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Official web-site of Ukrainian Railways (in English) is here
Time-table and trains search between two cities (in English) can be found here
On line system of buying train tickets (in Ukrainian only, with occasional English pages) is available here Presently runs in the test mode; sometimes glitches; no e-tickets available, only those to be collected at booking offices; no booking well in advance (up to 1.5 months max).
Since recently, Ukrainian Railways launched its own booking tool, available (in English) here
Tips on buying train tickets are available here
Key reasons to travel by train in Ukraine:
Some below tips potentially useful for an overnight ride (evening departure – arrival next morning) might appear needless for intra-day rides or express trains.
Tips on buying train tickets in Ukraine (and Kyiv in particular) can be found here
The following train car (wagon, carriage) types are the most common in a Ukrainian train:
Ticket prices are 2.5-3.5 times higher than the 2nd class.
SV car is divided into lockable cabins (compartments), each for two people. A cabin has two couchettes (berths), both of which are usually lower ones, located by each side of the cabin, like here
Some of the trains can have one upper and one lower berth, located by the same side of the cabin. In this case there’s also a sink (wash-bowl) in the compartment, located by the opposite side, like here
There’s a table between the couchettes, often set with some snacks and beverages. Those are either free or paid, consult the car attendant – “providnyk” (ukr. провідник) (man) or providnytsia (ukr. провідниця) (woman).
There are often mirrors above each couchette. 1st-class cabins in some of the trains have a TV-set, but the choice of channels is limited and the quality of signal can be poor.
The car is usually clean, decorated, with relatively nice rug strips in the corridor and modern toilets.
Cabins in both 1st and 2nd class are located by one side of the car, the rest of the space being the corridor. You can stand or sometimes even sit by the window in the corridor if you wish. Some cars have tip-up seats between windows. Note though that you may have to hop up each time someone passes by.
The cheapest one, with the lowest level of comfort and services.
Platskartnyj car is divided into open compartments (with no doors), each for six people: four by one side of the car, with two lower and two upper berths, and two by the other, along the carriage, with one upper and one lower berth.
The lower berth of an aisle seat is set as a table and two seats on boarding, and is deployable to a couchette, like here. Here is an example of a platskartnyj car.
Apparently there’s little privacy in this type of the car.
Couchettes in 1st and 2nd class cars are relatively soft and fit for one average-sized person; tall or large people might probably feel the couchette is a bit short or narrow to sleep well.
If you travel in kupe, watch your head while standing up from the lower berth – don’t forget there’s an upper one.
Every passenger has individual bedding - pillowcase, bed sheet and cover (or two sheets) - and is given some basic toiletries (towel, soap, paper tissue).
Most often you find beds already prepared, the rest of the bedding and toiletries being provided in sealed plastic bags to make sure they weren’t used. If the bed isn’t prepared (a rare case), there’s a mattress roll on the berth with a pillow inside it and you’ll have to make the bed yourself with the bedding from the bag.
There are warm blankets for each passenger to be found on the shelf above the cabin door. You can freely take them if you feel it gets colder at night. Sometimes, if you see no above mentioned mattress roll on the berth, it’s on this shelf as well.
The bedding cost can either be included into the cost of your ticket or paid separately on board. In the latter case, some time after you board the attendant enters each cabin, collects the passengers’ tickets and takes bedding cost. Better prepare some odd money – the bedding cost is low and attendants often don’t have change and can try to offer you tea/coffee instead.
Side note: at the end of the rout the attendant shall again enter each cabin asking who needs the ticket back.
You don’t have to make your bed in the morning, but don’t be surprised if you see people taking the bedding off and carrying it to the attendant. This is an old Soviet requirement (or habit), which is no longer valid, but some people still practice this now and then.
Lavatories are located at each end of the carriage. They represent relatively small cabins with a sink, the mirror and a toilet, and have sockets for electric shavers.
Check lavatories at both end, not only the closest to your cabin, as sometimes one can be cleaner and more modern (say, bio-type) than the other.
Most of the doors have signs, so you’d know if it’s occupied. If there isn’t one, press the door handle and try to push it. In the newest cars these signs are located at each end of the corridor above the exit and are visible once you come out of your compartment. Sometimes you may have to queue in the corridor to get to the lavatory (especially in the morning before arrival).
