It’s a question which people ask me quite a bit. So, here are 10 things to take into account:
1. I know more, personally, about visiting from the Russian side, but have heard quite a bit about crossing from the Ukraine side. Not heard great reports from there – Ukrainian troops asking for a special ‘permit’, but being open to a 500 hrv. bribe, taking possessions away to ‘check’ them, not returning iPhones, I’ve heard it all.
2. Crossing from the Russian side, firstly, you HAVE to have a double-entry visa, so you can get back out the Russian side again. Crossing from the Russian side and then trying to cross over into Ukraine … the best you can hope for is a Zaparhozhe jail cell, and deportation.
3. The 90-day-stay thing, that’s not in place in the DPR / LPR, when you’re in, you’re in … BUT…
5. If you bring humanitarian aid, there’s a chance you may not even get past the Russian border. There’s a limit of 50kg per person, and it’s enforced now. There was a time when cars full of pasta, tinned food and tea breezed through. For any number of reasons, those days are gone.
6. Not just humanitarian aid, I recently got held for 3 HOURS at the Russian border for trying to bring a drone into the DPR. It was the first time I’d crossed that border point, having never crossed there before, they saw the drone, got all jumpy, started taking photos, sending photos to superiors. It was 3 hours, and a fair bit of gnashing of teeth, until my tyres moved. So, a point here – if you enter by one border, try to exit by that one too, they’ll remember you, it’ll be easier.
7. If you want to be sure of getting into the DPR / LPR, as a westerner visiting, you need to get someone to come to meet you at the border, vouch for you. If you are thinking of doing any journalism there, you need to get journalistic accreditation – fairly simple to get from the administrative buildings in Donetsk, and Lugansk. If you are planning on taking videos etc in public places, you could save yourself some problems by getting it.
8. You are entering a war zone, but, don’t expect to go in to booms and plumes of smoke – that was 2014/15. However, things are still on a war footing, so remember that. It’s essential either that you speak Russian, or have someone with you who speaks Russian. The language there – Russian. There are some people who speak English, but life will be a lot easier with Russian.
9. There are no working bank machines (people sometimes tell me there are, I’ve not found them), so make sure you take enough money – roubles – for your trip. Petrol is a bit more expensive than Russia, 43 roubles for the litre to 33, but it’s freely available. Hotels work, there’s food and restaurants, a lot of things look quite normal…. HOWEVER….
10. Don’t lull yourself into thinking things are normal. Most people there will be friendly to you, they are good people, but the mood towards westerners is certainly not universally positive after a western-backed bombing campaign which has seen thousands killed there.
And be considerate of the people there, life is still hard, with little money and employment opportunities far from bountiful. A lot of people there have literally been through hell, lost loved ones, homes. (Photo, Lugansk 2014)
You can go to Lugansk and not hear any shelling, or Donetsk and only hear it at night, but it’s there. Of course, if you stay in the normal places, you’ll be safe, go to the perimeters, and there’s not only possible shelling, but also landmines to factor in.
There is law and order, even traffic police, there, hospitals work, shops are open. There’s nothing like the lawlessness the west would like you to believe. But, war, and what comes with it, destruction, poverty, destitution, hasn’t brought out the best in everyone, so if in doubt, err on the side of caution, and take extra care on the roads. All that said, most people in the DPR, LPR are warm, friendly, will be happy to have a visitor.
There’s a curfew in Donetsk and Lugansk, as I understand, 11pm in Donetsk, 10pm in Lugansk. It’s more flexible now than before, but, be sure to always have your documents on you, in any case.
And don’t think you need to be an activist, pro-DPR / LPR to go there. You can be pro-Ukraine and go there, if you want. But, respect the people there, the mood towards Ukraine is almost universally negative, the people like their republics, so… be a good guest, whatever your own views!
Ok, stick to all of the above, and, enjoy your visit!