Kiev or Kyiv – what to call the Ukrainian capital

During my 2012 trip to Europe the only reason I had for visiting Kiev was to visit Chernobyl, but I ended up loving the city so much I was sad to leave it so soon. But one thing I never realised was the politics behind the name of the city, and Ukraine itself.

Looking down Volodymyrsky Passage to St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery

Is the city called Kiev or Kyiv? Adam Taylor explains in this piece at Business Insider:

You see, from almost the very moment we began writing about Ukraine and the EuroMaidan protests, Ukrainians have been politely e-mailing us, asking us to not write Kiev, but to write Kyiv instead. “Here we say ‘Kyiv’ not ‘Kiev,’” Taras Ilkiv, a Ukrainian journalist who recently wrote an article for Business Insider on the protests, explained in an email, “because ‘Kiev’ is the Russian word.” It’s simple: in Ukrainian, the word for the city is Київ, while in Russian, it reads as Киев.

Transliteration is always a bit of a strange thing, but it’s especially complicated in Ukraine, where roughly one sixth of the population is ethnic Russian, speaking Russian, and another sixth are ethnic Ukrainian, but speak Russian too. Given a history of Russian domination, both during the Soviet period and before, it’s understandable that language has become a big issue in the country.

Which leads to another contentious name – why Ukraine isn’t ‘The Ukraine’. Again Adam Taylor explains:

Chances are if you find yourself talking about the ongoing protests in Kyiv, you’ll slip up and refer to the country in which Kyiv is situated as “the Ukraine.”

It’s an understandable mistake, perhaps — until its independence in 1991, when Ukrainian leaders formally asked the world to drop the “the” and just refer to their country as “Ukraine,” “the Ukraine” was commonly used in English. And many people still default to it — but, to be blunt, it’s totally wrong.

But why did we come to refer to Ukraine as “the Ukraine” in the first place? While there are examples of country names that are preceded by “the,” this is usually only done when the country name refers to a group or a type of political organization — for example, the United States of America, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands.

Ukraine does not fit into this group.

It may seem like a minor detail, but many people are angered by the addition of “the” to Ukraine, arguing that it is being used to help sideline Ukrainian statehood.

You learn something every day – and I’ve got a lot of “the Ukraine” references to remove!

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Russian level crossings bite back!

As I travelled across Russia by train there was an interesting feature at every level crossing we passed through – massive steel plates that lifted out of the roadway, preventing cars from driving around the boom gates.

These level crossings bite back!

Some level crossings also had a gatehouse located alongside.

Russian Railways staff give the all clear as we pass a level crossing - Воля, Воро́нежская о́бласть (Volya, Voronezh Oblast)

With a gatekeeper on duty.

All clear from this Russian level crossing gatekeeper in the village of Сенцово (Sentsovo)

Ready to wave ‘all clear’ to the train as it passed by.

Yellow paddle for 'all clear' from the level crossing gatekeeper

But even steel plates aren’t enough of a deterrent to some motorists who want to race across the tracks.

And unfortunately they wont protect you if the level crossing suffers a ‘wrong side’ failure, and doesn’t trigger for an approaching train.

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How the TGV has shrunk France

Here is an interesting find – graphs comparing the reductions in travel time to cities across France, thanks to the introduction of the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) high-speed rail network.

Crossing between a TGV South-East and a steam train near Montereau (in the territory of the municipality of Saint-Germain-Laval) May 24, 1987
Photo by Didier Duforest, via Wikimedia Commons

Travel times in 1957.

And fifty years later in 2007.

The graphs were created by Anne-Aël Durand and Gary Dagorn using data from the SNCF’s Open Data platform, and were published in the Les Décodeurs section of French newspaper Le Monde as “Comment le TGV a rétréci la France” (How the TGV has shrunk France).

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ОПЭ1 electro-diesel locomotives of the former USSR

An electro-diesel locomotive is a unit that can operate from either an external electric power source, or standalone with an onboard diesel engine, and on the railways of the former USSR is an interesting example – the ОПЭ1 and subsequent developments.