Take the towel, soap and paper tissue with you when going to lavatory. By the end of the rout they sometimes run out of soap and toilette paper and the attendants are not quick enough to supplement.
You may wish to bring a small bottle of water to brush teeth and wash face; while washing hands is fine with tap water. Needless to mention there’s no drinking water in train lavatory.
The tap in the older trains can be tricky: push up the button hanging in the middle of the faucet hole; in the oldest cars water runs only while you hold that button pushed up. Modern ones are usually equipped with normal valve (or two separate for hot and cold water) and you just have to turn it.
Some of the modern trains have toilet seat covers among the toiletries, 1st class mostly. But usually people don’t risk sitting on the trains’ toilets - for sanitary reasons. There’s a hand-rail by the toilet and you better have hold of it for a balance.
Foot pedal is the most common flushing mechanism in trains. Modern toilets have a flush button.
Most of the lavatories (except “bio-type”) can’t be used at the train stations, as those are considered city sanitary zones, so the attendant would lock the restrooms for some time before and after the train stops.
Many locals change their cloth and shoes on board into something more comfortable or appropriate, especially if it’s a long and an overnight ride. Say, into t-shorts and shorts or sports costume, and flip-flops or slippers.
There are hangers in the cabins as well as bars and racks above each berth where you can place your cloth.
If you share a cabin with a stranger of an opposite gender and s/he expresses the intention to change, you should leave the compartment and wait in the corridor. When the change is over, the person should open the door letting you know you can come in. If you feel you’ve been waiting for too long, you can knock the door and enter if you hear “Da” (yes).
If you are willing to change, say “Ya by hotel(a) pereodet’sya. Vy ne mogli by vyjti? Spasibo”. “| would like to change. Could you please come out? Thank you.” (rus Я бы хотел(а) переодеться. Вы не могли бы выйти? Спасибо).
There’s rarely good temperature balance in Ukrainian trains. Newer trains have air-conditioning systems, but sometimes it can be switched off, even in summer. Heating can be on while you board, but turned off in the middle of the night.
This is all yet another reason for people to change their cloth, to get accustomed to temperature. If it’s cold at night, take a blanket mentioned above. When it gets too hot, some people would open all the windows in the corridor, the other would demand them shut. You can’t open a window in the newer trains anyway.
Often the air in the train is stuffy, so some people leave the car when the train makes short stops on the rout. If you decide to do so, don’t miss the attendant’s announcement of the departure. (Side note: the train’s detailed rout, including all stops and timing, is posted on the wall at the beginning of each carriage).
1st class cabins (and 2nd class “firmennyj”) often have individual AC systems in each cabin.
Smoking is NOT allowed in all cabins and lavatories on all Ukrainian trains.
Smoking is allowed only between the cars, in the sort of the anteroom (called “tambour”/”тамбур”) behind the car doors next to lavatory. You’ll easily detect the place by the smell.
Officers in the local trains mostly speak no English.
But there are always some passengers, especially younger ones that speak at least any English and would gladly assist in your communication (people are friendly here and like to practice their language skills).
Yet you might still find it useful to learn or print out some relevant words/phrases in Russian or Ukrainian. Although Ukrainian is an official language and widely spoken in western areas, Russian would probably be handier as most people understand it.
All trains on the long-distance routs have dining cars, offering drinks, snacks, sandwiches and even dinners, but with limited menu positions. Quality of food depends greatly on quality of the train. And you should keep in mind the specifics of cooking on the road and don’t expect restaurant quality.
Delivery service from the dining car is available for the 1st class passengers in some of the trains (“firmovyj” mostly).
Most of people here are hesitant to attend dining cars to eat there (rather to get a beer or some spirits). Locals usually bring their own food, water and drinks (both soft and spirits) on board. Do the same, especially if it’s an overnight train and you’ll need smth for dinner and breakfast.
Consider taking some tea, coffee and sugar as well. At the front end of the car, near the attendant’s cabin, there’s a boiler with free hot water. If you didn’t take your cup/mug with you, ask the attendant for a glass: “Dajte mne, pozhalujsta, stakan” (Дайте мне, пожалуйста, стакан).
