Ukraine trains – these are two words that fit together perfectly. Ukraine is one of the best countries for train travel in Europe. The country is not only the second largest in Europe. It also has one of the best railroad networks on the continent. Where elsewhere the lines have already been massively reduced, here you can still discover many places by Ukraine railways. In this article we want to give you the most important info about trains in Ukraine, travelling by train in Ukraine, train types and car classes, Ukrainian night trains, tickets and reservations and how to buy Ukraine train tickets online.
Travelling by train in Ukraine – What you need to know
Trains in Ukraine are still the most common and convenient way of traveling in the country. Ukraine Railways (UZ) is still a state-owned enterprise. It is being trimmed more and more for profit, but this is a long way in Ukraine. Many trains still travel much slower than in other countries. When boarding interregional trains, you must already show a ticket. The tickets are controlled at the train doors by an attendant. Without a ticket you do not get access. Although many people will claim that you can bribe your way in (with money, compliments or sweets), the train attendants often don’t allow you to travel like this anymore. Therefore, travelers should definitely buy their ticket beforehand. The only exception to this are the so-called electrichkas (suburban trains), where it is possible to buy tickets in the compartment.
Ukraine trains – overview of the network and important routes
Practically all of Ukraine is connected with a railroad network. There are connections between almost all major cities. The railroad network in Ukraine is divided into various subcompanies, which are responsible for organizing transport in these regions as the administration. The seats of these subcompanies are the main hubs, which are also the largest cities in the country:
- Pivdenno-Zakhidna Zalisnytsya (Південно-Західна залізниця), based in Kyiv – capital and geographical center of the country – has the most connections
- Pivdenna Zalisnytsya (Південна залізниця), based in Kharkiv – Ukraine’s second largest city and a hub to the east and for connections to parts of Russia.
- Lvivska Zalisnytsya (Львівська залізниця), based in Lviv – hub in the west of the country and for connections to Poland.
- Odeska Zalisnytsya (Одеська залізниця), based in Odessa – hub in the south, also for connections to Moldova and Romania.
- Prydniprovska Zalisnytsya (Придніпровська залізниця), headquartered in Dnipro – industrial city and hub for the southeast of the country.
Not its own subsidiary but is an important stop for connections:
- Uzhgorod/Mukachevo – hub for connections to Slovakia and Hungary
Until Russia’s war against Ukraine, the following sections also belonged to the railroad companies of Ukraine:
- Donetska Salisnytsya (Донецька залізниця) based in Donetsk – the lines on the territory held by Ukraine were divided between the railroad administrations based in Dnipro and Kharkiv.
- Crimea’s railroads were confiscated by the Russian authorities and spun off into “Crimean Railways,” which outwardly is not affiliated with Russian State Railways (but de facto is). This serves to circumvent sanctions against Russia’s occupation of Crimea.
Ukraine train types
In Ukraine there are different types of trains. However, it is not quite as complicated as with other train companies.
Intercity trains in Ukraine are express trains that run on the country’s main routes and do so much faster than regular express trains. The main reason for this is that many of them are equipped with new, modern railcars from South Korea or imported locomotives from the USA. They travel at speeds of up to 160 km/h, which is very fast for the Ukrainian rail network. Intercity trains operate on the following routes:
- Kyiv – Kostiantynivka
- Kyiv – Kharkiv
- Zaporishya – Kyiv
- Kyiv – Dnipro – Pokrovsk
- Kyiv – Kryvy Rih
- Kyiv – Przemysl
- Kyiv – Ternopil – Przemysl
- Kyiv – Lviv
- Kyiv – Odessa
- Kyiv – Ternopil
Fast trains are the most common type of trains in interregional long-distance traffic. They run on all major routes and also connect smaller destinations with each other and pass through rail hubs. Contrary to what the name suggests, however, express trains are not particularly fast. The travel time compared to intercity trains can sometimes be twice as long. Nevertheless, the express trains are a beautiful and authentic way to travel Ukraine.
Night trains – waking up at the next destination
There is no special designation for the night trains. They actually also fall into the category of express trains. The Ukrainian carriages are built in such a way that they can be used as seating carriages during the day and as sleeping carriages at night. In the sleeping car, guests are provided with free bedding for overnight trips. Night trains are the perfect way to travel long distances across the country overnight in an ecological and affordable way. Spending the night on the train not only saves money, but also time, as it allows you to wake up at your destination the next morning. Night trains in Ukraine are perfect for traveling, for example, between the country’s major cities (Kyiv, Lviv, Kharkiv, Odessa, Dnipro) or even from the east of the country and Kyiv to the Carpathian Mountains or the Black Sea.
