Fascinating History of Kyiv Trams: The Lifeblood of the Ukrainian Capital

2017/05/06 - 02:35 • Culture, Ukraine

The first electric trams started cruising around Ukraine’s capital 125 years ago. Back then, this means of public transportation was very popular. The attitude of Kyiv residents and city guests towards trams hasn’t changed much ever since. As it can boast of a great advantage — getting a passenger through traffic when all the other means of transportation fail.

Comfortable, safe, eco-friendly, high-speed and even … romantic. All this can be said about Kyiv trams. Some people commute every day listening to the sound of the wheels, while others look for new impressions.

125 years ago the first electric tram in Kyiv started its work. Back then a brand new vehicle for the city connected the current Yevropeiska and Kontraktova Squares.

The Kyiv electric tram became the first of its kind in the former Russian Empire and one of the first in Eastern Europe. The steep Dnipro slopes could not be conquered by steam-powered trailers. Horse-drawn carriages couldn’t cope with the slopes either.

“On the night of May 2, 1892, the first electric tram cars came to our city. They were two-axle tram cars. At that time it was quite an interesting novelty,” says Denys Habdrakhimov, Expert on Kyiv History.

In the first months, hundreds of Kyiv residents boarded the unprecedented means of transport to make an exciting trip of only a kilometer long. In the early twenties the rails appeared almost in all parts of the city. Back then it was possible to get by tram even to the suburbs, namely, Brovary. And the peak of the Kyiv tram network development came in the 60s-70s. Habdrakhimov says that if we could go back in time, let’s say, to 1975, we would be able to get from one corner of Kyiv to the other by tram without any difficulties. According to the expert, 20 years later trams could have completely disappeared from the streets of the Ukrainian capital. But it all boiled down to a significant reduction in routes in the city center and the division of the network into two separate parts — right-bank and left-bank.

“The first thing that marked the destruction of tram traffic in Kyiv was the liquidation of a rather popular line at that time along Vorovskoho Street. The most tragic page in the history of the Kyiv trams was the liquidation of the line along the Paton bridge,” tells Habdrakhimov.

13 years ago there were tram routes, that connected ancient Podil with the left-bank part of the city. Today only the commemorative sign to the first electric tram in Kyiv reminds us of that.

Taisiia, a resident of Kyiv, also regrets that there are no longer rails on the Dnipro embankment. She remembers looking out over the river from the tram window on the Rusanivka — Podil route:

“Podil is the region of Kyiv, which is under the sign of the Virgo, and Virgo is my sign of the zodiac. Therefore, I feel comfortable here, in this area. I come here to relax and recharge! And see the trams? That too was my favorite — trams!”

One of the most interesting and alluring routes for the guests to the city is the one from Podil to Pushcha-Vodytsia. Liudmyla from Poltava had to book a ticket a few days in advance to get on a tour: “I got a lot of pleasure. I learned a lot. We breathed fresh air. Everyone is happy.”

Valentyna and her husband have been in charge of a tram for 46 years now. And she has been a tram driver on the excursion car-cafe for 12 years. she doesn’t plan to retire any time soon:

“Whatever you do, you have to actually work. But here there is a little more responsibility, because, God forbid, if something happens, you need to resolve the problem quickly, so that people don’t get angry that we have not taken them to the destination place.”

In recent years, most of the rolling stock has undergone major repairs. On the high-speed tram line, there is a new generation of silent cars. Kyiv residents and city guests believe that the tram will never disappear from the streets of the city.

Part of the route from Podil to Pushcha-Vodytsia:

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  • Alex George

    Yes they are a cool way to get around Kyiv. I didn’t know the network used to be much bigger

    Trams are making a comeback in many cities around the world.

    • MichaelA

      In Oz, Melbourne never lost them. Sydney is getting its trams back

  • Oknemfrod

    True, the ubiquitous trams contributed not only to the Kyiv transportation system but also to the character if its scenery.

