How Ukrainian tourism specialists survive – DW – 05/16/2022

Natalia Vlasenko loved to show tourists her city of Odessa and its surroundings. Since war broke out in Ukraine, however, she has spent her time helping refugees and translating for foreign media traveling to Odessa.

The lives of Natalia’s colleagues in the Ukrainian tourism industry have also changed dramatically since the invasion of Russia in February. She collected their personal experiences and shared her and their stories with us. They have been edited by DW for brevity and clarity.

A group of French tourists in the catacombs of Odessa
Before the war, Natalia Vlasenko organized sightseeing tours of Odessa Image: Natalia Vlasenko

“No time for travel items”

Natalia Vlasenko, tourist guide in Odessa:

“I had so many expectations and plans for 2022 following the lifting and gradual easing of pandemic related restrictions in tourism. I used to work a lot with groups from the UK, United States States, Germany, France, Poland, Belgium and the Netherlands. I have only fond memories of those times: I was doing a job that I love, showing my city to travelers, familiarizing with the history, culture and cuisine of Odessa.

But on February 24, war broke out and all my plans fell apart. I don’t have a tour guide job anymore. I used to work as a travel journalist for a cultural website in Odessa, I also lost this job. Now is just not the time for travel items.

I have to look for new work opportunities, because I need to earn a living. At the moment, I found a part-time job as a translator and assistant for the foreign press: many journalists from different countries come to Odessa to cover the news. My knowledge of three foreign languages ​​- English, French and Polish – helps me.

Travel guide Natalia Vlasenko and a soldier in front of a destroyed airport in Mykolaiv
With a soldier as a guide, Vlasenko (left) and Romanian journalists filmed a destroyed airport in MykolaivImage: Natalia Vlasenko

In addition, I volunteer for a war information project called We are Ukrainiansand every evening I work as a text editor.

Some of my colleagues have decided to stay in Ukraine, while others have temporarily moved to other countries. I spoke to some of them, I translated their stories and I want to share their experiences to give an idea of ​​how the war changed everything in our country, including the tourism sector.”

The tourism sector plays an important role in times of war

Ivan Liptuga, Chairman of the National Tourism Organization of Ukraine:

“Just weeks before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, when international media were already openly discussing the very real risk of all-out war, the vast majority of people did not believe in the likelihood of such a scenario. time we received many questions from foreign media and together with the Global Tourism Network we decided to organize a Zoom meeting, in which tour operators and hoteliers participated, to reassure our international partners that all was calm and under control in Ukraine.

Three people smile for the camera during the 26th Ukraine International Travel and Tourism Fair
Ivan Liptuga (right) at the 26th Ukrainian International Travel and Tourism Fair in KyivPicture: Ivan Liptuga

Then, 12 days later, everything changed: the war started. Our organization initiated the Scream for Ukraine campaign to draw attention to the terrible tragedy that has begun to unfold.

From the start of the crisis, our colleagues as well as tour operators, hoteliers and restaurateurs switched their activities from tourism to supporting the military. The hospitality industry uses its well-established network to provide catering and assistance to self-defense units. Others have helped refugees flee dangerous regions and leave the country to find safety abroad. Hoteliers in the southern and western regions organize the transit and accommodation of refugees.

This experience has shown how important the role of the tourism sector is, not only in times of peace and to market the country as a tourist attraction, but also in crisis situations.”

An Orthodox Church in Kyiv
Kyiv has many beautiful sites, but for now tourism is not an optionImage: Maria Yukhnovets

Tourists should return when it’s “completely safe”

Julia Kulik, founder and CEO of tour operator JC Travel:

“Clearly the war has killed all tourist activity. At the end of 2021 there were decent bookings for 2022, we were counting on a good year – we were happy that the recovery had finally started after COVID-19.

But at the start of 2022, as tensions grew, we were receiving more and more cancellations. Then the war started and the tourism industry died. I had to go to the Netherlands with my daughter. For me and my husband, his life, his health and his future are a priority. I found a job, also in tourism.

Julia Kulik with her daughter in the Netherlands
Julia Kulik now lives with her daughter in the NetherlandsImage: (c) Julia Kulik

Tourism in Ukraine will certainly pick up fairly soon after the end of the war and the withdrawal of troops. Tourists will return as soon as it is completely safe. New locations will be added, as there will surely be interest in cities such as Bucha, Irpin, Borodyanka and Mariupol. The only thing is that it won’t be very soon. Ideally a year from now would be the best case scenario, although I’m very optimistic.”

The war upsets plans for the future

Anna Nikolaieva, professional tourist guide:

“Lviv was the most popular city in Ukraine with tourists. 1.5 million people visited Lviv in 2021. Tour guides were preparing for the new spring and summer season of 2022.

I was working on a new website and new routes around Lviv during low season. The war demolished all my plans and I made the decision to leave Ukraine. I am in Warsaw now.

Anna Nikolajeva's virtual experience in Ukraine, a photo of many people sharing a Zoom screen
Anna Nikolajeva created a virtual experience in UkraineImage: Anna Nikolaeva

When COVID-19 started, I started advertising an online experience called Cultural trip around Ukraine on Airbnb. I am now launching this virtual tour on Zoom. And since the war started, I’ve talked about Ukraine with Google, Intel, LinkedIn, Pfizer, Airbnb, Pinterest, KPMG Canada, Amazon Studios, Salesforce, and others around the world. People understood that they had little or no knowledge about Ukraine and I can help them learn more. I hope the war will end soon and I can return to Lviv.”

Ukraine under attack

Maria Yukhnovets, Travel Expert, Business Travel Manager for Sputnik Kyiv DMC:

“International tourism has always been very sensitive to all kinds of global events – be it a pandemic or a political crisis in any destination. Since January 2022, with the increase in media coverage of a possible Russian invasion, many governments have decided to issue travel warnings for ​Ukraine.​While we understood and respected these decisions, we also recognized that it was detrimental to the 2022 tourist season.

The country’s economy and almost all of its industries have been shut down. There is no tourism – internal, incoming, outgoing – the sky is closed, Ukraine is under attack.

A woman with a lot of humanitarian aid in Kyiv
Maria Yukhnovets now helps collect and distribute aid to people in need in Kyiv and the regionImage: Maria Yukhnovets

We realize that international tourism will be one of the last sectors to restart after the end of the war in Ukraine. Rebuilding infrastructure, resuming flights and restoring confidence will be necessary for tourism to resume in Ukraine. We very much hope that this will take place in 2023.​

At the moment we are trying to be useful to our country, so we are all acting as volunteers. Providing food, helping the homeless, helping refugees, evacuating people, supporting the Ukrainian armed forces – these are the daily routines of almost all Ukrainians, myself included. I have to support my country, I’m sure.

We hope that Ukraine will rise like a phoenix from its ashes after these difficult times. And yes, we are sure that after this war, millions of people will never again ask: Ukraine? Where is this country?”

Edited by: Susan Bonney-Cox

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