A courtyard in Lviv, behind the Armenian Cathedral
By Joe Lindsley, editor, Lviv Now
The U.S. State Department has issued its most serious «level four» travel warning regarding Ukraine: Do not travel there.
But the reasons are not only the fears of a possible Moscow invasion but also due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, Ukraine has been on the State Department’s Do Not Travel list for many months but only because of the pandemic, not because of Moscow threats.
Read more: «Zelenskiy: They Are Attacking Our Nerves, Not Our Land»
That changed Sunday 23 January when Foggy Bottom, as the State Department is known due to its neighborhood in Washington, added these words to the travel advisory, which was already at level four due to Covid: «due to the increased threats of Russian military action.»
The State Department also currently has current «level four» Do Not Travel warnings for the Principality of Liechtenstein, Germany, Hungary, and many other nations–because of the pandemic.
Podcast: «Putin is Rattling the Nerves of Americans and Europeans, Not Ukrainians.»
The warning does not prevent Americans from traveling to any of these countries. Indeed, despite the Level Four warning about the pandemic in Ukraine throughout much of 2021, many foreigners, ranging from Americans to a large influx of Saudi Arabian tourists, have visited and seemed to enjoy Ukraine. The Level Four warning existed for Ukraine even as American cities were engulfed in strife and riots, while Ukrainian cities have been calm and generally open during the pandemic.
In summer 2021, with much of Europe closed off, Ukraine became a hotspot in particular for visitors from Saudi Arabia.
«People are very open here, trying to communicate,» a Saudi tourist told Tvoe Misto/Lviv Now in the summer. «It’s impressive.» The Saudis flocked to Lviv and also to the greenery of the Carpathian mountains.
Saudi tourists speak with Leopolitans in the summer
A number of Americans, especially from places like Silicon Valley and Austin, Texas, traveled to Lviv the past months. One of them, Lauren Spohn, a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford, penned an essay at Lviv Now about what she thought to be a special spirit of community, creativity, and harmony:
«But more to the point,» she wrote in «Midnight in Lviv: The Story of Ukraine’s American Exiles», «the American expats in Lviv are, in one way or another, exhausted and disillusioned by the same thing Hemingway and his friends were: the carnage and the politics in our homeland. Cancel culture, Twitter wars of attrition, partisanship, loneliness, status-obsession, pleasure, profits.»
Now, after weeks of headlines with growing angst about the threats from Moscow, on Sunday 23 January, the U.S. state department ordered certain family members of embassy staff to leave the country and it permitted the voluntary departure of «direct hire» employees.
«U.S. citizens in Ukraine should be aware that Russian military action anywhere in Ukraine would severely impact the U.S. Embassy’s ability to provide consular services, including assistance to U.S. citizens in departing Ukraine,» the U.S. embassy in Kyiv said on their website.
«The Department asks all U.S. citizens in Ukraine to complete an online form [click to access it] so that we may better communicate with you. This is especially important if you plan to remain in Ukraine.»
Notably for years the State Department has urged a higher level of caution for travelers to Ukraine but on closer inspection the department warned not about Ukraine in general but rather about travel to Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine, Crimea and parts of Donbas, occupied since Ukraine’s 2014 Revolution of Dignity, to which it is not possible to travel anyway from Ukraine.
For its part, the Ukrainian government provides information for visits, especially regarding coronavirus restrictions, here.
Read more: Amid Russia Threats, Why Ukraine Matters–and What’s the Real Situation
Joe Lindsley, an American journalist (follow on Instagram or LinkedIn), is editor of Lviv Now.
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Lviv Now is an English-language website for Lviv, Ukraine’s «tech-friendly cultural hub.» It is produced by Tvoe Misto («Your City») media-hub, which also hosts regular problem-solving public forums to benefit the city and its people.