You can also buy tea/coffee from the attendant, but don’t expect too much (tea-bags and instant coffee only). The attendant offers tea/coffee to passengers while collecting tickets after boarding and in the morning. But you can address her/him with it any time.
As mentioned above, snacks and drinks set in the cabin are mostly paid for, so keep it in mind.
At each station where the train stops you will see people on the platform selling fruits, seeds and nuts, home-made bakery, meat or wine, beer, cigarettes etc. If you are not traveling with the local who knows which items are safe to buy and can bargain the price, you better stay away from it.
Rarely (but possibly) you can see the beer/snack seller going through the car while the train moves (those are locals shuttling between train stations). Better refrain from buying anything with those as well – it’s overpriced and the quality isn’t guaranteed.
Most of the newer cars have video cams overviewing the corridor. But safety alert should remain high when you travel by train.
Apply your usual safety measures to keep your valuables and documents safe and don’t show them off without any particular need. Try not to leave your valuables unattended. This doesn’t mean you should take your entire luggage when heading to the restroom, just make sure valuables are secured properly.
The safest place to keep your luggage at is under the lower berth (especially if you are the one who has it). The space under the berth is divided into an open one, which can be easily reached while you seat, and the one that you can reach only if you lift the berth - it looks as if there’s a metal box under the berth, so put your luggage into it and move the berth down.
Note though, that any passenger of the cabin is entitled to place his luggage there, so if you find it occupied by the earlier arrived passenger, you can’t insist it be removed. Just share the space. Some people also put their expensive shoes/cloth inside that box.
Another place (less safe though) to keep your luggage, especially the sizeable one, is on the shelf above the cabin door.
In 1st and 2nd class compartment there’s not only a door lock, which you should certainly use before going to bed, but also a security latch that blocks the door. This is a metal rectangular bar located in the upper corner of the door opposite the door handle side (ie. if the door handle is on the right, as it usually is, look for the latch in the upper left corner). Once you lift it, the door won’t open wider than the distance between the latch and the cabin wall allows. To unblock the door you have to move the bar down - feel for a tiny button on its side verge, push it and move the latch down.
Tickets are sold here in such a manner, that you never know who your companions will be, men or women. Usually it’s not a problem and is quite safe even for a woman in the company of three men. But if you feel uncomfortable, you may ask (either directly or with attendant’s assistance) to change your seat so that you could share the cabin with the person(s) of your gender. Note though, that this is only possible if another traveler doesn’t mind changing his cabin/seat or if there are free seats available. Rarely would someone agree to change the lower berth for the upper one. If you are asked to change your seat, it’s up to you to decide whether you feel like doing that.
Pets are allowed on Ukraine trains. Wild animals are not allowed.
Certain transportation rules apply to carrying pets, and they depend on the pet.
Large dogs (no more than one) are allowed in passenger or fast (sleeper) trains only if they are carried in a kupe-type (2nd class) or a SV-type (1st class) compartment, provided such compartment has been fully booked by the dog’s owner, and the owner has presented duly executed veterinary certificate. Large dogs (over 45cm) are allowed in trains of other categories with seating space, on the same terms, only if the carriages in such trains have separated (isolated) seating compartments. Dogs should be carried in a muzzle, on a chain or a lead.
Small pets (no more than two) and birds (no more than three) should be placed into boxes, baskets, cages, and be freely situated in the places designed for hand luggage. Booking of all seats (booking of the separate compartment for pets and birds in cages) is not obligatory.
Pets’ transportation documents are executed in form of a luggage receipt bearing the «Hand luggage» (ukr. "Багаж на руках пасажира") sign on its face side, or a Pro-forma receipt ЛУ-12а, or an electronic carriage document, each issued separately for each large dog or a luggage item (a cage).
The passenger carrying pets is responsible for taking care of them: feeding, giving water, cleaning, and preventing any violations of sanitary-hygienic standards.
Cost of transportation of dogs, pets and birds with a passenger in a passenger carriage is paid per animal unit or luggage item, and is equal to the cost of 20kg of luggage, no matter if the passenger has any other hand luggage or not.
Pet carrying rules are stipulated by the Regulations on Transportation of Passengers, Luggage, Cargo-luggage and Mail by the Railways of Ukraine, dated 27.12.2006 #1196. Full text (in Ukrainian) is available here