How to: use the metro in Kiev

Kiev’s metro (subway) system can be quite intimidating, especially if you’re new to Ukraine, don’t speak the local language and can’t read cyrillic.

However, fear not because it is actually a very cheap, convenient, fast, safe and reliable way to travel around the city.

First, you will need to find a station, then you will need to access it, then you will need to locate and get to your stop. This guide will help you get there and will take the pain out of underground travel – Ukrainian style.

The full guide is available below, but first here’s some basic information and a short history of the metro system.

1. It was first proposed in 1916, put on hold during WWII (known at the Great Patriotic War here in Ukraine) and then restarted in 1949. Eleven years later, in 1960, the first line opened running from the central train station to the river.

2.  At the end of 2010 the Kiev Metro was using 774 individual carriages.

3. There are three lines. Red, Blue and Green. The lines cross each other in a triangle in the city centre. See the map.

4. The cost of a token/ticket is just 2 hrivna! (approximately 20 Euro cents). You pay once and you can travel as far as you like. You only repay if you leave the metro system and want to re-enter.

You can switch lines where they cross in the city centre. Also, ignore the dotted lines, they don't exist yet.

How To: Use the Metro in Kiev

The guide has the following sections

1. Finding the metro
2. Accessing the Metro
3. On the platform
4. Boarding and train etiquette
5. Leaving the train and the platform

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1. Finding the metro. 

To find the entrance to the metro, look for the big green M.

The ‘M’ marks the stairs that lead underground, but be aware that there is often a busy collection of kiosks, tunnels, cash machines (ATMs) and grandma’s selling stuff like bread or knickers before you get to the metro itself.

2. Accessing the metro 

Enter > buy a ticket > get through the gates

Your first big challenge will be the swinging doors that guard the metro. These glass and metal doors swing (fast) in both directions, they are  heavy enough to kill a bear and unless you’re old, it is unlikely that the person in front of you will hold the door open for you.  So, just be ready and be careful to catch the thing as it swings back in your face.

TIP: If you’re clever, you can pass the door as the wind coming from the station blows it open, or as it swings open after the last person entered. However, both of these are advanced metro skills and shouldn’t be tried in your first week.

There are two sets of doors for each station. One set to enter (вхід) and one to exit (вихід). Can you see the difference? No?  Well, don’t worry, I still have trouble remembering the difference.

Enter (вхід)
Exit (вихід)

four letters = enter
five letters = exit

To make life more difficult, вхід (enter) is often written in red, while вихід (exit) can be written in green – but not always.  Hopefully they’ll fix all this before the EURO 2012 championships, but if they don’t the best thing to do is follow everyone else and try not to enter a door that people are walking out from.

 Buying a ‘ticket’ 

Actually you need a token or ‘zjeton’. These are small plastic coins and you need one token to enter.

A token costs 2 UAH and there are three ways to buy them.

1. Go to the window, give the woman your money and indicate the number of tokens you need with your fingers

2. Go to the small orange dispenser machines. It the dispenser has a 2 on it, enter 2 UAH and you’ll get one coin. If the dispenser has a 10 on it, enter a 10 UAH and you’ll get 5 coins.  NB, the machines only accept the exact notes. If you try to enter anything but a 2 or 10 you will get nowhere and people will get annoyed with you.

3. Use the new touch screen terminals that they have just installed. If you can understand the English – good luck to you.

TIP: For the benefit of everyone, please have your money ready BEFORE you get to the window or the machine. If you don’t you’ll get a lot of frustrated sighs.
TIP: The small blue tokens make for very cheap souvenirs

Go through the gates

Ukrainian access gates are the exact opposite of English gates.  The token goes in the right side, and you walk through the LEFT side. I repeat, token right, body left.

Its also wise to leave a 1 second pause before you enter to give the token time to register. Listen for the beep.

If you don’t do this, or you forget the token altogether the turnstile wont open (if it has a turnstile) or an angry barrier will shoot-out from both sides and squash you.

Assuming, you get through OK – Congratulations! you’re in the system.

Now get down to the platform.

Usually, this means a trip on a long and fast escalator, but don’t worry – you’ll survive it. I’ve seen 90-year-old bag-carrying women get onto those escalators and blind people. They move fast, but the steps are quite big so don’t be scared.

3. On the platform

Once you’re on the platform, you’ve made it. All you need to do is wait by the correct side (one side for each direction) and then wait for the Metro train.

Unlike the London Underground, each station serves one line. So, one side of the platform goes in one direction, the other side goes in the opposite direction. Its simple.

By the time you arrive here in Kiev, you should find that each station has a name and a number. If you don’t speak Russian or Ukrainian, I would use the numbers because the names can be hard to say.  However, if you are asking for a station, you will need to know the name. The station numbers are new and have been introduced in March 2012. They don’t mean anything to the locals who live here.

4. Boarding and train etiquette

Boarding

Getting on or off the train can be fun and/or annoying because Ukrainians do not like to wait. They will try to get on the train before you have time to get off and they will push straight past you in order to get on first.

You’ll encounter this ‘me first’ attitude a lot in Ukraine where in other countries you might expect a queue. However, try not to get angry. Ukrainians are often pushy, but they are very rarely (if ever) violent. Just accept that they don’t queue, and join in the fun.

Also, don’t expect to get on the train before any middle-aged or old women. They will push there way on before you. Get over it.

On the train

If you’re lucky you’ll have space to breath or even a seat, but its unlikely. Normally you’ll need to stand, squeezed firmly in the middle of a crowd of train ‘friends’ .

