Ukraine celebrates 'a remarkable event' by enticing Europe's biggest no-frills airline

“Without exaggeration, a remarkable event for Ukraine” — that is how a senior politician in Kiev described the arrival of Ryanair at two of his nation’s airports. 

Volodymyr Omelyan, Ukraine’s minister of infrastructure, was announcing that Europe’s biggest no-frills airline will touch down in October.

“Negotiations lasted for several years, and I am proud that our team was able to successfully hold them,” he said. “Today we officially declare: Ryanair is in Ukraine.”

The Irish airline will fly to Kiev four times a week from Stansted, and three times a week from Manchester.

In addition Ryanair will serve the western Ukranian city of Lviv twice weekly from Stansted. 

The director-general of Lviv airport, Tetiana Vasylivna, said: “We are extremely proud and happy to be among the first airports in Ukraine to host flights operated by powerful low-cost airline Ryanair. She described the launch as “highly anticipated" by local people as well as "European tourists who have been waiting for the opportunity to travel to the city comfortably and inexpensively for a long time”.

The airline’s chief commercial officer, David O’Brien, was equally gushing, saying: “Ryanair will be another bridge that connects the infrastructure of Ukraine with Europe and it will be a good signal for the world's major investors.”

Attractions in Kiev include the vast St Sophia's Cathedral and St Michael's Monastery, but many visitors head out of the capital to visit the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster in Chernobyl. Tony Wheeler, co-founder of Lonely Planet, describes the tourist experience

“You’re picked up in the centre of Kiev at around 8 am, drive to Chernobyl town, check out the town and memorial, continue to the weirdly wonderful Duga-3 Soviet missile warning array, before visiting the Kopachi kindergarten and arriving at the reactor itself."

Ryanair's low-cost links from Britain are not the first to Ukraine: Wizz Air currently flies three times a week between Luton and Kiev. The same airline briefly served Lviv from Luton, but the route was dropped after a few months. In addition, British Airways flies daily from Heathrow while Ukraine International has two flights a day from Gatwick.

Of the former Soviet republics, the three Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — are all EU members and enjoy extensive links with Britain. But many other cities in the former USSR have not fared so well with low-cost connections from Britain and the rest of Europe.

Neil Taylor, former director of the Eastern bloc specialist, Regent Holidays, said: “A simple strategy has proved very effective in making holidays in parts of the former Soviet Union ‘ordinary’ in the best sense of the word: abolish visas and get cheap flights. The Baltic countries recognised this immediately. Ukraine went halfway in 2005 with the abolition of visas. Now they have completed the journey with the arrival of Ryanair.” 

Shortly before Crimea was annexed by Russia in 2014, it appeared that direct links to the main airport, Simferopol, might begin. But the peninsula is subject to EU sanctions, which include a “prohibition on supplying tourism services in Crimea”.

To Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, Wizz Air from Luton competes with Air Moldova from Stansted. But the much larger and more enticing nearby Ukrainian city of Odessa has no direct links with the UK.

Four years ago this month, the UK’s biggest budget airline, easyJet, launched services from Gatwick and Manchester to Moscow with great fanfare. But it axed the Manchester route in 2015 and the Gatwick link last year after suffering heavy losses.

St Petersburg and other Russian cities have never had no-frills links with the UK — though for a brief time there were services from Gatwick to Kaliningrad on a now-defunct airline, KD Avia. A British Airways link between Heathrow and Ekaterinburg, east of Moscow, ended a decade ago. 

Minsk, the capital of Belarus, is linked three times a week from Gatwick — but using a commuter-style jet of Belavia rather than a bigger Airbus or Boeing from one of the low-cost operators. Belarus has recently introduced a five-day visa-free permit for visitors who fly to the capital.

From June this year, Wizz Air will connect Luton with Kutaisi in western Georgia.