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