On the road: Driving and surviving nation's highways

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May 10, 2012, 10:50 p.m. | About Kyiv — by Katya Gorchinskaya

The road layout here is such that almost none of the roads are straight

Katya Gorchinskaya

Katya Gorchinskaya has been the Kyiv Post's deputy chief editor since 2009 and is a contributor to The Wall Street Journal and other publications. Follow her on Twitter @kgorchinskaya.

If you have driven through Kyiv’s traffic jams and potholes and think you have seen it all, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Driving out of town will give you an array of new impressions: you will be amazed by the vastness of the nation’s plains, and will be able to appreciate some visible regional differences in architecture. You will witness the contrast between urban and rural lifestyles.

You will be in awe at the difference in corruption level in road building in different regions as seen through the prism of the condition of the road surface.

You’re guaranteed plenty of adventures - often of the kind you would rather avoid.

Highways cut through villages

You just can’t get used to it. Even the most major roads in Ukraine go through villages and towns. So, at any minute of your journey, you have to be prepared that someone will be crossing the road – and not necessarily on a designated crossing. It may be a school child or a granny chasing a cow. Worse yet, a drunk can suddenly stumble in front of your car, and you have to be alert.

Roads aren’t straight

The road layout here is such that almost none of the roads are straight. Many roads don’t even have the pleasant slow curves that you would expect. Instead, roads often wiggle and waggle like a dog’s tail, keeping the driver anxious behind the wheel. Road markings and signs are scarce. So, if the authorities have bothered to put in a row of signs indicating a sharp bend, do make sure you slow down. It is going to be steep.

Signs are not repeated

I repeat: road signs are not repeated, with some exceptions. It makes sense to study the route ahead of time to make sure that you have at least some idea when your turn is coming. If you miss it, you sometimes have to drive for miles to make a U-turn. That is the case, for example, on the Odesa highway if you miss the turn to Mykolaiv.

Living creatures are everywhere

Rodents crossing the road are the least of your problems. If you’re driving during the day, you will come across dogs. You can run over a chicken or a goose lazily walking about. At night, your headlights are bound to scare a number of cats and hedgehogs off the road. Other nosy forest critters like foxes will be checking in on your progress, too.

A friend of mine even told me of a moose he encountered less than 20 kilometers outside of Kyiv. It was early in the morning, and the driver was rather tired when he saw what he thought was a statue of a moose by the road. To his surprise, the statue walked onto the road right in front of his car, and the startled driver was in no danger of falling asleep the rest of the way to Kyiv.

Smaller roads are next to none

If you’re visiting your grandmother’s uncle’s in-laws in a remote village somewhere in Chernihiv Oblast and your map shows there is a small village road going to it, don’t believe it. Ukrainian maps, although getting better with each year, are still somewhat deceptive. When you think it’s a village road, it might turn out to be a dirt track that has been used for centuries, and that in the spring looks like a marsh well-trodden by the local cattle.

Hiding police officers

If you’re driving though a little town and suddenly notice that you’re queuing in the wrong lane at the only traffic light there, you can bet that a policeman will be hiding right after the crossroads, and will wave you down. Unlike you, the guys know what the road markings were in that spot three seasons ago, and knows that the lane you chose is reserved for turning left. You may have noticed the traces of the markings at the last moment, but it might not save you from a fine. If you’re able to argue your way out calmly and tell them confidently to let you off with an oral warning rather than a fine, you might have a chance to be let go in peace.

Police officers hide in other awkward places, like behind small hills on a good stretch of the road that deceptively look like a good place to speed and make up some time.

Freak roundabouts

Unlike some other countries, Ukraine does not have a single set of rules for its roundabouts: sometimes they’re the main road, and you have to yield to anyone coming off it. Other times the main road takes a twist that includes a part of the roundabout. So, you have to figure out what to do on a case-by-case basis.

Kyiv Post editor Katya Gorchinskaya can be reached at
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