We bought the ticket to Odesa in the morning of our departure because we did not have our passports with us a day earlier. The Chisinau - Odesa train had only five wagons, all with wooden benches with backrest, painted yellow and grouped two by two around some small tables. Only in the fifth wagon the chairs were soft and had a cherry color, there is even a mini-bar, maybe that is why this wagon was crowded, noisy and you even could not breath in there.
In the Chișinău-Odesa train. Photo: Sandu Tarlev
The 8 AM Vodka
The wagon the I am in is breezy and has approximately ten passengers. At one of the suburban stations, four men, shaved on their heads and with with distorted faces by drunkenness, enter the wagon. They sit on two seats around a small table, where they start a game of "Belot". One of them pours him self vodka in a plastic glass, drinks it and "burns it out" with water, crinkles, his face turns red and swears something in Russian which mean that he is feeling very good. I think that it is stupid to combine vodka with water: some Cola would be a much better choice. After that i think that it is stupid to drink vodka at 8 AM knowing that you have to pass Ukrainian customs and you will have to answer to the border policeman reeking of alcohol. However the group does not go to Odesa: they get off at Basarabeasca, but not before breaking the little window from door of the train, fact that upsets the wagon conductor, but it does make him to raise a scandal. "They broke the window", he shows me a bucket filled with glass sheers, and leaves resigned.
"The truth speaks through the eyes of the Press"
The train continues its path without any incidents, passes Tighina on the bridge that is painted in the colors of the Russian and Transnistrian flags, stops for a little while at Tiraspol and continues on to Cuciurgan border. The advantage to go to Odesa by train is that you do not have to pass the frustrating registration on the Transnistrian passing point and to give explications to separatists border policeman. The train stops at the Moldovan custom Bulboaca, but no one checks our passports, it is rather a formal control of the wagons.
The Ukrainian border policeman from the Cuciurgan customs - a lady - check us and asks to present the content of our bags. "We have some equipment, photo and video cameras, we are journalists and we are going to Kramatorsk to realize some stories about the conflict zone", we tell to epaulet lady. She scrutinize us with a suspicious look. We assure her that we have all the documents, that we passed the accreditation at SBU and Ministry of Defense! "OK", she said and took from the table Hemingway's book which she flicks through a little and puts it back. "But through your eyes talks the truth. Tell me your opinion, what is happening in Donbas?". The woman keeps looking at me, I hesitate to answer. She repeats the question. "I am sure that you have spoken with people, you made an opinion". "I prefer to keep my opinion to myself", I tell her. She does not look away and does not erase her suspicious smile that makes us somehow uncomfortable. Immediately interferes a woman, who sits two benches before us. The wagon has a great acoustics when stops. "I will tell you what is happening there! If they would come to an agreement like humans, there would not be so many victims, would not have to die so many children! It was really so hard to come to an understanding between them?" said the woman, and the custom officer leaves us to talk with the woman who has a clear opinion about what is happening in Donbas, because her mother lives in Mikolaev.
After the custom officer enters the border policeman which enters passport data in a laptop, applies a red stamp in the passport and leaves wishing us good luck.
Odesa still believes in tears
In line for tickets at Odesa train station Photo: Sandu Tarlev
In one and a half hour, we are at the Odesa train station, where we have an hour to exchange money, to buy tickets and to grab a bite. The Odesa station has a big building, with a beautiful architecture. It is a crowded station, at every ticket office is a big line of people who are coming back from their vacations. The time flies fast when it is short. We manage to exchange our money, to buy two coupe tickets, on the top beds. The waitress from the almost empty cafe is annoying us, who brings us the Ukrainian soup and the pilaf only after we remind her about our order, although we told her that we want something that is already prepared. We arrive in a hurry at the 12th wagon, and there are still 15 minutes until the departure. The conductor is checking our passports. The Odesa - Konstantinovka train has 17 wagons and you hardly can see its ending. All the wagons are crowded and stinky. Some travelers are talking through the window to the ones outside and are crying. The train moves and and the ones outside are running after the wagon and crying, and those from the wagons start to cry even harder, and reaches out to them. It is like an old Soviet movie.
Those from our coupe are a family that o our mutual disappointment are also going to Kramatorsk. We will travel together for 15 hours! There are some military men, young soldiers, tall, kempt and very serious. They are more absent and they don't involve in anything that happens.
„Bandera is everywhere”
Near to our coupe are staying a family of Russians. The father of the family, who is plump and boozy, walks through the wagon only in a pair of slim boxers. All those 15 wagons he will walk like that. His pregnant wife, with a huge belly, quarrels her ten years old son and occasionally some curse words slip through her lips, and after that she goes out for a smoke more often than her red from drinking husband. With them are also the grandmother, who is wondering in a thin and short bath gown, and her hips are covered with a towel tied to her waist. I hear this woman speaking with another passenger who is traveling to Ternopol, West of Ukraine. "How can you can go? Bandera is everywhere in there!" said the woman. The whole wagon speaks Russian, or maybe all except those military men dressed in uniform donated by the US government, which, otherwise, are not saying a word.
The army of strolling cooks
All the time we are awake in the train and watch the industrial landscapes, which are springing up all around the town. There are rusty barns, almost destroyed warehouses, cranes, plants with many pipes and all kind of Soviet installations that resemble depressive jetties. Eastern Ukraine is still an industrial area. Certainly, such landscapes also meet from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok. Some of these industrial objects that still work.
At one of the stations, where we arrive already at night and the train stays for 25 minutes, an army of sellers awaits for us, strolling cooks, that sell warm dumplings, all sort of schnitzels, meat croquettes and pies. The people walk through travelers and yell as at the seaside: smoked fish, warm pies and cold beer! A young and very attractive young woman sells to us some very tasty pork schnitzels.
Toys from Piatihatka
At the Piatihatka station Photo: Sandu Tarlev
After an hour, the coupes are calming down, even those who were buying boxes with beer from the conductor for 20 hryvnias. At 11 PM the train stations at Piatihatka, where it stays for 30 minutes. On the platform in the semi-darkness are a lot of stuffed toys, various animals, tigers and gigantic bears. The saleswoman from the station shop is telling us: "It is not about a toy factory. The people are making them at home, they have their own workshop. We can not find work here, that is how they make at least some money". A huge stuffed bear costs 600 hryvnias.2
Morning alcoholics and the Manea
Roza Luxemburg street from Kramatorsk, 05:30 AM Photo: Sandu Tarlev
The train conductor wakes us at 4:30 AM. "Get UP! after a stop you must go out. Turn over your lingerie!". After Slaviansk, up next is Kramatorsk, which welcomes us with the same industrial view, and at one of the factories, from three gigantic pipes are burning flames that consume gas, they are like some impressive, blue flamed, huge torches like in a Sci Fi movie.
We are getting out in the semi-dark station of the industrial city, where the Russian speaking woman from the speaker, fact that proves that no one forbid the language of Puskin in Kramatorsk . We are approaching to a side road booth in the search for some coffee and hear three blind drunk alcoholics, with vodka in their hands are saying: "Slow down, the recruits are coming!" and pointing towards us. From the cell phone of one of them is playing a Romanian Manea. The alcoholics are swearing, laughing and mutually threatening and after that they are making it up.
"Oh well! We traveled a thousand kilometers, only to be met by some alcoholics that are listening to Romanian Manea", we are joking and sipping from the weak coffee.