Elektritshkas – Beloved slow trains
Elektritshkas are almost something like a legend in Ukraine. Every Ukrainian knows them and everyone makes fun of them. But still, Ukrainians love the electrichkas. With these trains the city dwellers go to their dachas or to recreation areas on weekends. Or they visit grandma and grandpa in the small villages. Mostly they are only equipped with wooden benches. These suburban trains either run on remote routes or travel on the normal routes, but very slowly. They stop at every stop and are what is classically called a slow train. In most cities, the elektritshkas do not depart directly from the main station, but from a station for the suburbs (usually near the main station) or at separate platforms.
Narrow gauge railroads and light railroads
In Ukraine, there are still a few narrow-gauge railroads in regular service that have not yet fallen victim to the UZ’s cost-cutting efforts. It is difficult to say how long this will be the case. But the lines are often the only connection for some settlements to the outside world. In any case, the trains are an experience and pass through interesting and picturesque scenery. Currently, the following narrow-gauge railroads still exist in Ukraine:
- Antonivka – Zaritshne
- Berehovo – Irshava – Vynohradiv
- Haivoron – Rudnitsa
In addition, there are several tourist narrow-gauge railroads, which in the past were mostly used as forest railroads for transporting timber. These include, for example, the so-called Carpathian Tram from Wyhoda.
Car classes in Ukrainian trains
Besides the types of trains, there are also classes of cars. Understanding these is actually even more important, because they determine the comfort you can enjoy during the trip.
First class / Lux
The most comfortable class of travel is the first class in Ukraine as well. It is also simply called Lux (pronounced “looks”). In the Intercity trains you got much more legroom. If it is an express train with compartments, only 4 people sit in the compartment during the day. Thus, there is plenty of space for everyone.
In the night trains Lux are two bed compartments. That is, when you travel in pairs, you can book the whole compartment for yourself. Otherwise, you have to share the compartment with only one other person.
Second class – Kupe / Coupé
The second class is the lowest class in the intercity trains. Here you sit a little closer together but still relatively comfortable. In express trains that run during the day with compartments, you sit here either by four or six together, depending on the train. I find it a bit cramped when there are six people, especially if you have the seat in the middle. On night trains, when you take the Kupe, you are in a four-person compartment with three other people. I find that best for night train travel. Here you can then, depending on your physical condition choose the upper or lower bunk when you book. The space is sufficient for people under 1.80 meters (roughly 6 feet).
Third class – platskart
For many Ukrainians, the most popular option is still the open, large-capacity compartment. This is mainly due to the low prices. There are usually about 26 beds per compartment. Especially if there are children or groups of young people, this can quickly become exhausting. During the day, four people sit on the lower berths. Opposite those on the window in the aisle, there are still two seats. At night 6 people sleep in these sections. Two people sleep down on the benches, the other two above. Above this there is still a luggage rack. The other two people sleep on the benches on the aisle, which are spread out to make a bed at night. These places are usually unpopular, because everyone who passes through compartment will bump into you.
Fourth class – Sahalniy
The fourth class is actually only available in the elektritshka. Also called wooden class, these compartments have only wooden benches and are therefore very uncomfortable, especially for longer journeys. However, since they are only found on suburban trains, most passengers only travel short distances in fourth class.
Ukrainian conductor – Providnik / Provodnitsa
Provodnitsas are simply part of traveling by train in Ukraine. Even though they are occasionally men, women are much more common as compartment conductors. In the meantime, they have mostly discarded their former Soviet appearance and are usually friendly and helpful to passengers. They have various tasks, which we would like to briefly outline here:
- Check tickets – When the tickets are from the counter, she collects the tickets and returns them before the end of the trip
- Give out bedding and towels
- Serve tea and hot drinks
- Give Information on connections and the destination
- Wake up passengers
- Collect bedding from the travelers
The provodnitsa is therefore less a conductor than a stewardess and takes care of the passengers. If you are lucky, you can sometimes invite the provoditsas for a drink, even though this has become rarer today.
