KYIV – This summer, Ukrainians are to win the right to visa-free travel to the EU’s Schengen Zone. Airlines are betting on a surge of travelers. With the nation now recording economic growth after two years of war and recession, Ukraine’s major airports handled record numbers of travelers in January and February.
President Petro Poroshenko sees foreign travel as a political asset.
“We will do everything possible to make trips to Europe more affordable for Ukrainians”, he said on his Facebook page. “We will make every effort for the low-cost airlines to come to the market so that all Ukrainian citizens can see with their own eyes the advantages of European values, which became the unifying national idea during the Revolution of Dignity and which Ukraine is confidently moving towards now.”
His Foreign Affairs Minister was more specific in his ambitions.
“Last year, [Ukrainians] had about 15 million trips to the EU,” Pavlo Klimkin told 1+1 News. “My ambition is 100-150 million trips.”
In January and February, Ukrainian airlines carried 1.235 million passengers, a 51.9% increase over last year, according to the State Aviation Service. International passenger numbers were up 55.2% over the same period.
This growth is seen at airports across the nation..
In the east, Kharkiv has seen monthly improvements over 2016: January up 45%, February up 67%, and March up 48%. International passenger accounted for roughly 72% of travelers using Ukraine’s easternmost airport.
In the west, Lviv saw a 51.5% increase in Q1 traffic, compared to 2016. Since the number of flights was up 35% , it meant the planes were flying with fewer empty seats. In Lviv, nearly 80% of traffic was from international flights.
And in the capital, Zhuliany airport reported a Q1 increase of 81.3% in passenger traffic, compared to 2016. Fully 95% of passengers were flying internationally.
Two major airlines returned to Ukraine this month. On April 12, Georgian Airways resumed service between Boryspil and Tbilisi with a daily direct flight. On the same day, Wizzair returned to Lviv after a two-year hiatus with a new flight to Wroclaw, Poland.
As part of a strategy to build Boryspil as an international hub, Ukraine International Airlines launched a new domestic route from Kyiv to Kherson. The flights is daily and is UIA’s seventh domestic destination.
Boryspil’s new head, Pavlo Riabkin, believes that the airport could reopen Terminal F for passenger flights if there is a sufficient number of flights.
Opened in 2010, Terminal F is Boryspil’s newest. It lost its passenger flights to Terminal D in 2013.
The previous airport manager, Evgeny Dykhne, told the UBJ last month that no new terminals would open in 2017. Dykhne said: “As soon as we understand there are 15 low-cost carriers, we will open Terminal F for them. Otherwise, it will be a money-losing terminal.”
improved road, rail, and water routes are also on the cards.
Citing increased demand, rail monopoly Ukrzaliznytsia laid on a second Intercity train to Poland to accommodate passengers travelling for Easter.
“We are seeing that the number of people wishing to travel by rail to Europe is growing, especially now that there are prospects of visa-free travel to Europe. Therefore, we are already working on new international destinations for passengers”, said Ukrzaliznytsia Board Chairman Wojciech Balczun.
The company announced a Kovel-Chelm (Poland) train will go into service on July 1. It hopes to extend the route to Lublin. It is also working to open new cross-border routes this year to Krakow (Poland) via Lviv, to Kosice (Slovakia) via Uzhhorod, and Budapest (Hungary) via Mukacheve.
An international rail initiative was launched by the heads of the railways of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan with an invitation to Ukraine to join the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route joint venture project. Ukrzaliznytsia was unanimously admitted as a member of the group on April 1.
“If we can create a joint transport corridor and a joint venture – these are normal approaches – our association will yield good results for our countries”, said Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman.
On the ground, Uber, the internet-based taxi service started Thursday in Kharkiv, its fifth city in Ukraine. Since launching in Kyiv last summer, the service, which accepts international credit cards, operates also in Odesa, Lviv and Dnipro.
For long distance road travel, the Infrastructure Ministry is planning to link Odesa, on the Black Sea, with Gdansk on the Baltic, through a European-standard interstate highway system, the Centre for Transport Strategies (CTS) reported.
“We are on one of the important corridors in Ukraine, which we hope will connect the Baltic Sea with the Black Sea”, said Infrastructure Minister Volodymyr Omelian. He hopes to “ultimately create a full-fledged autobahn of the European model.”
Poland has begun accepting tenders to build a new automobile crossing in the Podkarpackie province to connect the Lviv Region resort areas of Truskavets and Skhidnytsia with the Polish resort of Bieszczady, the CTS said. Construction is expected to begin next year, with completion aimed for 2020.
Also under consideration for the Lviv Region is a Malhowice-Nyzhankovychi rail border crossing next to the existing highway.
On the seas, Kaunas Seaways and Greifswald launched weekly car/rail/passenger ferry service between Odesa (Chornomorsk) and Istanbul (Haydarpasa) on April 9. Operated by Ukrferry, the 191 meter long can hold 49 rail cars, 50 trucks and 250 passengers for the Black Sea crossing, which takes 26 hours.