To keep these train friends happy, try to remember these three rules:

1. give up your seat for old people, for people with kids (even if the kid is old enough to stand) and for couples. Yes, the last one is strange, but you’ll love it when someone moves so you can sit by your lover.

2. Don’t move or talk too much. Ukrainians are very well behaved in public, and they like it when other people are too. Joking loudly with your friends or waving your arms during conversation is frowned upon. Talking or moving is not illegal, but its not encouraged either.

3. Don’t stand on peoples shoes. Shoes are a big deal in Ukraine, a very big deal. You have been warned :-)

Finally, please note how clean and tidy the metro stations are. They are meticulously cared for and regularly cleaned by hand. Ukrainians almost never drop litter inside the metro system and you shouldn’t either. If you have any rubbish, hold onto it until you exit the station, there are bins next to each entrance and exit.

5. Leaving the train and the platform

When you get to your platform, gently push your way off the train, try not to hit the people who are trying to get on the train (as you’re still getting off)  and look for your exit/вихід.

6. Useful info

Here’s the best map of the Metro network

The head office is located on, Prospekt Pobedy 35, next to the “Polytechnic Institute” metro station on the red line.

You can call them on:
+38 (044) 238-58-55
+38 (044) 238-58-98
+38 (044) 238-58-73

About this guide: 
This ‘how to’ guide was written for www.bluetoyellow.com in March 2012. If you like it, please share it. If you don’t like it, or if you have any additional info to help people – please leave a comment below.

If you would like to submit your own guide, please email: ian@bluetoyellow.com

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15 Comments

  1. why Kiev if official name of our capital is Kyiv!

    • Oleksandr, the blog is written in English and I’m afraid you don’t get to decide what is or isn’t official English. Sorry ;-)

      See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exonym …it helps to explain.

      • It’s not exactly the case. City used to be called Kiev in official documents based on cultural pressure by Russia and than was kind of renamed to Kyiv which is more Ukrainian way of pronunciation. In all the official documents it is listed as Kyiv.

  2. becouse of moskali, job jikh mat’!

  3. 1) “The best map” is not a very good map–it has 2 stations on the green line that don’t exist (shown in light gray but the difference is hardly noticeable.) This is the map you’ll find inside trains: http://metro.kiev.ua/node/101
    2) I’d underscore the importance of waiting for the beep before going through the turnstile. Put the token in, make sure it didn’t come out back at you (sometimes it happens), hear the beep, go.
    3) When choosing which turnstile to take, DO NOT take the closest one to the guard. That one is reserved for people entitled to a free ride with appropriate documents (such as pension cards, etc.)
    4) You will notice some people use chip-cards, not tokens. Don’t bother about chip-cards. You’ll have to pay a 7 UAH deposit for each, they can be refilled at the counter or in a machine, but they don’t give any reductions, refilling machines are confusing and sometimes they stop working (to replace one or return you’ll need to go to the Metro’s main office.)
    5) On the escalator: stand on the right-hand side or walk on the left-hand side. DO NOT stand on the left-hand side.
    6) On each side of the platform you’ll find signs listing stations you can board for on that side.
    7) Try to count stations to the one you need. When the train is at the station and you’re inside the train, it’s sometimes difficult to tell which station it is. Many train cars have monitors which indicate the name of the current and next station (also in English), but often they’re off or indicate a wrong station. You can also try to pronounce the station name to a fellow rider and indicate with a rising tone that you’re wondering if that’s what it is. (Arsenal’naya???)
    8) Transfers between lines are free but take the set of stairs marked with a green light, otherwise you risk coming later to an escalator going the opposite way. If you need to transfer, say, from Red line to Green don’t assume there’ll be a green arrow. It may be red or any unobvious color.
    9) You will often see turnstiles at stations’ exits. Just walk through–they are there to prevent people from entering through exits.
    10) Watch your pockets and bags on crowded trains.

  4. Anthony

    because nobody cares about official name if locals don’t use it

    • Russian-speaking locals say Kiev, while Ukrainian-speaking locals say Kyiv. That’s about it. Use whichever name you like, but it’s useful to know you should write Kyiv in official documents or something.

  5. Olha S.

    Just a few things to add.
    1) It is necessary to step away from the train (and then return) on the central stations if you stand near the door and there are many people inside. Otherwise, you will be either pushed out by force or granted with cross looks / groans. Basically, it seems obvious to let others out at crowded stations, but every single day people do all they can to go against the flow and stay inside.
    2) While the “no-queue principle” works in the metro, it sometimes quite the opposite with ground transport. Namely, at the departure stops of route buses (marshrutkas) people keep the queue firmly.

  6. great guide and comments! one more to add – try not look in faces of people inside train, even in crowd – look on shoes, monitors etc. dont smile to strangers if its not pretty girl/boy you want to flirt with

  7. i NEVER give up my seat for old people end etc… NEVER. its normal. You can not do this if you do not want to! Have you seen this map? withowt numbers but ideal for iPad http://wayfinding.kiev.ua/map/# . in english and ukrainian

    • jackie

      What an MCP you are Andrew!Remind me to give you a hefty kick when I see you on the metro at Minsk..one of these days it will happen for sure..the Lord works in mysterious ways….

  8. John Farnworth

    I was last in Kiev in February and though i can read cyrillic the Metro now has signs in English on the trains for when Euro 12 starts which is a great help for foreigners who do not understand Ukrainian or Russian.

  9. What are the strange loud three piercing chips that occur every few seconds by the entrace doors? My only guess of their purpose is to help blind people find which is the correct door.

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