This week I’m “liveblogging” my trip to Ukraine. Unlike traditional reports, these posts will be shorter and more frequent.
My train ride from Warsaw to Kyiv was l-o-n-g and stifling hot, but all things considered a very comfortable journey between the Polish and Ukrainian capital cities onboard D 68, The Kyiv Express.
Train Review: D 68 – The Kyiv Express (Warsaw – Kyiv) – Three-Bed Sleeper Compartment
I arrived at Warszawa Wschodnia (Warsaw East station) at 5:00 pm, 45 minutes ahead of my departure to Kyiv. My train did not display on the departure board, so I briefly panicked, thinking I was at the wrong station. But a station attendant who spoke English directed me toward track three.
With no idea what to expect onboard the train, I spent the next 30 minutes in the departure hall charging my phone and laptop. I came prepared with a portable charger, but with an 18-hour journey ahead of me, I wanted to be as close to fully charged as possible before even leaving the station.
At 5:25 pm I proceeded to track three, where the train still had not arrived. At 5:33 pm, the train pulled up into the station, with blue and yellow passenger carriages that did not look all that different on the outside than the Metro cars in Kyiv.
Train attendants stepped off of each car and queues formed to board the train. Passports were checked and train tickets compared to a printed manifest. My train attendant in car three did not speak a word of English, but after looking at my US passport and ticket, waved me onboard.
Onboard, I found a narrow hallway with compartments on the left side. Each compartment in this carriage offered triple accommodations, with three seats as well as tri-level beds that folded down.
My roommates arrived: a mother and daughter returning to Ukraine. The daughter spoke English and asked if I would mind taking the top bunk. No problem.
I was elated to see that my room had a pair of 220-volt power outlets, which kept my devices charged during the journey.
We pulled out of Warsaw West roughly on schedule and began our journey east. The window in our compartment was damaged (it had tape over it) and dirty, so I do not have a lot of pictures from the journey itself. In fact, I was not sure how photography would be received at all, so I held off.
For the first four hours of the journey, all three of us sat up. I got a lot of work done (no wi-fi, but I was able to tether off my phone, which had a strong mobile signal) while they watched movies or played games on their tablets.
People smoked in the hallway and that cigarette smoke wafted into our room.
Around 9:30 pm, the train attendant showed up to make our beds for the evening. The top bunk (my bed) was already down, but she pulled the other two beds down from the wall.
We were provided a sealed bag with sheets and a towel, while a pillow and comforter was sitting in the storage area of the compartment (and my guess, not washed between journeys).
I used this time to change into more comfortable clothing (athletic attire). Our carriage had two bathrooms, including one with a shower. The shower was absolutely filthy and the toilet could barely flush (it just gurgled).
In case you were wondering, there was no service onboard. I thought each carriage would have a large hot water tank that you could use to make coffee or tea, but I did not even see that. There certainly was no dining car or anything like that.
I came well-prepared with nuts, beef jerky, fruit, and water…but I ended up fasting. After all that food in the Swiss Alpine Lounge, I was not hungry at all.
Minutes later, we reached Dorohusk-Osada near the Polish-Ukranian border. While I expected to have to step off the train at the Polish border, uniformed Polish officials boarded the train, stopping at each compartment to stamp us out of Poland.
We continued our journey just over the border and pulled into a garage in Rymachi (Volyn Oblast), where a change of gauge would take place (tracks in Ukraine are wider, requiring the wheels to be moved further apart). For the next four hours, we did not move. I am not sure why this took so long, but during this time the train attendant collected our passports.
I was expecting some sort of interrogation, but around 2:00 am, Ukrainian border officials in camouflage fatigue knocked on our door and without a word, handed us back our passports.
Finally, around 3:00 am local time we took off again for Kyiv (we also lost an hour crossing the border due to the time zone change), I had already been asleep for a few hours while waiting and quickly fell asleep again.
The cabin was stifling hot (nearly 30ºC according to the thermometer in the hall) and the windows did not crack open, but thankfully I was able to not just sleep, but sleep for the next seven hours without interruption.
When I awoke, we were just outside Kyiv. Finally, at 12:07 pm we pulled into Kyiv-Pasazhyrsky. I bid farewell to my roommates and we lined up to step off the train.
It was a nippy afternoon, but the sky was clear and blue.
My first stop was for a flat white in the station.
All things considered, the train ride was remarkably smooth and a superb way to travel between capitals. I was fortunate to score a last-minute ticket and thankful to arrive in Kyiv very well-rested.
There is nothing luxurious about this train. No service. Filthy restrooms. Smoking onboard. But it was a special journey and one that I hope to take back to Warsaw.
Next: stepping into the city
I’m glad you made it to the (East!) train station and your journey went smoothly! I should have warned you to try to get a cabin in the middle of the wagon to avoid the smokers because they usually smoke in the space between the cars so the middle cabins go first. I’d have asked the conductor to tell the smokers to go there. This train looks pretty new compared to the one I usually take from Przemysl-Odessa including a flush toilet and shower. The old fashioned train we take has the toilet flush out onto the tracks. It’s a pity they don’t have a diner wagon anymore. They cancelled that about a decade ago for budget reasons but I have fond memories of enjoying some delicious, affordable food in it. When I first went to Odessa 25 years ago, the train had a (get this) COAL fired heater and stove!!! I’m shocked that you didn’t get tea service which, to Poles and Ukrainians, is a blasphemy to have to live without.
