Until coming to Kyiv, we never knew exactly how efficient and amazing public transportation could be. In China we often used public buses, which worked fine... except when there was traffic. Kyiv's metro system was like a whole new world for us, and one that we will miss immensely when we leave, especially now that we know we're moving on to Beirut where there is next to no public transport.
The Kyiv Metro system started construction in the 1950s during the Soviet Union with only one line at the time (today's red line). What we see of the metro system today with 3 lines was only completed in 2013, right around the time we arrived in Kyiv. There are still a few "ghost" stations that appear on maps but do not exist as stops, and I have no idea what the future plans are for these.
The metro lines themselves get you to almost anywhere you need to go in town. The best part is not having to deal with traffic, which in the city center can be seriously congested. If given the option to get home from school by taxi or metro I'd choose metro every time as it's just so efficient. The next best part is that trains come around every 1.5-2.5 minutes during peak travel times. So if we just miss a train in the morning on the way to school it only puts us a minute or so behind schedule.
Metro stations in the city center are deep. In fact, Arsenalna metro station is the deepest in the world at about 105 meters. It's said they were built this way to double as a bomb shelter if needed, considering that construction took place mostly during the Cold War. Most of the stations in the center are also extremely ornate, with different chandeliers, murals, mosaics, and even remains of some Soviet-era designs carved into walls. The Moscow metro is known as a tourist destination to explore the station art, and Kyiv stations deserve the same recognition.
Above: Timelapse of building the Kyiv metro as it exists today (Wikipedia)
Each morning our route to school goes something like the following:
Routines are a funny thing. My coffee lady sees me coming and starts preparing my cappuccino with an extra espresso. There's a little old man who arrives to beg for money like clockwork in the exchange tunnel between Palats Sportu and Tolstoho Stations. He's kind of a jerk because he yells at anyone who stops in the area to sell their wares or hand out business cards (I guess it's "his" spot). Between us exiting the metro and walking to school we pass the same people who are part of our daily routine. One family, a large man and wife with their two kids, always pass us as they head towards the metro. We've watched their kids grow taller over the past 5 years and we can judge whether we're late by where we pass them! There's a blonde woman in her 20s with really curly hair who we also pass daily. I once saw her as I was coming up the escalator at my home station and she was going down, probably heading home from work. We've never acknowledged each other in all the hundreds of times we've passed by school, but this day we both stared... a routine reversal that was out of context! There are a few others who we always pass as well and it will be strange for this to end in June.
Pictured above: 1) Entrance to Zoloti Vorota Metro station, 2) The tracks at the Tolstoho platform where we exchange to blue line, 3) One of the "art trains", 4) The ornate Zoloti Vorota station
While riding the trains between stations, you can occupy yourself with reading the adverts and practicing your Cyrillic (sometimes you even catch a word!), watching the interactions of people around you which can be quite entertaining, or doing what most locals do by delving into your Kindle. It's pretty much pointless to carry on a conversation while on the train because they are incredibly loud as they move down the tracks.
One thing about using public transportation is that you really get a feel for the different people who make up a community. You have your fancy pants people, men in suits and very well-groomed and ladies with heels I wouldn't be caught dead wearing. You have your rough-looking construction workers, usually carrying heavy duffel bags on their way to or from work and looking a bit on the grimier side. The smell of vodka mingled with unwashed bodies is not uncommon, especially among men in the morning. In winter, you have loads of fur and fake fur on people's jackets, even though the vast majority of it faces outward which does little for actual warmth (science). You have children as young as 10 years old (sometimes younger) traveling on their own because why not? And you always have someone trying to cut in front of you in the escalator queue... usually an older woman, cuz babushkas don't give a damn.
Riding the metro during rush hour sure brings out my passive aggressive nature. Someone shoves me from behind to exit the train door faster? I stick out my elbows so they cannot get past me and I move more slowly. People coming up the one-way stairs in the wrong direction to try and get ahead? I pretend like I'm reading my Kindle and hit them really hard with my elbow (jerks). There's a lot of "oops, did my bag/elbow just hit you?" happening on purpose when people try to run or push past me. Just don't be an asshole when you're riding with thousands of your fellow humans in a train car or moving through a crowded tunnel. That's all. (Rex will probably laugh at this paragraph)
In short, I'm really going to miss this fast, efficient, and extraordinary form of transportation. My goal is to never have to own a car ever again (really just too much stress), but of course that will all depend on where life takes us far into the future. It's sad that more cities never invested in making underground systems of transport, as it's definitely the way to go and probably reduces the pollution and traffic congestion in cities by extreme amounts.