SHADOWED BY THE STATE: From Ukraine with love

Mark Darby takes a trip to the former Soviet country of Ukraine – an adventure which presented him with more than a few problems, including the discovery he’d been under surveillance for days… as a suspected terrorist!

Railway photography in countries hidden away within the shadows of the former Iron Curtain is, at times, delightful or frustrating in equal measures.

Local citizens wander freely over running lines, as passengers ignore station footbridges. However, without question, visitors are studied and observed; when the authorities have sufficient inclination, detention swiftly follows.

Mykolaiv, in southern Ukraine, holds no bias towards tourism, being mainly of strategic importance, with large shipbuilding yards, situated next to the Gulf of Dniprovs’ka and the Black Sea. Mykolaiv is also a busy stamping ground for diesel locomotive type 10, commonly referred to as TEP10s or ‘Earthquakes’.

DS3-011 and yc8-019 are seen at Kiev Pasazhyrskyi at 08.30 on May 7, 2017 with respective arrivals. Delivering 6,400hp, the DS3s were a joint 2003 venture between Dnipropetrovsk and Siemens, whereas the 9,600hp yc8’s were built by Skoda. Next to Pasazhyrskyi station is a highly recommended railway museum.

These 5,480hp, semi-permanently coupled, single-cabbed, twin-unit locomotives would be the main reason for me to visit (with two German enthusiasts) this interesting backwater, close to the border with Crimea, which is currently one of Russia’s ‘irritations’.

To Kiev and Tiraspol

The theme for the trip appeared to be set at passport control of Dortmund Airport, as a German official questioned my lack of visa for a visit to Ukraine, which as a citizen of the UK would apparently be required. Pre-trip, the UK Government’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office website confirmed visas were not necessary for Ukraine – and indeed Transnistria, our joint proposed destinations. Tiraspol in Transnistria, however, would be another story!

A midnight arrival at Zhulyany airport, Kiev, required efforts akin to a ‘bribe’ in order to secure a city-bound taxi, as all taxis amazingly were pre-booked, apparently a recently introduced piece of tourist-unfriendly bureaucracy.

Sunday, May 7 offered opportunities for morning photography beneath cloudless 30 degree skies around Kiev. Our home-spun itinerary included a visit to the children’s railway situated within Syretsky Park. The children’s railway is entirely run by apprentice adults aged between 11 and 16, who drive the trains, work the signals and staff the entire 750mm narrow gauge system, with very minimal supervision; a superb, popular Soviet idea for the leisure time of juniors, an excellent idea to replicate perhaps?

The visit to Syretsky Park would be followed by a late-afternoon departure from Pasazhyrskyi, for a seven-and-a-half-hour journey with Skoda ‘Chs8’ haulage to Odessa.

For the second consecutive day, our destination would be reached beyond midnight.

Read more in February’s issue of The RM – on sale now!

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