As part of our upcoming trip to Ukraine I’ve been spending a lot of time learning how the Ukrainian train system operates. Well, trying to anyways. The train network covers the country well and the overnight trains are a reasonably priced way to hop between cities, so long as you’re willing to spend the 10-12 hours the trip requires.
Until recently booking trains in Ukraine from abroad was somewhere between ridiculously annoying and impossible. A number of agencies set up operations with a local in country and a shipping account to handle the demand. This was effective, to be sure, but the shipping costs often exceeded the price of the rail fares. Ouch.
The good news is that the Ukraine railroad has recently adopted an online booking interface which is actually pretty slick. It allows for selecting not only the train that you want to take but also reserving a specific car and seats on the train.
Of course, there are still some challenges in the process. In the few weeks since I made the initial bookings it seems that they’ve resolved the issue whereby multiple stations would show up for each city, a huge problem when you don’t know which of the five "Kyiv" options to choose.
There are still a few places in the process where an outsider can run in to trouble, however, notably when it comes time to pay.
And, for those who aren’t so comfortable conducting transactions in Ukrainian, the final page does have an option to change the language. I was quite happy to buy my tickets in Ukrainian instead. I feel like I’m already on vacation.
Oh, and the tickets are delivered by email now. Not quite as awesome as hand-written forms collected from the train station, but I know that I have these already. That’s a big plus for me.
We now have trips booked in 1st, 2nd and 3rd class cars so that we can experience all the different options available. Plenty more to come on that front once we actually start riding the trains.
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