It helps (mostly) to travel with my wife in Ukraine because she will bark in such a scary manner that most move out of her way so if there are smokers, I ask her to yell at them and they shoo.
I’ll show her the pictures.
That filthy bathroom, the 30C cabin and the cigarette smoke were the 3 strikes for me. I guess you cannot wait to check in at your hotel.
It’s hard to believe that cigarette smoke was the norm during the 1980’s and I couldn’t stand it. We miss those days when people wore suits and you got a full meal in economy class but they came at a cost. If you were lucky, you got an “inflight movie” and some old magazines such as “Boy’s life”, “Highlights”, and “Time.”
Have fun explaining the Ukraine visa stamp to US immigration when you return.
Have you heard of Global Entry? You don’t interact with any immigration officer anymore. Also, when the president of the US goes there, I don’t see any reason why Matthew would have any problems explaining his trip.
You reckon they will even notice??
How to say you’ve never been to Ukraine without saying you’ve never been to Ukraine. As a candidate for EU and NATO membership, Ukraine is a country of surprises. The first one is how modern much of it is, and how large its major cities are. I was in Ukraine three months before the invasion and traveled from there to a couple of EU countries before returning home in the U.S. No one blinked an eye about the Ukrainian passport stamps. I am returning next month. No visa is required for US citizens.
Ukraine is a democracy that has worried hard and is fighting to retain its hard won civil rights and freedoms. They don’t need ill-informed people making ignorant comments like yours.
Giving your train a solid B+, considering the circumstances of the last year. I’ve done a few Amtrak cross country rides and as much as I enjoy and support Amtrak, the train cars look so much worse! ( no war excuse ) I might find the stranger sleeper arrangement odd, but no more awkward than a long haul economy plane ride. You’re doing great!
What was the one way last minute train fare (USD)?
Hi Mathew, where did you purchase this train ticket? I can’t find it anywhere
I bought it at the ticket counter in Warsaw. Showed sold out online every day.
This is journey is utterly fascinating! I get oddly excited about each new post. Such an adventure in a part of the world that I know little about except for the war coverage. What fantastic posts!
You got it wrong. You did not arrived or leaved from Warszawa Zachodnia(West) but from Warsaw Wschodnia(East) as written in your ticket and in your photo.
But look at the station name – second picture of this story. I took a picture of it. It must stop at both places.
My dear I don’t know what got you so confused. It looks like you’re trolling everyone who speaks Polish/Ukrainian and got a google maps access.
Your train departed from Warszawa Wschodnia / Warsaw Eastern Station. Your ticket’s got Warszawa Wschodnia on it. You picture of a station building clearly shows Warszawa Wschodnia. It makes perfect sense the train heading East leaves from Eastern train station.
Wschodnia – means Eastern (wschodnia literally means where the sun rises – the same in Polish and Ukrainian).
At no point you in your journey (so far) you had anything to do with Warszawa Zachodnia, which means Western (zachodnia literally means where the sun sets).
You’re right — I am the confused one, though it was not deliberate. I was reading Wschodnia as Zachodnia when clearly (and literally) it means the opposite.
I’ve edited the post in an attempt to remove the confusion.
Obviously I’m nitpicking here, but just want to clarify: the gauge change takes so long because entire bogies get swapped out at the border facility. The train cars are designed for this – they are rolled onto a gauntlet track that features both standard (1435) and the wider, ex-Soviet gauge (1520 mm).
Bogies are disconnected from the car chassis, rolled away and a new set is rolled in and fitted to the car.
Variable gauge technologies do exist (Spain, notably), but they’re not used on these sleeper cars because of the complexity and maintenance requirements. It’s easier to just swap out entire parts of the train.
I was a little concerned yesterday when your ticket clearly showed Warsaw East, but luckily you ended up at the right station after all. Safe travels, Matthew!
Very helpful explanation! Thank you.
Oh my, was I really at the wrong station? Wish I could speak Polish…
Yes, you were. In the first photo from the taxi you can clearly see in the screen that you’re heading towards Warszawa Wschodnia (Eastern Station)
Ah, I thought Wschodnia was west. So Wschodnia is east. Got it.
What holds the car up while the wheels are missing?
So interesting to read, and helpful in understanding what life is like over there. Thank you so much for these posts!
Tracks are narrower in Poland and whole Europe, not in Ukraine as you wrote.
Without a doubt, one of the most fascinating trip reports that a points blogger has ever contributed. Way to step it up, Matthew. As well reporting in such a way that is balanced and not full of hyperbole. You set a new bar as to blogging.
Why do the cars have German words on them “Schlafwagen”, are they old cars that have been put out of service by DB or DR?
It‘s also written in French and Italian. („wagon lits“ and „vagone letto“)
But I am wondering why the reservation only shows the German word „ Reservierung“.
Don’t you need a visa to visit Ukraine, especially during wartime?
You have the track sizes backwards. The gauge change entering Ukraine is to switch from standard gauge (1,435 mm) Polish tracks to broad gauge (1,520 mm) Ukrainian tracks. Tracks throughout the former Soviet Union are typically wider than much of Western Europe, including Poland. (Spain and Portugal are an exception, with the primary conventional rail network having 1,668 mm Iberian gauge tracks.)
Can you share your train journey back from Kyiv? We are having trouble finding direct trains from Kyiv to Warsaw! Any help will be appreciated.
My dilemma here–
I ended up taking the bus. Big mistake. Go to Moldova.