Buying Train Tickets in Ukraine
What kinds of trains there are and how to buy tickets
Last update: Apr. 13, 2016 (online ticket sales)
Trains are Ukrainians' preferred mode of long-distance transportation. Prices are low by European standards, and sleeper cars make it possible to sleep at night in relative comfort. In addition to long-distance trains, there are short-distance "elektrichki" (electric trains) that connect regional capitals with outlying towns and villages.
An overnight train ride in Ukraine can be a fun adventure (especially if others traveling in your compartment befriend you and offer you vodka, which is known to happen).
Ukrainian train stations
Large cities generally have two train stations located next to each other — a station for long-distance trains ("вокзал" or "ж/д вокзал") and a station for local electric trains ("пригородный вокзал" - Russ.; "приміський вокзал" - Ukr.). Smaller towns have combined stations. Train stations are usually located near the center of town and are well-integrated into the town's transportation network of buses, marshrutkas, trolleybuses, street trams, and subway.
Buying train tickets in person
In large cities, there are railway ticket offices ("залізнична каса" - Ukr., "ж/д касса" - Russ.) scattered around town in addition to the central train station ("вокзал" - Russ. and Ukr.) where you can buy train tickets (but not for "elektrichki"). Over the years purchasing procedures have changed. For years you had to present a passport, picture I.D., or a xerox copy of a passport for each person whom you are buying a ticket for. Then they changed it so that you no longer needed ANY picture I.D. to buy train tickets to destinations within Ukraine OR to board trains. Now that online services have been vastly improved (see below) and more and more people are buying tickets online, you'll need I.D. when showing your electronic ticket during boarding.
Tickets for electric trains can only be bought at the electric train station. You do not need to present any documents, and your ticket allows you to sit anywhere you want in the train. Just name your destination at the ticket counter. Tickets are very cheap. There is never a shortage of tickets, so you can plan on buying one directly before departure.
At smaller stops it sometimes is not possible to buy a ticket, so get on the electric train without one and tell the ticket officer what station you got on when he or she comes around, and they'll give you a ticket on the spot.
Buying train tickets online
Finally you can conveniently purchase tickets online, whether in Ukraine or abroad! This is a vast improvement over previous systems, whereby you could book online but then had to pick the ticket up at the train station by cutting in line at the ticket counter, or have the paper ticket delivered to your home.
The new system is almost completely self-explanatory and can be used in Ukrainian, Russian, and English at the official Ukrainian Railway site. There are other sites that offer the same service with a slightly more convenient interface, but prices seem to be slightly higher. This suggests that the sites are accessing the exact same database and are making money on a commission basis, which is the extra price you're paying.
The only potential difficulty I've noted is that when you enter some cities the drop-down menu shows you several different stations to choose from. If you're not familiar with the town you're traveling to, you might have to try the different stations till you find the one that produces the result you were expecting.
As online booking becomes the norm, expect ticket boxes around the city to begin closing down due to of lack of demand.
As of early 2016, most of the time you can board the train by showing your electronic ticket on your smartphone screen. The conductor will probably have a scanning device that they can use to read the barcode off your screen. Many passengers still print tickets out just in case, but I so far have had no problems displaying tickets on my smartphone (2 trips in early 2016).
Buy train tickets ahead of time!
You need to buy tickets in advance, because often they run out several days before departure. This is especially true of the summer months and weekends. Often tickets reappear a few days or a day before departure as people return their tickets or new carriages are added to the train to satisfy demand. Often ticket buyers return to the ticket counter multiple times to ask if there are tickets for the train they want.
At ticket offices around the city you might be able to convince a ticket office worker to check tickets for you and grab any that appear, for an additional payment (10 UAH in 2007; probably more now). You'll need to leave info on the dates and destination your looking for and take down her (it's always a woman) cell phone number.
Buying train tickets outside of Ukraine
It used to be a problem if you were abroad and needed to buy train tickets for a trip to, say, Dnepropetrovsk for the day of your arrival at Boryspil airport in Kiev. There were special services allowing you to order tickets in advance and then pick them up at an office near the Kiev train station. But as of 2016 you can buy tickets online from any place in the world using a visa or mastercard.
Ticket office hours
Be prepared for lines at the ticket office and waits of as much as 30 minutes. Some offices tend to be busier, others faster. Try going early in the morning to avoid lines. Usually even better is about half an hour after opening. Hours are typically 8 or 9 am to 7 pm with an hour-long lunch break from either 12 to 1 pm or 1 to 2 pm and two or more "technical breaks" of a 20-minute duration during the day.
In Kiev and other big cities, expect ticket offices at the central train station to work round the clock.
International train tickets
These can only be bought at special windows and require a passport from each passenger to purchase. Fares to western European countries are about twice more expensive as similar distances within Ukraine, partly because the rail width is different in Europe and all carriages must be adjusted at the border, which takes an hour or two. Generally, only 1st class sleeper cars are available for international travel in a westerly direction.
