Of all the problems I expected to encounter in Ukraine, public transport was not one of them. I was prepared for stray dogs, undrinkable water and the soviet attitude to ‘customer service’, but as a foreign public transport system veteran, I knew when to touch-in and touch-out, where and when I needed to compost my ticket in France and never to cross the road on a red light in Germany. How different could Ukraine be?
Very! Although frequent and extremely cheap, the marshrootni taxis are not the most confidence-boosting mode of transport. These Mercedes vans have kitchen chairs for seats and the fumes are enough to choke everyone within a five mile radius. Although Donetsk has bus lanes they go in the opposite direction to the flow of traffic: a hair-raising experience. Then there is the issue of paying your fare:
Step 1: Get on the bus. Harder than it sounds – Ukrainians are not fans of queues. Elbows out and handbags deployed.
Step 2: Dig out 1.5 grivnas, around 9p.
Step 3: Poke the person standing in front of you and say ‘Pass, please’. If they ignore you jab the money in their face, if they continue to ignore you, give them a really vicious poke and possibly complain about their rudeness to the bus at large.
Step 4: Trust your fellow passengers to pass your money to the front of the bus, and pass you back your change.
Step 5: Position yourself in the bus. Whatever you do, do not stand near the driver! This man is a whirl of activity. He does complex sums, fishes out change, all whilst driving at 60 kph into oncoming traffic and if you stand near him, you will too. People will yell mysterious things at you “Na piachorky dva!!” or “No adnomy”. If you don’t know Russian you’re lost – and even if you do you’d better be well-up on your 1.5 times table, as often the driver will leave you to collect the change and to remember how much change to give to who.
Step 6: Enjoy the ensuing drama. “Where’s my 50 kopecks?”, “Where’s the thieving bastard that’s stolen my change…. Oh wait here it is”.
It is as different as it could be from the UK but I grew quite fond of it, and once mastered you’re no longer a tourist!