country's capital city, Kiev
, serves as a base for tours
to Chernobyl – and also offers several dark sites of its own.
Furthermore, halfway between Kiev and Odessa on the Black Sea there's a decommissioned strategic missile base
with old ICBM
s as museum pieces and a chance to go down into the former missile launch command unit – ultra cool! Tours to that extraordinary site also run as day excursions from Kiev.
UPDATE 2022: the conflict is no longer frozen but properly hot. I'm in disbelief and despair. Of course, no tourism in Ukraine is now possible.
UPDATE 2018: the troubles in the east of Ukraine seem to have established themselves as one of the world's 'frozen conflicts' (cf. Nagorno-Karabakh
), except that actual fighting is still going on periodically. There doesn't seem to be a solution. Ukraine and Russia
remain at loggerheads. But the central parts of Ukrain relevant for dark tourists are still largely unaffected by all this. (UPDATE: they no longer are)
UPDATE 2014/2015: and yet again the country has gone through a "revolution" ... this time escalating in a really nasty way ... But for now the war-zone-like scenes from Kiev that made the international headline news seem to be over and a new government is in place. The whole crisis, however, is not over. Far from it ... the east of the country has been slipping into a nasty, potentially prolonged civil-war-like confrontation or at least a so-called "frozen conflict" (cf. Nagorno-Karabakh or Transistria).
Yet again the whole thing's been largely about which general direction the country should be heading politically, in a more European (and NATO) direction or rather looking towards Russia.
The government under the now ousted president Yanukovych swung in the latter direction, while the protesters in Kiev and western parts of Ukraine demanded the former. Once the protesters seemed to have won in Kiev, eastern and southern parts quickly raised the possibility of splitting the country rather than recognizing the new powers that be in Kiev.
Separatist militias have pretty much taken control of the eastern parts of Ukraine, including the coal-mining areas of the Donbas with its regional capital Donesk. Despite initial denial, these rebels have been receiving substantial help from Russia in terms of both hardware and personnel. A particularly tragic case of "collateral damage" was the shooting down (most likely by a hi-tech surface to-air guided missile from Russia) of a Malaysian civilian aircraft over eastern Ukraine, killing all on board. But even that high-profile incident aside, the situation for the local civilian population on the ground in these lands is of course dire in any case.
The Crimean peninsula in the south was already annexed by Russia in March 2014 - in a rather dodgy way, using special forces without military markings while Moscow denied it had anything to do with it at first, then coaxing the local population into a referendum to "legalize" the annexation, and then later admitting it had all been a heroically patriotic cunning plan all along after all.
True, a large majority of the population there are Russians and the peninsula had historically and culturally rather been Russian anyway ... and was only made part of the Ukrainian SSR in 1954, i.e. after the end of the Stalin era (cf. again Nagorno-Karabakh!). But is military force the answer to reversing such things? Of course not.
In any case, and no matter whether you think this annexation was justifiable or not, this means Balaklava is currently no longer accessible via Ukraine for tourists.
Otherwise, in practical terms relevant to the readers of this website, the other dark tourism sites covered here shouldn't be too badly affected by all this at this point in time ... Chernobyl tours, for instance, continue to run as normal. But it is advisable to check ahead carefully what the current situation may be before setting off to Kiev or other places that may be affected by these troubles.
Before the annexation of the Crimean peninsula by Russia
(after all: the first territory taken by force within Europe since WWII
!!) this fabled part of the world would also have been of interest to the dark tourist for reasons other than Balaklava. For one thing, that old submaribe base is not the only Cold-War relic in these parts (cf. this external link
- opens in a new window).
It would also have been cool to see the current remnants of the Cold War
(representations of a new one?) such as the naval port of Sevastopol
. This served as the main base for the Soviet Navy, and in particular its Black Sea Fleet nuclear submarines. And even after the official end of the (first) Cold War, the port remained the home (through a lease contract) to the what is now the Russian Black Sea Fleet
. This lease, and whether it might come to an end, had long been one of the many bones of contention between the two countries … now Russia
appears to have "solved" the issue through force.
This also makes it questionable if, or how, other historical sites on the Crimean peninsula may or may not be accessible to (Western/non-Russian) tourists for the forseeable future. One of these that may have been of interest to dark tourist as well would have been Yalta
, where the fate of post-WWII Germany
(and much of Central Europe) after the defeat of the Nazis
was decided upon by the leaders of the USSR
(Roosevelt) and Britain
For the time being, through, travel to Crimea – let alone to eastern Ukraine – cannot be recommended, certainly not from Ukraine (UPDATE 2018: getting to Crimea from Russia
is comparatively easy now). But the rest of Ukraine should be pretty safe for now. Just stick to Kiev
and the rest of the country west of Kiev. The former Polish
city of Lviv
is supposed to be nice too ...
Again, UPDATE March 2022: no part of Ukraine is currently safe or anywhere near being open to tourism (unless you count people volunteering to go there and fight). How much the places covered on this website will be affected in the longer term is impossible to predict for the time being. It's tragedy all round.
- Ukraine 01 - which way to turn
- Ukraine 02 - flag and shield
- Ukraine 03 - stork in nest
- Ukraine 04 - rural war memorial
- Ukraine 05 - rural church
- Ukraine 06 - rural shop
- Ukraine 07 - really rural
- Ukraine 08 - firewood
- Ukraine 09 - rustic folklore interior design
- Ukraine 10 - national dish - varenki
- Ukraine 11 - borschtsch - the green variety
- Ukraine 12 - heavy stodge
- Ukraine 13 - garlic cheese tomatoes
- Ukraine 15 - pickled gherkins galore
- Ukraine 16 - national lard obsession - salo
- Ukraine 17 - folklore-y Ukrainian colours