    I’m … uh … mature enough to remember the tram lines # 8, 16, and 30 (by the 1970’s numeration) still operational. #16 was the route mentioned in the article, from Europe Sq. to Podil, the first ever electric tram line in the entire Russian Empire. All those were dead-end lines, meaning they had no U-turn loops and so were operated by the tram car type colloquially known as “тяни-толкай”, i.e. the pushmi-pullyu (see p.s.). Such a car had two centrally-symmetrically driver cabins on either end. When it reached the end of the line, the driver would swap the cabin to drive in the opposite direction. These, I believe, are now long extinct.

    On the other side of the spectrum, the rest of the Soviet-made trams had been all replaced by circa 1978 with the delightful quiet, fast, comfortable, and actually sleek ČKD Tatra-T3 tram cars procured in Czechoslovakia – the type shown in the video clip, still in operation today. Interestingly, neither Moscow nor Leningrad had received them, and on my occasional visits to those locales I, as a kyivite, gazed in amazement at the ancient contraptions turning corners and squealing like a pigsty full of hungry swine as late as 1989. The ČKD was good enough to operate in tandems or even triple-car arrangements on the speed lines – up to 60 mph – first opened in the city in 1978. Those, too, were the first ever tram speed lines in the entire godforsaken USSR.

    The same tech disparity between Kyiv, on the one hand, and Moscow and Leningrad – on the other – was true with regard to the trolleybuses. Again, only in Kyiv (and actually some other UrkSSR cities) the old Soviet-made squeakers were replaced at the end of the 1960’s with wonderful trolleybuses made in Czechoslovakia by Škoda, and in 1980 they were even upgraded to a new, more modern, model. I have no explanation of this (non-)procurement phenomenon other than that maybe the M and L powers that be didn’t want tourists see “foreign-made” trams and trolleybuses, while K in this sense was less important.

    Folks were actually quite partial to the means of transportation they chose. We could get from our place on Instytuts’ka St. to my agnate grandma’s place on Horkogo’s St. by both tram and trolleybus, in nearly the same time. Yet the grandma would invariably take a tram and never a trolleybus. Young as I was, I would just walk the 5-6 km or so, each time changing my route, and to this day recall those “grandma walks” with delight.

    p.s. “Tяни-толкай” – aka pushmi-pullyu – was introduced into the Soviet literature for children by Korney Chukovski, who’d “appropriated” Hugh Lofting’s Doctor Dolittle as his own Doctor Aybolit (Doctor Oh-It-Hurts) – without crediting the source, of course, – just as Aleksandr Volkov “appropriated” The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as “his own” The Wizard of the Emerald City. As far as I know, nobody among the common folk in the USSR ever suspected that either wasn’t an original work. That having been said, Chukovsky was a very good children poet indeed – primarily because his verses verge on imagination-rousing grotesque absurdities and are rhymed so crudely and simply that children memorized them instantly. Many lines from them have become catchphrases. I also duly credit him for very good translations of a number of O.Henry’s stories.

    • Scradje

      ‘I, as a kyivite, gazed in amazement at the ancient contraptions turning corners and squealing like a pigsty full of hungry swine as late as 1989.’
      Colourful prose oknemfrod! Nice, evocative comment.

      • Oknemfrod

        Thank you so much, Scradje. For someone to whom English is his third language, being praised for “colourful prose” is quite flattering indeed.

        I relate little stories such as this occasionally with no political context (or, frankly, some vaguely discernible behind them) in hope that people around the globe reading them (thanks, Mr. Internet!) could get interested in one tidbit or another either stemming from real personal experience or just mentioned in the passing and perhaps follow through to learn more.

        Ukraine is still sort of terra incognita to most, particularly during the Soviet times; and it seems of import for me to let them understand that even in those murky times, there was a glaring gap between the cultures in Ukraine and Russia. I’ll never forget my first visit to Russia in 1976, when, as a head of a sentry squad, I accompanied a military cargo from Mukacheve to Rzhev. The Saturday morning after we arrived, two soldiers from my squad (an Uzbek and a Tajik) and I went to the town to buy provisions and, to our befuddlement, discovered that almost everyone around us was drunk as a skunk, including the driver of the bus we took to the “downtown”.

        My first visit to Moscow in 1986 was no less of a cultural shock. True, the average level of inebriation was nowhere near Rzhev, but the mutual hostility of the people in general, and especially in public transport, was stupefying. They seemed to take real umbrage to my Ukrainian accent, which was astounding to me, as in Kyiv, we had never had any problems with visiting Muscovites and their funny “mAlAkO”. Another stark distinction was arrogant and, frankly, slutty behavior on part of some ladies.