Tickets for trains in Ukraine
There are still long queues in front of ticket offices in Ukraine. However, the number of lines is decreasing, because in Ukraine, too, you can now buy your ticket on the Internet.
Book and buy train tickets online
To purchase tickets, you can even book them in English on the website of the state railroad company (UZ). However, unlike in Germany, tickets are sold only from a certain time in advance. Mostly the sale opens 60 to 45 days before departure of the train. Before that, you can not buy the tickets. Therefore, you should always check whether train tickets are already available for the desired date. In addition to UZ, private operators also offer tickets at the same prices. You can book tickets on the following sites:
- UkrZalisnitsa (UZ) – Reservation in Ukrainian and English
- Omio.com – Reservation in English, German and other languages
- Tickets.ua – Reservation in Ukrainian, English and Russian
For tickets with QR code, you can save the ticket on your smartphone and do not need to print it out.
Attention! Some tickets purchased online without QR code need to be picked up from the ticket office
What many foreign travelers in Ukraine do not know, and what has made me have to help more than once, is that some tickets purchased online in Ukraine must first be exchanged for real tickets at the ticket office. This is then also noted on the tickets. As a rule, these tickets do not have a QR code. It is best to ask someone who knows Ukrainian whether the ticket still needs to be picked up, or whether your printout already counts as a ticket. This is especially true if, like me, you like to be late and catch trains at the last minute. By the way, I have not yet understood the exact meaning of this occasional necessity. But in Ukraine not everything always makes sense 🙂
Buy train tickets at the counter
If you prefer to take the trouble and go to the train station after all, you can of course do that. There are ticket offices at every train station. In small towns, these usually open half an hour before the train departs. In larger cities, some counters are open 24h a day. Make sure you find the right counter. There are often different counters for national and international connections.
Buy international tickets
International tickets in Ukraine usually still have to be purchased at the train station. For international tickets, there are limited opportunities to buy them online. UZ does sell tickets for trains to Przemysl, Poland, so you can cross the border. For the Polish trains, you can then book tickets at Omio, for example. Other than that, the only way left is to buy the ticket at the train station. At all major stations there are international ticket offices. Only at these you can buy international tickets.
Reading Ukrainian train tickets
1 – Train number – here train 542
2 – Date and time
3 – Car number – here 22
4 – Car class – here C, stands for seat
5 – Number of passengers on this ticket
6 – Indication whether full payer
7 – Route – here Odessa – Chisinau
8 – Seat number, here in Russian: места 041, in Ukrainian it would say: місце 041
9 – price in UAH (followed by the breakdown price + VAT. )
10 – Name of the insurance company where you are insured for the trip.
Luggage on the train
In Ukrainian trains you can take 36 kilograms of luggage for free. You can extend this up to 50 kilograms officially. Unofficially, however, I have never experienced anyone weighing my luggage. The rule of thumb is that it must fit in the compartment without disturbing the other passengers. In the compartments of express trains (Kupe and Lux) there are storage places under the seats and above the door. In the platskart under the seats and above the upper beds.
Taking bicycles on the train in Ukraine
Each passenger has 36 kilograms of free luggage. For extra payment, this can be increased to 50 kilograms. Bicycles are included. Bicycles can be carried on trains in Ukraine. However, to do so, you must disassemble the bike enough to fit in the luggage compartments. This also applies to the Intercity trains. Unfortunately, this is usually quite inconvenient and not easy to implement. Bicycles can’t be left at the entrances as people move between carriages.
Who travels in pairs and with the bicycle, can probably also book a Lux cabin for two and take the bike in there. Then it should probably also be ok.
In some trains there is a luggage compartment for bulky luggage. There is an overview of connections with luggage compartment here (in Ukrainian).
In the elektritshkas you can easily take bikes. Somehow they always fit into the aisle.
Luggage storage at the station
When you arrive at your destination station, it is often important to be able to leave the luggage somewhere. Those who don’t spend the night, can leave the luggage. Because practically at every larger train station there is a luggage storage. There are either counters or vending machines for this purpose. With the counters you should note however that there is usually a technical break. If this falls into your departure time, you run the risk of missing the train. Then you should use the vending machines. But be careful, if it is the old Soviet vending machines, you have to remember the code that was set at the lock and then change it. Otherwise you will not be able to get your luggage quickly.