Although I have ridden on Russian trains, I have much more experience on Ukrainian trains, especially in the past few years. So, what are they like? Watch this video, first, to get a good feel…
Sure, Ukrainian (and Russian) trains are fairly loud and rickety, and they can sometimes be stuffy…but they’re also a whole lot of fun. Personally, I love the relaxed pace of sitting in the “CB” (pronounced “ess-veh”) two-person VIP sleeper room. I bring a good book and just relax and enjoy the ride. The bumpy ride and noise bothered me on my very first ride, but now it actually lulls me to sleep.
The train certainly isn’t ideal when you’re in a hurry, but often it’s the best alternative. For example, I travel a lot between Kiev and Sevastopol. It’s an 18 hour, overnight train ride. But what’s the alternative? Make my way to the airport, get there two hours early. Wait in line, security, etc. Fly two hours to Simferopol. Wait for bags. Take an expensive taxi (or wait for the slow bus) over to the inter-city bus depot. Wait in line. Buy a ticket for a bus that leaves in 45 minutes. Finally board the cramped, smelly bus to make the 90 minute drive down to Sevastopol? Yes, you’ll still get there in less than half the time, but with quadruple the stress. So, as long as you’re in no hurry, the train is almost always the best option.
Other things worth noting:
The conductor on your particular train car will first check your ticket when you board, to make sure you’re getting on the right train. Then, once it takes off, she’ll come around and actually collect all tickets. She’ll then tell you when it’s your stop to come off (and at that point ask if you want your ticket back as a receipt.)
Often, though not always, there’s a restaurant car somewhere on the train. Just make sure you bring your valuables with you before heading off there. Not to say theft is rampant, or that you can’t trust anyone. The real issue is that other people – not the ones who you’re sharing a room with – sometimes roam the halls and look for easy opportunities.
Finally, be warned that the bathrooms are not the most appealing. You’ll be given a clean hand towel, but bring your own soap and toilet paper.