Travel into the Ukraine could have been so much easier. I could have simply bought tickets on the Budapest-Moscow sleeper. But to save a little money we bought a ticket from Mad to Záhony on the Hungarian border. We changed a couple of times but avoided having to speak the town we could not pronounce (Nyíregyháza).
A 2 hour wait in the massive EU-funded railway junction that is Záhony. Finally a two carriage train appeared 30 minutes before departure. Hungarian passport check on the train and then across a bridge into a darkened Ukraine and the town of Chop (or Чоп). Ukraine customs were much more thorough with some probing questions about our purpose of our visit and what narcotics we were carrying.
We were discharged into a vast station hall at about 9.30pm. It was a bit like Euston, only dark and empty and covered with vast socialist realist murals (peace doves, workers, soldiers – only painted in the mid-80s). The main departure board consists of small white plastic letters stuck on a board; in Cyrillic only. The PA blasts out occasionally as if this was a crowded rush hour rather than 4 dozing transients in a vast marble space. And it is pristine, with just one bin in the entire space and a woman mopping the vast marble floor into the night.
It takes a little time to summon up courage to go outside. The large station forecourt is almost pitch black with a few distant shadowy figures. Venturing out further, there are a few bright neon signs over closed shops, empty roads, a paucity of street lights and crumbling pavements. But in the gloom there were some open shops, some bars, cash machines, bats and drunks.
Trains kept arriving and departing through the night; our paranoia built through the lack of any information and the jaunty Ukrainian PA. Eventually I dodged shunting locos and crossed four tracks to ask a guard on a train. He grabbed my tickets and wouldn’t give them back and I went running back to grab Kim and the bags. We made our beds at about 2:30am. Stiflingly hot, noisy and jolting. A couple joined our compartment about 5:30. We sweated through the night, woken by the cabin woman at 9:30.