Have Time And Sense Of Adventure - Take The Train
By Robert Thomas
It is one of the biggest things people ask me about my trip to Ukraine and that is how do you get around the country cheaply but at the same time have some type of comfort?
The answer to that is you take the train.
A left over from Tsarist and Soviet times Ukraine has a well developed, highly utilized and inexpensive (by Canadian standards) passenger train network.
The train stations, depending on the city, can be quite elaborate or bland.
A network, despite showing its age, is not about to lose its appeal as well as usefulness to transport people around the country.
Despite having some outdated stations, a few toilet facilities off route that will make you cringe and some passenger cars let us just say dated by Western standards, passenger rail service is still highly popular and definitely a way to go.
Booking passage on a train is fairly simple and easy and anyone from around the world can do so by using the rail systems Ukrzaliznytsnia website.
Here is the link for the English booking portion of the site - https://booking.uz.gov.ua/en/
You do not need to go through the expensive on-line re-sellers of tickets you can book the tickets on-line yourself.
Many of these resellers will tell you they are the only reliable or authorized agents of Ukrainian rail and bus tickets for foreign travelers but in reality they aren't.
Like so many things in Ukraine the passenger rail system is one where older seemingly outdated equipment is reliably meshed with new advanced technology.
No more is this apparent than in the ticketing in the passenger rail system. Tickets may purchased on-line and you will receive them in your email.
Online purchases may be MasterCard or Visa but remember MasterCard is the most accepted credit card in Ukraine. Visa has its limitations.
You do not have to print your tickets but to make sure you have them and avoid confusion it is best to print them off.
Also you need to carry proper photo identification yo take the train and will need to show it. The move is partially security and also to thwart scalpers who buy tickets on popular trains and the resell them for large profits.
One of the big things though is there is a bonus you actually receive a discount by booking and paying for your trip on-line with your credit card.
There are two types of sleeping cars, De Luxe, where there are two sleeper berths in your cabin, or Compartment, where there are four sleeper berths in your cabin.
Cost for De Luxe is usually about three times the cost of Compartment.
Not all trains have the De Luxe option but many do. Often to get the De Luxe option you need to book a different train.
There are cheaper options of open cars with seats that are not as well ventilated and there are 60 people in the car.
For Compartment cabins the key is to pick the bottom bunk as it is more comfortable and easier to access in and out of the car on. They are indicated by the white bar on the bottom of the seat when selecting and are the uneven numbers.
The sleeper cars are unisex which means you will likely be sharing the cabin with others who may be of the opposite sex. You will need to sleep in a t-shirt and shorts or pajamas pants as sleeping in your underwear or in the nude is not acceptable.
Often when you leave your cabin is not full and sometime during the trip people will enter or leave.
Finding your train is relatively easy as they are all numbered and you can also write down the train's name in Ukrainian so it is easy to find.
All cars have conductors and if you say the destination and your ticket they will let you on your coach which is numbered. Then once you are on-board you simply head down the aisle until you find the number of your berth on the outside of the cabin door and enter.
And so you know smoking and vaping is not allowed on the train.
Once you are in your cabin you can store your things under the seat.
But before you leave you need to know the trains do not have canteens so if you are going to be thirsty or hungry you will need to pack some drinks and snacks for the trip.
Many of the stations do have entrepreneurs who will pull along carts offering to sell you things like ice cream (morojeno), beer (pivo), cooked potato dishes (kartooshka) and other things.
These local sellers charge a premium for what they sell but if you want to buy make sure you carry lots of smaller money such as one, five, 10 and 20 Hryvinas with you.
Trains have been known to have some thefts (especiakly when you are sleeping) so ensure you have a means to keep the money on your person at all times – even when sleeping – and do not flash a lot of cash.
If you want to see the scenery there are night trains you can book which leave earlier or arrive later at your destination.
There are some day trains in Ukraine, depending on your destination, but most people prefer the night trains so they can sleep on the way.
Getting use to the train is for some a bit of a challenge as the ride can be noisy and bumpy but with that said they are by far the most comfortable public inter-city transportation in the country.