Novocherkassk Electric Locomotive Plant (NEVZ) archives, via Russian Wikipedia

Developed in the 1960s to work on the open cut mine railways of the USSR, electrified with 10 kV AC 50 Hz overhead lines, a ОПЭ1 locomotive can be made up of a mix of four different kinds of unit:

  • electric section (E) featuring a traction transformer, rectifier, pantograph, and driver’s cab.
  • autonomous power supply section (T) featuring a diesel-generator set from a M62 diesel locomotive, and driver’s cab.
  • motor section (M) featuring traction motors on locomotive bogies beneath a side dump freight wagon.
  • motor booster section (M) featuring traction motors beneath a shortened locomotive body.

Which can then be arranged in a variety of ways:

  • Three sections (electric locomotive, diesel locomotive and motor section) – the primary combination of traction units, able to work under overhead wires or autonomously (traction and braking in both modes are created by all 12 traction motors);
  • Two sections (an electric locomotive and diesel locomotive, without motor section) – able to work under overhead wires or autonomously (power from both modes with rheostatic braking by 8 traction motors);
  • One electric locomotive section (electric locomotive, without motor section or diesel locomotive) – work with the train in electric mode (4 traction motors);
  • One diesel section (diesel locomotive, without a motor section or electric locomotive) – powered by a diesel generator (4 traction motors, but no resistive braking provided).

Following the collapse of the USSR production of the ОПЭ1 locomotive slowed, with a total of 417 electric/diesel locomotive combinations, 52 motor dump cars, and 32 traction power boosters manufactured by the time production ended in 2002.

Photo by Вадим Анохин, via Wikimedia Commons

The design was further refined as the ОПЭ1А introduced in the 1970s, which saw the locomotive body shrunk, improving the visibility for the train driver in the reverse direction.

photo by Серёга, via Wikimedia Commons

More photos and video

ОПЭ1 locomotive shunts a rake of side dump wagons.

And related locomotives

The ОПЭ1 design concept was also applied to the ОПЭ2 electric locomotives developed in the 1970s – each features a ‘control’ electric locomotive coupled to two ‘motor dump cars’ to provide extra tractive power.

While American railroads call such locomotives slugs:

A railroad slug is an accessory to a diesel-electric locomotive. It has trucks with traction motors but, unlike a B unit, it cannot generate power on its own since it lacks a prime mover. Instead, the slug is connected to a powered locomotive, called the mother, which provides the needed electrical power to operate the traction motors, and the motor controls.

Which look much the same as the USSR examples already seen.

jpmueller99 via Wikimedia Commons


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A whistle stop tour of Sinaia railway station, Romania

As I travelled across Romania by train, the railway station at the mountain resort of Sinaia in Prahova County caught my eye.

Photo by Andrei Stroe, via Wikimedia Commons

Căile Ferate Române 4-6-0 steam locomotive 230-039 was plinthed outside the station.

CFR steam engine 230-039 plinthed at Sinaia railway station

Along with a 1948 Skoda VOS draisine (inspection railcar), supposedly converted from car once owned by communist leader Ana Pauker.

Ana Pauker's draisine (inspection railcar) plinted at Sinaia railway station

But a memorial plaque on the platform didn’t make much sense until I got home, and could research further.

Memorial plaque at Sinaia railway station in Romania

It read:

În acest loc a fost asasinat I.G. Duca,
președinte al Consiliului de miniștri.
Jertfa iubirei sale de neam și țară.
29 Xll 1933.

Which translates to:

In this place was assassinated IG Duca,
chairman of the Council of Ministers.
The sacrifice of his love for nation and country.
29 December 1933.

The plaque marks the spot where Romanian Prime Minister Ion G. Duca was assassinated by members of the fascist Iron Guard movement in 1933.

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German railfans exploring the world of rail

For many railfans their interest in railways ends at the border of their own country, with little interest in the trains found elsewhere in the world. But it seems that German railfans are an exception to this, being happy to follow trains wherever they run.

Trains everywhere!

