Euro 2012 and summer holidays are approaching. In case you are planning to visit Ukraine, do not forget that railway is the main means of transport there. If you are going by car, avoid main border crossings, even at the expense of taking a roundabout route. And watch out for the personnel at the Donetsk airport.
Railway is undoubtedly the best means of transport in Ukraine, provided that you manage to buy a ticket. In the summer ALL Ukrainians and half of Russian population go for holidays in the south, especially Crimea but also coast of the Sea of Azov. Those who want to get from the west of Ukraine to the south-east (e.g. Lviv-Zaporizhia), will probably buy tickets for the train that terminates in Simferopol. The city is a junction point for the whole peninsula. A ticket must be bought a week or two before the trip. Luckily, a train to Donetsk takes a different route. Yet, it goes through Kyiv, which makes buying a ticket even harder. The railway in Ukraine is much more besieged than in Poland. And though it is more developed, there are sometimes not enough seats. However, the fact that ticket sale is over does not mean you cannot actually buy a ticket. Railwaymen are given their own ration now and then. It is distributed among friends and family who want to go for holidays too. The tickets can also be sold to “the needy”; you just need to have a friend working for the railway. The Ukrainian railway employs around 350 thousand people, so there is no shortage of people interested in the ticket ration. A logistic challenge can be posed not only by a ticket, but also by an attempt at buying it. International tickets for those trains whose route begins in Poland and ends abroad are much more expensive than those for national railway. It is then better to buy a ticket at a Ukrainian railway station. But how can you do that when you are in Poznan, Wroclaw, Warsaw, Lublin or Berlin?
Two years ago a system of Internet ticket sale was launched. It finds direct and indirect links and shows the number of free seats on a given train and in a given compartment. The system, however, has one significant shortcoming – it does not always work. When you decide to register in the system and give all personal data, including credit card details, having clicked “pay for the ticket” you may see a message that the ticket was not bought. If, however, you card was charged, you should make a complaint at a railway station. Before Euro 2012, the system is to be efficient. Unfortunately, the menu has been translated into English only partially and without the ability to read in Cyrillic you will not be able to use the system.
The railway, however, remains unrivalled. Distances in Ukraine are large and the condition of roads remains not that great. If you manage to buy a ticket, the pleasure is all yours. The prices for anyone from Poland or other western country are low. Donetsk-Lviv sleeper ticket costs less than EUR 10.
If you decide to go by car, I advise you to avoid big border crossings. They are always crowded and you can lose a lot of time and frayed nerves on waiting. There are small border crossings: Kroscienko-Smolnica and Dorohusk-Jagodzin, where the traffic is smaller. From 15 minutes to an hour and, being in luck, you can cross the border – it beats waiting 3-10 hours at other crossings. Gas prices: petrol 95 – EUR 1.06, diesel – EUR 0.91. The roads are far from perfect. Before Euro 2012, however, Ukraine makes every effort to improve the situation. A good example is Lviv, which is completely dug up. The driveway and the main street from the railway station to the city centre were torn off so that they could be surfaced anew.
A new terminal was opened at the Donetsk airport on 15 May 2012. Unfortunately, I was not lucky enough to check in in the new building and my Donetsk-Warsaw flight on 9 May will remain one of the most unpleasant travelling experience ever. On the Victory Day, the Donetsk airport looked like a construction site: heavy equipment in the apron area, a cordon of soldiers escorting passengers from a plane to the bus taking them to the old terminal. The luggage was transported in a trailer towed by some grotesque jeep. In the waiting room with the capacity of 200 people, 300-400 passengers waited for their flights. There were no speakers informing about the flights and time of opening the gate (there is only one gate for the whole international terminal). It was a total chaos wreathed in cigarette smoke. You could barely see a sign with information that smoking is prohibited under penalty of UAH 500. Let’s hope that this airport nightmare ended as soon as the new terminal was opened. Though, I have to say, I fear that those three ladies who tried to put on the computer the number of the next flight for 10 minutes and for the next 20 minutes had difficulties counting up how many passengers they had already checked in for the flight to Dubai, may not change their habits… I wish I could have some pictures showing these nightmarish events, but I was kindly asked by the soldiers to delete them.
A new glass building of the railway station in Donetsk is to be put into use. It is most likely that just before Euro one of the three access ways to Donetsk will be opened. For all I know, roads from Kharkiv, Kyiv and Dnipropetrovsk are open and in good condition.
There is so much left to do before Euro. Ukraine’s experience with mass events is limited to the protests in Maidan Nezalezhnosti in 2004. There has never been such events as Open’er Festival, EuroBasket 2010, or at least European Volleyball Championships as in Poland. This may hinder organisation. But Ukrainians may be successful in their last-minute attempt at buttoning everything up. Let’s just hope that it won’t come off later, during the opening ceremony. Luckily, the Championships are not all about the infrastructure. The greatest value is the atmosphere. And Ukraine makes every effort to be well-prepared for hosting football fans from other countries.
Translated by Marta Lityńska