Kyiv’s first underground inklings started way back in 1884, when it had been decided that the mother of all Russian cities was to have the first ever metropolitan. The original project included plans for a tunnel to connect the lower part of the city starting at Poshtova Ploscha with Bessarabka and on to the Vokzal, or central railway station. Unfortunately, probably due to engineering complications, the designs were never implemented, and the project got put on the backburner.
In 1916, new plans were submitted by an American company to build something the likes of which Eastern Europe had never seen before. But for whatever reason, the Kyiv authorities denied the proposal, and it wouldn’t be until 1938 that the city would see any movement going on underground. Kyiv would no longer own rights to the title of first metro, however, as Moscow had taken that accolade just three years earlier.
Despite the fact that building was interrupted by WWII, The Party ordered that works resume in 1944 to bolster patriotism and show the rest of the world just how strong the Soviet UNI0N actually was. With thousands of people bearing nothing more than simple spades, work was intense and did not stop until tonnes of concrete had been laid and kilometres of tunnels appeared. It would take 15 years, but Kyiv’s first metro opened for business in November 1960, and its first five stations included Vokzalna, Universitet, Khreshchatyk, Arsenalna and Dnipro.
In the middle of the 70s, a second line appeared, and just 13 years later, a third line would be added on to that. The stations on the original line were all intended either to be a glorification of Stalin or The Party: in Universitet, for example, a giant statue of the man himself was planned to stand guard over his people, and in the Politekhnichna station, a whole range of proletarian professions were meant to be displayed, But when the Soviets turned their back on Stalin and his murderous ways, these ambitious ideas turned into something much simpler.
Take a Ride
While some stations today, like Teatralna with its huge portrait of Lenin or Khreshchatyk decorated now and forever with Khrushchov’s beloved corn, still display remnants of a time long past, the Kyiv metropolitan has flourished into a thing not only of convenience but expediency. Indeed a fast and efficient way to get about town, with the ever-increasing number of cars on the roads, it allows you to beat the gridlock that often occurs along the city’s busiest streets. It is, however, busy no matter what time of day you travel, and at peak times the carriages are often over-crowded. As a law unto themselves, the people to watch out for on the metro are the babushkas. Usually heavily laden with bags, they get where they’re going with little regard for life or limb. But if you can tolerate the sardine-like feeling, it’s quick, reliable, and definitely worth the ride.
At one time not that long ago, the cost for one zhiton (token) used to be a very reasonable 50 kopecks. It has since gone up to 2hrv, which, if you think about it is still pretty decent. Or, if you plan to travel the tracks on a daily basis, buy a monthly pass for unlimited use for the incredibly low price of 95hrv.
Priding itself with 46 stations that cover a distance of nearly 60 kilometres, the Kyiv metro often carries more than one and a half million people every single day. Divided up into three lines – red, green and blue – the red line runs from north-west on the right bank to north-east on the left bank; the blue line runs pretty much north to south; and the green line runs from the north on the right bank to way out east on the left bank. With only the three lines, you’ll find that a lot of the city isn’t covered, but as each of the three lines intersect at some point in the centre, accessing those that are is fairly easy.
One of the things that makes the Kyiv metro a thing unto itself has to be its diameter, where each tunnel spans nearly 5.5 metres. This is a whole metre more than that found in subways whizzing around Europe, allowing the city the opportunity to use bigger wagons which carry more passengers. Another reason to be proud is that it boasts two of the deepest stations anywhere in the world, and taking commuters down more than 100 metres, both Arsenalna and Zoloti Vorota are rides in and of themselves. Because its escalators do take a rather long time – approximately five minutes – to get from above ground to underground, or vice versa, if you’re only going one or two stops it can be quicker to walk.
Working from approximately 05.00 – 00.00, 19 hours straight, at peak times they run almost every minute. This extends to about every ten minutes late in the evening or very early in the morning, but during the day, trains run about every 4 minutes on average. The few hours they lock their doors are to ensure the metro receives the attention it deserves, and at this time, the nearly 160,000 square metres of space gets a good scrub down.
Coordination of all trains and escalators is handled in the control centre at the Ploshcha Lva Tolstoho station. There, huge monitors show exactly where each train is at any given second. To ensure the safety of passengers at every moment, all communication that goes on in the centre between staff and drivers is recorded. As an added bonus, clean water, the movement of air and electricity is all at the city’s disposal underground, so in the case of an emergency situation passengers would be more than safe.
Stations New and Old
Ever since the doors opened in 1960, the Kyiv metropolitan has been expanding nonstop. In the last ten years alone, new stations such as Dorohozhychi, Syrets, Boryspilska, Vyrlytsia and Chervoniy Khutir have been opened, and in 2008, Kyiv authorities promised to open another three – Demeevska, Holosiivska and Vasylkivska. While it didn’t happen then, the metro’s 50th anniversary this month is a pretty good reason to celebrate and to commemorate the occasion, these three stations will open and VIP passengers Victor Yanukovych and Mykola Azarov will ride through each of them on 6 November. The rest of us will have to wait until sometime in December to get such treatment.
Unfortunately, the fates of stations Lvivska Brama and Telychka are not quite as a promising. Both are very nearly finished, and have been that way since as far back as the late 90s, but for some reason have seen very little movement and no once can say why.
One of Kyiv’s most problematic regions is Troeshchyna, or what Kyiv residents call the sleeping district. With absolutely no connection to the rest of the city by train, plans for this area go as far back as the late 80s. Unfortunately, new lines needed to unite the large suburb with the other parts of the capital have been estimated to cost nearly 16 billion hryvnia, and as a result nothing has been done of late. The one station that has been under construction for ages, linking Lybidska to Teremky, has been estimated to be finished as early as next year.
In addition to the treatment our beloved politicians will receive on 6 November, the Kyiv metropolitan has planned a number of exciting surprises for its passengers in celebration of its 50 years of service. One of the trains, for example, has been decorated with rare archival photographs showing the various steps the metro took in order to get it to where it is today. I myself was surprised to see women from the 60s in huge winter coats with spades and buckets working away. Another treat Kyiv passengers can look forward to is on the very first line – the Svyatoshyn, or red line. Here, a history wagon runs from one of the city to the other, where windows have been fashioned into retro-style wooden frames and walls are draped in historic documents showing photographs from personal archives of Kyiv’s very first metro workers.
Travelling the metro is always an interesting experience that will overload your senses with sights and smells. If you’ve not tried it before, give it a go. We think you’ll enjoy the experience!