I first noticed this when I was looking up the Richards Bay Coal Line in South Africa, and the only Wikipedia page on the subject was in German – nothing in English, and nothing in Afrikaans.

Photo by Pechristener, via Wikimedia Commons

A history of the tramways in Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar – the German language page is three times as long as the English one.

Unknown photographer, via Wikimedia Commons

A track plan for the MTR Light Rail system in Hong Kong – drawn by a German.

MTR Phase I LRV 1029 on route 615 in Yuen Long

As was the track plan for the Hongkong Tramway system.

Hong Kong tram #46 in Wan Chai

But why? Science and technology form a large part of German culture, which presumably combined with a open worldview means a German railfan is more likely to take an interest in the railways elsewhere in the world.


There is a German company called Tanago that runs guided railway photography tours to offbeat locations all over the world.

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Exploring the bizarre world of VDNKh

On the outskirts of Moscow is VDNKh – originally built by an exhibition centre to show off the achievements of the Soviet Union, by the time I visited in 2013 it was a bizarre mix of fairground meets flea market, set amongst a collection of Soviet architecture.

Entrance archway to the All-Russia Exhibition Centre

Established in 1935 as the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition (VSKhV) (Russian: Всесоюзная Сельско-Хозяйственная Выставка; Vsesoyuznaya Selsko-Khozyaystvennaya Vystavka), each pavilion showcased the achievements of a geographical region of the Soviet Union.

The park was further expanded in 1948 when the Soviet Council of Ministers issued a decree ordering a unification of VSKhV with the All-Union Industry Exhibition, which formed today’s Выставка достижений народного хозяйства (ВДНХ) (Vystavka Dostizheniy Narodnogo Khozyaystva (VDNKh)) – literally the “Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy”.

By 1989 the exhibition had expanded to an exhibition area of 700,000 square metres across 82 pavilions, many dedicated to a particular industry or field, but following the collapse of the Soviet Union the exhibitions were closed, replaced by a variety of tenants.

Exploring the pavilions

The centre has a diversity of architecture.

Heading past the Central Pavilion

The original pavilions are of Stalinist style.

Pavilions 58 and 59 - 'Ukraine' and 'Moscow, Tula and Ryazan region'

Some small and understated.

Pavilion 5: 'Latvian SSR'

While others were far grander.

Pavilion of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic

Some imitated buildings found elsewhere, like those of the resort city of Sochi.

Pavilion 2 'North Caucasus' now taken over by a shark aquarium

And of the Moldavian SSR.

Pavilion 10: 'Moldavian SSR'

But others are modern.

Pavilion 12: 'Trade Unions'

Over the years some pavilions had been renovated.

Pavilion 13: 'Health'

Receiving modernist facades.

Pavilion 15: 'Electronics and Communication'

That hide the original design behind.

Pavilion 14: 'Computer Science'

But today restoration is the order of the day.

Pavilion 18 under restoration: 'Republic of Belarus'

Into the fairground

I visited VDNKh at Christmas time.

Christmas tree outside the main entrance

An ice skating rink occupied the main square.

Ice skating at the All-Russia Exhibition Centre

With pony rides on offer.

Pony rides on offer

And sideshow games.

Pavilion 4: 'Kyrgyzstan' hides in the background

Food stalls.

Sideshows line the main avenue

Kids rides.

Not 'Red Bull' but 'Black Bull'

And a miniature train.

Miniature on-road train to carry shoppers to the far-flung pavilions

Beneath a ferris wheel.

'Moscow-850' Ferris wheel at the All-Russia Exhibition Centre

Then into the pavilions

If you look up on entering the pavilions, the ornate ceilings catch your eye.

Soviet realist paintings inside the pavilion

But look down and it’s a dive.

Retail stores retrofitted into the Central Pavilion

With a rabbit warren of shops occupying what were once grand spaces.

Rabbit warren of stalls down on the ground floor

Need a new remote control?

Need a new remote control?

A cheap watch?

Plenty of watches for sale

Camera equipment?

Selection of camera equipment on sale

A computer mouse?

Computer mice and other peripherals

A spare part for your sewing machine?

