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GogolTrain: Europe’s first art train amps up Ukraine’s cultural mobility

GogolTrain: Europe’s first art train amps up Ukraine’s cultural mobility
The great multi-disciplined festival of modern art StartUp GogolFest has taken place since 2018 in Mariupol, where each spring hundreds of people from all over Ukraine go. For that purpose, Bohdan Yaremchuk and Denys Uhorchuk created an art train which takes the festival participants to Mariupol, expanding the space for dialogue, interaction, and art.

The organizers reached an agreement with the Ministry of Infrastructure and decorated eight train wagons. GogolTrain is considered to be a scalable project of cultural mobility — with it, people may easily travel and attend cultural events in different regions of the country.

GogolTrain is said to be the first art train in Europe.

In the world, such an art project was held for the first time in Canada in 1970. Back then Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Band, and other rock stars went on a tour from Toronto to Winnipeg to Calgary, arranging constant jam sessions. In 2003, the documentary Festival Express was released about this journey.

When still a student, Denys Uhorchuk bought up all the tickets in a train wagon

When still a student, Denys Uhorchuk, GogolTrain creative director, bought up all the tickets in a train wagon so he could take students to the Carpathians for a week. Later, first art trains were created:

There were two of such trains — we called them rock ’n’ roll trains. It was absolutely an interesting way of interaction for a big group of people. Initially you go, and there are a lot of people around whom you don’t even know, but after two to three days of such a journey, you treat each other as a family. It was such a funny method of ‘social glue’, tying people, who are active, interesting by themselves, though for some reason have not met each other yet.”

In 2018, GogolFest took place for the first time in Mariupol. Then, the team made an agreement with Ukrzaliznytsia (Ukrainian Railways) about two train wagons for festival participants from Kyiv. GogolTrain art director Andriy Yankovskyi recalls that he was going to Mariupol as one of the ordinary passengers.


In 2019, the idea with the train wagon transformed into a proper festival train car. The GogolTrain project was presented to the Ministry of Infrastructure and Ukrzaliznytsia. Artists then took over the train for further improvement. Andriy Yankovskyi says that gradually the project acquired ambitious ideas:

“One wagon is cool, two wagons is fine too, but the whole train — it’s awesome. Especially if it is not just a number of wagons attached to a certain train — the whole train belongs to you and takes your people to Mariupol.”

GogolTrain departs from Kyiv

Regardless of some bureaucracy issues, state officials searched for compromises with the new initiative:

“It was a dialogue. It is our firm belief that you can achieve everything without personal contacts, bribes, violence, but simple communication. You come with the crazy idea, you explain it, and people say, ‘Fine, let’s go for it.’ Then you have to do a lot of technical stuff: hand in the application, get signatures, establish communication. I think that the main obstacle we stumbled into was communication. We were already shown with wagons available for decoration, and suddenly train guards are saying, ‘We are not informed, and as long as we won’t get a confirmation, you are not allowed to do so.’ I see why it happens like this: Ukrzaliznytsia, it is a huge structure. They do their best to make this project happen, but it is an extremely big hierarchical company.”

GogolTrain started its journey on the 26th of April 2019 with the route Vinnytsia to Kyiv to Dnipro to Mariupol. Initially it was supposed to depart from Kyiv, but due to enormous requests from cultural managers of other cities, the route was extended.

The art train gathered more than 300 passengers: artists, musicians, actors, producers, journalists, and festival organizers, among others.

As organizers point out, the aim of this project is to show that Ukraine has a united society, aspiring for dialogue.

When you are working with the government, you have to keep in mind that it is supposed to provide society with services but not vice versa:

“By this precedent, we decided to show how it is possible to establish a partnership with the government, mainly with the Ministry of Infrastructure and Ukrzaliznytsia. Their top managers normally accept everything, and they liked the idea of a coloured train travelling to the modern art festival.”

Invited artists painted eight wagons of 10. They were found both online and by personal invitation. Among them were mural painters, street artists, calligraphers, illustrators, tattoo artists, and more.

The peculiarity of GogolTrain lies in the fact that here artists do everything legally, with the support of the institution and conductors who are responsible for a certain wagon.

The GogolTrain organizers chose separate names and conceptions for each wagon, including the Common Future, Parallel Realities, Dialog, Modern Ukrainian Art, Change, Diversity, and Journey wagons.

There are also two restaurant wagons with bars and a stage for performances by young Ukrainian bands and poets. Passengers on the art train are called to participate actively in the festival, join the performances, and share their art with others.

GogolTrain has worked out several rules for passengers to follow. Firstly, organizers asked to minimize the use of disposable dishes and plastic bags. Secondly, smoking in the art train was forbidden.

The wagons for the GogolTrain project came from different regions: Podniprovia, Lviv, and Odesa. After the festival, the wagons head to their “homes” and shuttle their usual routes to be used again in the GogolTrain next year.

In 2020, the train departed from Kyiv to Kherson on 3 September 2020. The 14th GogolFest opened on the Trophy Bridge in Kherson’s Hydropark. Organizers promise to comply with quarantine regulations, as well as provide enough space to maintain social distancing.

Denys Uhorchuk says that GogolTrain creators have an idea to do similar projects for river and air transport:

There is a super cool, big Dnipro River in Ukraine that nobody makes appropriate use of. Sure, there are some problems — river transport pollutes the ecosystem there — but this issue has to be researched anyway. We can make a weekend cruise from Kyiv to Dnipro or Odesa for instance… People can do everything; you just need more people to do that. Four friends per taxi, 50 per train wagon, 300 in the whole train, and so on.”

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