        However, I’d be unfair if I didn’t mention that on my very first visit to Russia in 1970 to Leningrad I noticed none of those Moscow attitudes; quite on the contrary, and the inhabitants’ “guest” culture was exceptional. Unfortunately, I found almost none of the differences when I visited Leningrad for the last time in 1989. It looked as though the two distinctive cultures had merged.

        But much has transpired and changed since. From my personal contacts, I have an impression that a cultural and political gap has emerged, once again, between Moscow and St. Pete, and it’s not to the advantage of the former.

        • Scradje

          Thank you oknemfrod! I can certainly relate to your experiences. My observation from interacting with Muscovites was an overbearing, lofty, patronising, ‘we must take care of the fuzzy-wuzzies’-type attitude to the citizens of their dominions. This would quickly turn to open contempt bordering upon hatred once the ‘fuzzy-wuzzies’ grew tired of their occupier and started to ‘misbehave’. Now of course, fueled by pootler’s hate-spewing domestic media, that attitude has escalated further. It is disturbing to view the naked hate and aggression to ordinary Georgian civilians shown by Russian soldiers when they ransacked the city of Gori in the invasion of Georgia in 2008. There are numerous distressing videos on YouTube covering this horrible event with lots of contemporary footage

          • Sania

            osiol , better ask kuivites about heat water to wash the head…

        • Alex George

          “If my native St. Petersburg in 1991 had become independent from Russia, then today it would be a European Singapore, Hong Kong and Monaco rolled into one.”
          http://euromaidanpress.com/2017/02/28/stop-feeding-moscow-slogan-of-next-russian-revolution-st-petersburg-regionalist-says-euromaidan-press/

      • Sania

        mraz, ukra is not euro, it is fasci with ur bloody and rotten help…
        it seems, endless fasci for my cry…

  • Andrew Chmile

    ATTENTION!!! — RUSKI ANIMAL **MOLE** INFILTRATOR & TRUMP SUPPORTERS!!!

    “Vasyl P.” — Ruski MOLE. — LIAR!!

    LIKE MANY OTHERS… “”Alex George” / “MichaelA” etc..names

    — A “TRUMP SUPPORTER” :)))

    HE IS A RUSKI **MOLE** & “moderator” of a RUSKI MOLE-TROLL SITE — with SPUTNIK & VARIOUS

    OTHER RUSKI COMMIE ARTICLES @ VARIOUS “DISQUS CHANNELS” like:

    __UKRAINE TODAY USA__

    __THE PRESIDENT TRUMP CHANNEL__

    __IMPERIAL NEWS NETWORK__ etc.. BS “Disqus Channels”

    (FREE!! CHEAP!!!)

    CLAIMS ON HIS DISQUS PAGE
    https://disqus.com/by/Vapetrenko/
    ———————-
    Right-wing freedom fighter; pro-democracy, anti-corruption, anti-feminazis, anti-fascist,

    Russian, Ukrainian, American

    ————————–

    Has claimed in the past to be Ukrainian & American.

    IS NEITHER!!

    SPOKE RUSKI AT ME — Thinking I would (or should?!?!) understand that DOG BARK & GROWL

    LANGUAGE :)

    “Larissa” a “MODERATOR” MOLE/TROLL & the OTHER SCUM — will ALL tell you how “Larissa” —

    “LOST HER ONLY CHILD IN DONBAS!!!!”

    A-A-Y-Y-Y-Y-Y-E-E-E-eeeeeee!!!!! :)

    Another RUSKI SKANK — whined about being “RAPED”!!! as per her Disqus home page no less!!!! :))

    — she deleted it after I repeatedly posted & laughed at her DUM RUSKI @SS!!! :))

    The STUPID RUSKA ‘HO !!! :)))

    • MichaelA

      So I’m Vasyl p and Alex g this week
      I’ll be Murf and Dagwood b again next week
      Okay

      • Andrew Chmile

        Murf is a WHITE MAN — NOT a Russo-mongolian LYING PAID ***MOLE*** like you!