This week I’m “liveblogging” my trip to Ukraine. Unlike traditional reports, these posts will be shorter and more frequent.
The trip report is not over, but a choice has arisen: take a train to Chișinău and fly out of Moldova or take a bus back to Warsaw?
My Dilemma: A Train To Chișinău, Moldova Or A Bus To Warsaw, Poland To Catch Flight Home
I had hoped to take the same train (“The Kyiv Express”) back to Warsaw that I had taken to Kyiv, but a different way back is necessary: not only is my preferred train sold out, but I cannot even buy tickets at the station if there is a no-show or last-minute cancellation.
While fetching my Apple Watch from Kyiv-Pasazhyrsky, I also tried to book a ticket back to Warsaw. But Vera explained that the Warsaw train is a special one and tickets can only be purchased online.
She suggested I take a train to the border and then find my way over. I know this has been suggested by a knowledgeable reader as well, but I’m just not comfortable traveling to the border without knowing how I will get to Warsaw once I cross.
In traveling to 140 countries over the years, I’ve been in my fair share of border situations where you find yourself at the mercy of the taxi touts on the other side of the border and I am really in no mood for such drama, especially in the middle of the night in the harsh cold of winter.
I asked if there was space on the train to Chișinău, the capital city of Moldova. The agent checked and there was space…and sleeper accommodations available as well. The train departs at about 5:00 pm and arrives the following day just before noon.
Cool side note: this train service just resumed after a 24-year suspension thanks to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Next, I pulled up flights and saw that LOT Polish has a flight leaving Chișinău (KIV) at 2:45pm with a connection in Warsaw (WAW) to New York (JFK). That looked solid so I booked the flight instantly on my phone (using miles).
I haven’t been to Moldova or Transnistria in 12 years and the thought of spending a day or two there also crossed my mind.
But then I got to thinking about how late trains run and how long border formalities take. Even though nearly three hours to get from the train station to the airport should have been enough time even with a slight delay, I was not sure.
So I held off on buying a ticket in order to explore the bus options more.
Buses frequently from Kyiv to Warsaw and advertise power plugs, wi-fi, hot drinks, extra legroom, and bathrooms onboard. The (huge) downside, of course, is that you are still looking at a 15+ hour journey without a bed.
The other advantage to the train would be that I’d get home at a much more reasonable time (I’d arrive at 5:00 am and then take LOT Polish to London and connect on United to Los Angeles).
So those are the options. Any thoughts?
Onward to Moldova!
As a geek of multi-modal transportation, I think you should take the bus. I’d find a review of a long-distance bus in Ukraine fascinating. Also, I just think you’re cutting it really, really close with a 3-hour train to airport connection with that option. Though I guess there’s worse things than being stuck in Moldova for an extra day if things go south.
I cannot believe you visited a country at war without a more concrete plan to get home. That’s pretty stupid, Matthew. I hope you don’t get tangled up in anything.
Ukraine is huge, and even though the country as such is at war, Kyiv remains to be remarkably well connected to other countries. Sure, things can go south anytime, but I’d argue Matthew’s public transportation options are currently much better than if he were at most places in the U.S.
There’s plenty of buses to Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia or Hungary, and trains to the border with easy connections, such as UZ/RegioJet’s service to Prague via Przemyśl.
I think it would not be wise to visit Ukraine right now and have too concrete of a return “deadline” given the complexities in transportation.
Out of curiosity, if leaving from Chișinău, why connect through Warsaw and London instead of just doing one stop through Frankfurt or Istanbul?
Because of a deadline to be home at a certain time due to my wife’s work schedule. The Moldova option cuts it closer.
I’ve read that things may be heating up in Transnistria. If not for that, and the short time you have to transfer to the airport, I’d vote for the train. Otherwise, it looks like the bus may be your safest bet. What about a train to Lviv and on to Budapest?
Do not come. Do not come.
Can’t you stay the night in a Ukrainian town near the border and then catch a coach the following morning either to Warsaw or the nearest PKP station?
Just wanted to say that I’ve really enjoyed this series. Thanks for sharing.
AutoLux bus service (not necessarily to all destinations) was quite pleasant with a “stewardess” whose job it apparently was to just hand out plain sandwiches on luxury bus seats. We enjoyed it when we took it between Kiev and Odessa until I figured out how to get a connection to ODS on the cheap.
Ukrainians are quite used to taking the bus and some of them are quite nice and Ukrainians, like Europeans overall, behave well on the bus. I have fond memories and don’t mind it at all although some can be less luxurious and cramped.
Trains are more likely to be on time then buses in that part of the world, but war renders them both equally unpredictable.
I caught trains around vietnam and a mate recommended the bus as it was cheaper. Never again. All night maneuvering around potholes yuck. Train so much smoother. Ability to get up and walk around etc. I’d take the train.
I might be late, take the Train to Chernivtsi, many taxis can take you to Suceava airport in Romania, with flights to Rome, London and elsewhere.
Bus to Chișinău instead of train? 6pm to 6 am.
I’d be a little nervous about the connection to the plane in Chisinau. My admittedly limited experience with KIV airport did not inspire confidence in their efficiency. I arrived three hours early for a departure to TBS, and barely made it to my gate in time – slow line to get into the airport, slow check-in line, slow passport control, etc.
I wouldn’t expect a delay from the train. From my understanding and in my experience, they’re pretty punctual. But even then, 3 hours to get from the train station to the airport for a flight would be too tight for my comfort.