What to say at the ticket counter
Here is what you'll need to tell the ticket lady behind the glass (99% of the time it's a women):
- your destination
- the date of departure
- class of carriage (SV, kupé, or platzkart)
- the number of passengers
- your preferred train number or time of departure, if necessary
- the same information for your return ticket, if necessary
You will typically have to answer additional questions as the ticket lady looks at options: where you're willing to sit (top or bottom bunk, next to the restroom, etc.), whether you want to look at other options if the train or the date you want is full, etc. Discussing all this through the glass requires fluency in Russian or Ukrainian, since it can be hard to hear or make out what the lady is saying (and you've most likely got a line of people standing behind you).
Here's how a typical conversation might go (simplest possible dialogue in Russian):
— Добрый день. Один билет до Одессы на 19-е июня, пожалуйста.
Hello. One ticket to Odessa for the 19th of June, please.
— Так... (looks at computer screen) Плацкарт или купе?
O.K.... 3rd or 2nd class?
— Купе, пожалуйста.
— Верхнее или нижнее?
Top or bottom [seat]?
— Нижнее, если можно.
Bottom, if possible.
— На какое время?
What time of day?
— На вечер.
In the evening.
— Обратный будете брать?
Do you need a return ticket?
— 210 гривен.
210 Hryvnia (gives you ticket after receiving money).
Проверьте билеты, пожалуйста.
Check the tickets, please.
— Всё правильно, спасибо.
It's correct, thank you.
Classes of carriages in Ukrainian trains
There are three classes of train carriages in Ukraine today:
1st class, or "SV" (sleeping wagon)
Two bunks in a locking compartment, sometimes with a T.V. and a sink.
2nd class, or "kupé" (coupe)
Four bunks (two top, two bottom) in a locking compartment.
3rd class, or "platzkart" (economy class)
Six bunks (two top, two bottom, and a top and bottom bunk on the other side of the corridor) in an open compartment.
The approximate price ratio is something like this: if a 3rd class ticket costs 100, a 2nd class ticket might cost 150 and a 1st class 200.
Which class should I get?
In my opinion, there is little difference in "quality of sleep" between 1st and second class, since the both compartments are closed and usually comfortably air conditioned or heated, it is very dark, and the bunks are the same length (about 190 cm). 3rd class is harder to sleep in since there is more noise from everyone else in the carriage, the lights are turned low but not completely off, the bunks are slightly shorter (about 180 cm), and there is no air conditioning (but there is heating).
Perhaps the only advantage of 3rd class is that you can carry a bike with you (although some of the new 3rd class carriages have top racks which make this more difficult, occasionally impossible, so you have to know which trains can take bikes...), which is impossible in 1st or 2nd class. Also, some people like the more open feel of 3rd class. It can be more fun to ride in during the day, since you can see more people and can walk around more easily.
Returning train tickets
Electric train tickets are nonrefundable (they are usually too cheap to matter). Long-distance train tickets, however, can be returned, but at a significant loss. You get the best refund up to six hours before departure. From six hours before to 1 hour after you lose a lot more money.
Not all ticket counters process ticket refunds, so you will need to inquire. In Kiev, no neighborhood ticket offices process refunds; you must go to the train station and stand in line behind two or three ticket counters only. Be prepared for a line... You will need one picture I.D. (or xerox copy) to return tickets, and the process is somewhat lengthy since the ticket lady has to write out a bunch of small forms by hand and have you sign them all. They will ask for your address for accounting purposes.
Returning train tickets is typically a big waste of time. Avoid it if at all possible, unless you happen to live next to the train station.
Transporting baggage on the train
Many train passengers in Ukraine carry large bags of stuff with them on the train. Quite a bit of baggage is allowed without having to buy a "baggage ticket." You can read the baggage regulations in Ukrainian. Large, bulky items need to be transported in a special baggage car and submitted for transport no later than 24 hours before departure. You will need to go to the train station to find out how to do this. Generally you can get your things out of the baggage car only during stops in major cities that are long enough to allow this.
Bicycles may be transported either in the baggage car or in any regular 3rd class carriage across the top shelf of the compartment (wrapped up and with the front tire off). It used to be (pre-2010) that some conductors demanded a baggage ticket, but word has it that this is no longer needed. Cycling in Ukraine is becoming more popular. So, just bring your bike on the train with no extra baggage ticket ("багажная квитанция" - Russ.; "багажний квиток" - Ukr.), but with plenty of time to spare in order to load up the bike before other passengers get on and start taking up the top shelf with their stuff.
Sending documents and packages by train
Until recently, this was a common, unofficial practice: people would send passports, documents, and important packages with train officers, who would take a few Hryvnias and give the package to the recipient at the designated station. Now this service is official. Here is a list of the trains you can send packages with and the prices (in Ukrainian).