We have now crossed into Russia from Ukraine, so a new leg of the journey has begun. We are aware that other overlanders plan to follow us through Ukraine in the coming weeks and they have questions regarding the Ukraine-Russia crossing. Hopefully this entry will be of some use to them.
As our Land Rover contains a variety of camping gear, we are particularly conscious about trying to find accommodation with secure parking. We were able to find a couple of suitable hotels while in Ukraine.
In Lviv, we stayed at the Hotel Natalia-18 at 7 Prince Yaroslav Osmomysyl Square – http://natalia18.com.ua/en/. Whilst the hotel doesn’t have an enclosed parking area, it has private spaces on the pavement/sidewalk outside the hotel. The parking spots are monitored by CCTV in the hotel reception. The rooms are small but clean and tidy with modern bathrooms. It is a short walk from the main square, so is well located.
In Kiev, we stayed at the Hotel Rus Accord – http://www.hotelrus.kiev.ua/en. This is a modern high rise hotel with a large car-park that is controlled by security 24 hours a day. The hotel is within walking distance to the centre of Kiev. There are restaurants inside the hotel. Despite the good quality of the hotel, it can be booked online for between 40-50 Euros (the hotel cannot match the online prices).
Due to the ongoing issues in the eastern Ukraine cities, we decided to cross into Russia without passing through those eastern cities. We opted for the small border crossing that is located between Kiev and Kursk (Russia). The nearest Ukrainian town to the border post is Hlukhiv. You take the E101 towards Hluhkiv and then the E38 towards Kursk. On the route that we took, the GPS (sat-nav) took us down some very poor quality roads that seemed too narrow and bad to lead to an international border crossing – but they did! The coordinates for the Russian side of the border crossing are N51.64779 E034.14358.
En-route to the border, we passed two Ukraine military checkpoints where they had set up a chicane on the road to slow down traffic, but no checks were taking place.
At the border, there were some small huts in which the insurance agencies were plying their trade. Only two of the huts appeared to be open when we were there. We secured Russian vehicle insurance from one of them. We enter Russia three times during the trip, over a period of about three months. As the dates of entry and exit are flexible, we decided to buy a full three months of insurance to ensure that we will be covered, even though we’ll be paying for periods when we are not in the country. For a Land Rover Defender (2,495cc engine), three months of the basic OSAGO third party insurance cost just over 5,000 roubles (approx 100 Euros). We asked about the comprehensive and collision insurance (CASCO) but it seems that isn’t available at the border and would have to be purchased either before the trip or online. So, for now, we have the most basic of vehicle insurance whilst in Russia.
Once we had the insurance, we moved on to the Ukraine side of the border post. There were three stages to the Ukraine side. First, the armed sentry wanted to see our passports and have a cursory look inside the vehicle. Once happy, he allowed us to proceed a few feet through a barrier, where we had to stop. Second, before we could proceed to passport control, we had to go into a small vehicle office where the vehicle documents were examined. We could see the officer pull up the vehicle details on the computer, from when we entered Ukraine from Poland. Once he was happy with the documents, he told us to go to the passport control. Passport control was the third step. They wanted to inspect the passports and the vehicle documents, despite the fact they’d all been checked already. Once the passports were cleared, the vehicle was then checked further, with an armed officer asking us to open each door so that he could search and examine a variety of items. Once he was satisfied, we were given a piece of paper to take to the sentry at the exit from the Ukraine side of the border. Once again, this officer needed to check our passports before allowing us to proceed. Finally, we were able to move from the Ukraine side of the border to the Russian side.
At the Russian side, there were no vehicles ahead of us. This is a small border post that seems to have very little traffic, meaning no queues. When we reached the first checkpoint, an official did a cursory inspection of the vehicle and then asked us to wait for 10 minutes, as the passport control kiosk was empty (staff on break?). When the lady returned to the kiosk, we were able to get our passports processed. This took about 10-15 minutes. Then we were told we could move forward to the Customs checkpoint, which is where the fun began. A Defender loaded up with gear must have looked suspicious to her, so she decided she wanted to see pretty much everything in the vehicle. The back door was opened and almost everything pulled out and opened for her inspection. Then the side doors – same thing. Once satisfied that we were not importing goods, or in possession of illegal items, she returned to her kiosk and began processing passports and customs declaration forms with Klaus, whilst I packed everything back into the vehicle. By the time I’d packed the vehicle, Klaus’ passport had been checked and stamped – but mine would take longer as she also had to check the vehicle registration papers (‘vehicle passport’). This was bureaucracy at its finest and took ages. Meanwhile, a queue of vehicles had built up behind us, waiting for us to clear the way. After a lengthy delay, she finally cleared us, gave me my passport and documents and we were free to enter Russia! All told, I’d estimate that it took two hours between arriving at the border and leaving the other side.
We had completed our Russia Customs Declarations ahead of time, using the English language version of the form from the Russian Federation Customs website. This probably helped, as there were no signs of English forms at the kiosk. A tip for others making this trip – do not tick ‘yes’ in section 2.1 of the form, which asks if you have accompanying baggage, and how many pieces. I had ticked yes, as I had luggage, but this section apparently refers to importation of goods to Russia. The customs officer told me that it should say no, and she then re-wrote my whole form to make the correction.
Once through the border, we made our way to the city of Kursk for an overnight stop. We began to look for a hotel with secure parking, using the Garmin Monterra to identify hotels in the vicinity. Our first stop was the Hotel Kursk that received a good report in the Lonely Planet book which said the staff speak English – they don’t and the receptionist refused to entertain us, claiming that the hotel was full! The hotel has a car-park but good luck getting into there hotel! We went to about three or four more hotels, none of which had a car-park. We decided to check one more hotel, after which we would leave the city and wild-camp for the night. The final hotel came up trumps! The Hotel Diane has a gated car-park next to the hotel in which we were allowed to park the Defender. The hotel room is of a reasonable size with a modern bathroom.The prices in Kursk are more expensive than in Ukraine, however. One night in the Diane costs the equivalent of about 90 Euros. The coordinates for Hotel Diana in Kursk are N51.75620 E036.17943.
There was no evidence of any military presence on the Russian side of the border. The current disturbances in Ukraine do not seem to have had any impact on border crossings between Ukraine and Russia, at least at the crossing that we used.
I see no reason for any overlanders to change their plans to avoid crossing into Russia from Ukraine.
The next challenge that we face involves requirements to register our stay in different Russian towns/cities as we move east. We are trying to clarify how often we are required to register.
Stays in hotels are likely to be less frequent as we cross Russia and camping will be more frequent. This will limit our access to wifi, so blog updates may become more infrequent. Whenever we can access wifi, I’ll try to post updates.