Sep 18, 2012

What to Expect From a Train Ride In Ukraine?

written by Svita Kalinskaya

I traveled by train a lot when I was a student. I grew up in Ukraine where almost everyone traveled by train in old days, that is, when I was a student.  Over the past decade, more and more people switched to motor transport instead but trains remain the most affordable means of getting around the country. I still travel by commuter trains when I need exactly for the sake of saving costs.

For a person who was raised in a culture where the majority of people drive and personal space is not defined by the thickness of your clothes, riding a train in Ukraine can become a different experience. I realized this about 3 months ago when with a group of my American clients we crossed Ukraine on a train. Below is a summary of my observations and a kind of advice to Americans planning a train trip in Ukraine.

First of all, there are 3 basic types of trains – commuter trains, so called passenger trains, and fast trains. 

The Ukrainian name for commuter trains is elektropoizd (electrical train) or elektrichka. In commuter trains, all seats are for sitting only. The best commuter trains are “advanced comfort trains” where as a rule you can choose among 3 classes of seating arrangements. The 1st class is the most expensive and the most comfortable one. There are separate compartments in a car equipped with sliding doors and a TV. Each compartment can seat up to 6 people. Note that when you buy tickets for a group of people, there’s no guarantee that all of you will end up in the same compartment. My clients tried a couple of times planning business conversations on a commuter train but each time 2 or 3 of us ended up sitting in a different compartment and sharing it with total strangers. Of course, you can always try to negotiate swapping seats with other people but then it will depend entirely of their good will.

Passenger trains. Do not be confused – all listed types of trains are for passengers. I have no idea why at a train station they would announce, for example: Passenger train SO-AND-SO arrives at Platform 5, or Fast train SO-AND-SO arrives at Platform 5. I am sure there’s an explanation out there but this is not what I’m interested in right now. But it is what it is. A regular passenger train is slow and stops at every – or almost every – stop on the road. Try to avoid passenger trains if possible unless you are ready for an adventure. My most recent experience proved that your train car most probably would be dark, the restroom - stinky, and the bedding - moist.

So the best option for an overnight trip is a fast train. Again, there are 3 types of train cars – platskartny, kupe, and SV.  I found an excellent website with detailed descriptions and even pictures of the Soviet-type trains: http://www.seat61.com/Russia-trains.htm#trains like. Although the site discusses the Russian trains, the information is also true for Ukraine, except in Ukraine the cost of bedding is already included in your ticket. (There is a similar website about Ukrainian trains but it is unfortunately less informative http://www.seat61.com/Ukraine-trains.htm#trains like.)  I would strongly recommend traveling in the SV type of cars if you can afford it. According to http://www.railwayukr.com/index.php?ln=ru&cont=ticketsp.htm, the price of the SV ticket can be 2 to 5 times the price of the kupe but it is worth it. Besides, you will save the cost of the hotel accommodation if you travel overnight. I think we all breathed a sigh of relief when we got in an SV car. It was clean, cozy, and felt safe. You can finally relax and enjoy the ride!

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