I saw this really amazing film, called Chapiteau show. It is one of those films, after which, you want to go there. Although it is a Russian film, imdb shows that it is filmed in the Crimea (Ukraine). The landscape looked so exciting, that I immediately started to surf on the Internet to find anything there is to find.

According to Wikitravel, it is a safe and nice location, only you need to communicate in Russian (or Tatar). So there is the problem, I don't speak Russian (nor Tatar). Do I need to first do an extensive course in Russian, before going there, or are there tricks to manage a superficial level of communication?

  • Get an translating app for english to russian in iphone or android and show them the translated russian phrase. This is how I talked to a colleague from china who doesnt know anything in english.
    – user3962
    Jan 14, 2013 at 0:30
  • @jingli This assumes you have access to a data connection.
    – Karlson
    Jan 14, 2013 at 14:43
  • @Karlson actually there are quite a few apps that have preloaded dictionaries. Data connection isn't essential if you prepare them in advance. Obviously they'll be limited in scope, however.
    – Mark Mayo
    Jan 14, 2013 at 15:39
  • @jingli In Ukraine you can easily buy SIM cards which give you access to cheap mobile data plans. I did so in 2009, and the operator was life.
    – feklee
    Jan 28, 2013 at 19:04
  • Tatar will not help you there.
    – Anixx
    Mar 4, 2013 at 5:49

3 Answers 3


I've been to Ukraine, although only Kiev and Chernobyl (and the train from and to Rzezow, Poland).

My Russian at the time was very limited. But for me the most important step was learning to read Cyrillic. Just being able to sound out letters suddenly makes train stations, street signs and the like manageable.

I still don't speak Russian - aside from a few words. However, I've been to Ukraine, Russia twice, and several of the stans (eg Uzbekistan) where Russian was spoken very commonly. It's still very possible to get around, even in the small towns.

Firstly, I picked up a few key phrases. "Where is....". "Hello". "Goodbye". "Please". "Thank you". "Do you have....?". "Bus station". "Train station". "How much". "I don't speak Russian".

Just a few like that are surprisingly useful. Also some numbers.

But as an example, say I'm in village X and want to get to village Y. I'd go up to the shared taxi pool (or bus station or whatever) and ask for 'bus na Y'. They'd say something I couldn't understand in Russia, so I'd say 'I don't speak good Russian'. 'How much?'. They'd either whip out their phone and write the number on the screen, or write it in the dust on the car window. I'd then cross it out and write a new number (negotiating price without words!). When we agreed, I'd hop in and off we'd go.

For train stations, I used to find this really hard, but now have it sorted. Before going up I'd write in Cyrillic the name of the station I wanted to go to. This was easy as the names are all up on the departure wall anyway. Then I'd write the date, time, and the class I wanted to go - 'Kupe', for example. Then I'd draw two bunks, with an arrow to the top one (I want the top bunk). I'd show that to the attendant, and ask how much. Easy enough, worked almost every time (once the train wasn't running, that was a tough conversation).

Ordering food? To ask if it was pork or chicken once, I pointed at the words and made the two sounds - a sort of 'oink' and 'squawk'. The waiters thought it was hilarious, but when he brought out my food, he pointed at the kebabs and made the noises himself to identify them. Made everyone smile, and again, conversation was possible without language.

My point of these examples is mostly, everyone is friendly, and happy to meet people from far away (there will be exceptions). And with waving of arms, some careful thought about writing or drawing, and a select phrase list, I was able to get around and see and do almost everything I wanted, without a guide or tour group.

Yes it'll be frustrating at times, there may be delays, but as long as you're happy to accept it as part of the experience, it's all good fun :)

  • 3
    I've been stuck in a Polish national park last November. Buses ran only when pre-ordered by phone. I did ring the phone number, tried to say same words, but couldn't understand the response. Perhaps they said "allright, we're coming", but I didn't want to bet and walked my way out until I could hitch-hike.
    – gerrit
    Jan 13, 2013 at 20:55
  • 4
    I can second what Mark wrote. Same for me: Twice in Russia, once in Ukraine, incl. Crimea, where people speak Russian. I also only speak a few words of Russian and I can read Cyrillic. You can use platforms such as CouchSurfing to find locals that speak English, though not in all towns. And you will meet interesting people just by accident. Once in Moscow at a train station I was struggling to order a ticket, and behind me there was a guy who helped me and also got me a place to stay in my destination, Minsk. People are helpful and curious. Don't be afraid, it'll be a great adventure!
    – feklee
    Jan 28, 2013 at 19:00

I made it across Russia on the Trans Siberian Railway with a handful of phrases, knowledge of the Cyrillic alphabet, a phrase book, a Point It book and a dictionary. Some hotel receptionists spoke English but other than that, people only spoke Russian.


In fact, in Russia English is very well understood. However, to speak and express our thoughts from Russian to English is not so great to do and be understood properly. This applies to almost any city with a population of more than 100,000 people - as the level of education in these cities is very good. The question is - do you want to visit the real outback - it will be more difficult!

  • I had to rewrite your wording; as it wasn't very clear. I hope I've kept the intent with which you wrote.
    – Mark Mayo
    Jan 28, 2013 at 17:23
  • +1 for the information, but I'd have upvoted merely for using the word "outback"! :)
    – Golden Cuy
    Mar 13, 2013 at 23:00

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