OTTAWA – Canadians will soon again be able to fly direct to Ukraine between the largest Canadian and Ukrainian cities.
Ukraine International Airlines (UIA), the country’s largest airline, will inaugurate its first nonstop flight from Kyiv to Toronto on June 6.
Fifteen years ago, AeroSvit added Toronto to its routes, but ceased flying to the Ontario capital in 2012 when the airline ran into financial difficulties and ceased operations a year later.
UIA will now pick up the slack and run three flights between Kyiv and Toronto each week – on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays until October, when the schedule will be reduced to two flights per week, until the following May.
But an inter-airline agreement between UIA and Canada’s two major carriers – Air Canada and WestJet – will allow Canadians to fly from other cities in Canada to connect with UIA in Toronto or elsewhere in its routing – such as New York or London – and travel to Ukraine any day of the week.
And UIA doesn’t just fly to the Ukrainian capital.
Last month, the 26-year-old airline added daily non-stop service to Vinnytsia, bringing the number of cities the airline flies to in Ukraine to 10. The other eight are Chernivtsi, Dnipro, Ivano-Frankivsk, Kharkiv, Kherson, Lviv, Odesa and Zaporizhia. (UIA does not fly to destinations anywhere near the war zone in eastern Ukraine or to Crimea.)
The direct link from Toronto’s Pearson to Kyiv’s Boryspil international airports could become a portal to other European cities, said Andriy Shevchenko, Ukraine’s ambassador to Canada.
“Boryspil could serve as a hub,” he explained. “It’s a 90-minute flight to Warsaw and two hours to Berlin.”
He added that the non-stop flight could cast Toronto as a connector to not just Canadian cities but those in the U.S., such as Chicago, as well. UIA also runs daily non-stop service between New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and Boryspil.
The Ukrainian Embassy and UIA are jointly hosting an event to celebrate the June 6 inaugural flight, which will include about a dozen representatives from Ukraine’s hospitality industry who plan to network with their Canadian counterparts on how to best to promote Ukraine as a tourist destination.
For those unfamiliar with UIA, Gregg Truman, the U.S.-based general manager of the airline’s North American operation, describes it as a “value carrier with great fares.”
Prices seem to be lower than the competition.
A direct UIA flight from Toronto to Kyiv on June 6 in economy costs $1,005 (Canadian – about $783 U.S.). By comparison, a flight from Toronto to Kyiv, departing on the same day with an 11-hour, 15-minute layover in Rome, costs $5,222 ($4,073 U.S.).
A less expensive flight, priced at $2,793 ($2,179 U.S.) is available in premium economy (in the business-class cabin) on Air Canada, also on June 6. But UIA’s price for its direct flight to Kyiv on the same day in its similar premium-economy cabin is $1210 ($945 U.S.).
UIA also provides all passengers with free checked baggage, free in-flight entertainment and free meals on its long-haul flights, which will include the first direct Canada-Ukraine link.
One of the airline’s goals is to make it easier for the estimated 1.4 million Canadians of full or partial Ukrainian descent to visit their ancestral homeland, explained Mr. Truman, an airline-industry veteran who worked for Air Jamaica, South African Airways and Ethiopian Airlines before joining UIA in 2016.
“It makes sense for us to fly where Ukrainians live, and there is a large diaspora in Canada,” he said. “We offer legendary Ukrainian hospitality. Our passengers are like family, and when you have family, you know what they want before they even ask for it.”
If a Ukrainian Canadian passenger has a hankering for some traditional ethnic cuisine, the on-board menu often includes smoked fish, varenyky and borshch.
UIA will operate its wide-body Boeing 767-300 aircraft, which offers three classes of service (economy, premium economy and business) between Pearson and Boryspil.
Ambassador Shevchenko, who has previously preferred to fly to Ukraine on Air Canada, with connecting flights in Europe, welcomed UIA’s non-stop service between Toronto and Kyiv as a boost to the Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement.
“When we signed this agreement [in 2016], we hoped it would help us to navigate new business contacts between Ukraine and Canada,” he said. “The direct flight will be a wonderful opportunity to create people-to-people ties into a strong business context from which both countries will benefit.”
The ambassador added that since Canadians require no visa to travel to Ukraine, they will now have an easier way to get there without having to endure a stop – and a layover in another city – on connecting flights to the country.
UIA’s direct flight could also help attract tourists curious about discovering Ukraine, said Mr. Truman, an American with German and Scottish ancestry, who has spent considerable time exploring Kyiv and Lviv on his frequent trips to the country.
“Kyiv is fabulous, and the restaurant scene in Lviv is amazing,” he said, noting that Canadians who have never before been to Ukraine should expect their dollars to go far.
“It’s an affordable destination with a lot of young, energetic activity, and art, culture, theater, music and clubs.”
For a man still struggling to properly pronounce Ukrainian words, Mr. Truman said he was happily surprised by how many Ukrainians in Ukraine speak English.
His trips to Ukraine also dispelled the culinary stereotype he expected to encounter.
“I thought there would be old-fashioned, stick-to-your-ribs food in restaurants. But I’ve had some of the best steaks I’ve ever eaten in my life there,” Mr. Truman explained.
“There is also excellent Chinese food in Ukraine, and a lot of good regional cuisine in Georgian and Armenian restaurants.”
He added that he also hopes that the direct Kyiv-Toronto flight will encourage Ukrainians to also discover the “majesty and beauty that Canada has to offer.”