Hundreds of spare parts for sewing machines

Binoculars or a magnifying glass?

This stall specialises in binoculars and magnifying glasses

Pet supplies?

Pet supplies for sale in this stall

Or ladies fashion?

Women's fashion stalls inside this pavilion

It’s all here!

And the seedy underbelly

Fishing reels alongside replica pistols that shoot BBs.

Fishing reels alongside replica pistols that shoot BBs

Hunting knifes.

Need a hunting knife?

Tactical torches, stun guns and imitation pistols.

Tactical torches, stun guns and imitation pistols that shoot BBs

And the office for a stun gun manufacturer.

Shop for a stun gun manufacturer

Have you ever seen an odder collection of retailers?

So capitalism won?

Just take a look at the forest of foreign cars beneath the front gate.

Soviet realist architecture - amid a forest of foreign cars

Further reading

Russia Beyond have a piece titled Soviet Era Theme Park that dives deeper into the history of VDNKh.

Since my visit in 2013 the restoration of the park has accelerated, which is covered by The Calvert Journal in Empire state of mind: how do you update a vast Stalinist exhibition space for the present day?

The administration of the park and the Moscow City Government have so far displayed a marked tendency to restore the Exhibition to its condition in 1954, favouring Stalinism over Modernism. In 2014, the facades of two modernist facades were hastily taken down, in defiance of the law.

Russian-language Wikipedia has a list of pavilions and structures at VDNKh, with the history of each pavilion detailed on this interactive park map.

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A familiar looking face on the Ploiești Tramway

The tramways of Romania usually don’t get much attention from transport enthusiasts of the English-speaking world, but this Tatra KT4D tram in Ploiești, Romania did.

KT4D tram #075 in Ploiești, Romania
Photo by Smiley.toerist via Wikimedia Commons

Thanks to the colour scheme – a copy of the white, yellow, red and blue livery found in Adelaide, Australia.

So how did the a colour scheme end up duplicated on the opposite side of the world?

Welcome to Adelaide

The ‘TransAdelaide’ livery in Adelaide has been used on buses since 2000.

#1112 stops for passengers at Klemzig Station, with another bus doing the same behind

And is also found on their fleet of Flexity trams, delivered in 2005 to the same design as Frankfurt.

Flexity 112 at Currie and King William Streets

Over to Romania

Unfortunately my exploration of Ploieşti consisted of a whistle stop tour by train.

Crossing a tangle of tracks at Ploieşti

Where the only landmark I saw was the Astra oil refinery.

Cooling towers at the Astra oil refinery in Ploieşti, Romania

But Wikipedia has a short history of the Ploiești Tramway:

The tram in Ploiești was opened in 1987 and originally consisted of six routes. 1998 saw route 105 close, and by 2003 only lines 101 and 102 were still in operation.

The initial fleet was Timiș 2 trams made by Electrometal Timișoara and V3A trams by ITB București Main Workshops. However by the late 1990s and early 2000s, they were replaced by Tatra KT4D trams from the town of Potsdam, Germany.

Modernisation works were started around 2014 and in 2016 the tram system was reopened, with modernised and up to date infrastructure.

Digging around the TransPloieşti internet forum gave me one lead – in December 2014 tram #105 was the first of the Tatra KT4Ds to be refurbished.

The first refreshed tram emerged in October 2015, and the comparisons with Adelaide followed soon after – I found this post by Cristian P. on the SkyscraperCity forums:

Schema de culoare e copiata de la tramvaiele din Adelaide.

Which translates to:

The colour scheme is copied from the Adelaide trams.

So why did Ploieşti choose these colours? I finally found an explanation in this article on the refurbishment program by Observatorul Prahovean.

Thanks to an internal program set up at TCE Ploieşti, operator of the Ploieşti Tramways, ten trams out of a total of 24, will be repaired and repainted into the colours of Ploieşti’s coat of arms (white, blue, red) and yellow, the colours of public transport common.

Which begs another question – what does the Ploieşti’s coat of arms look like?

The coat of arms of Ploiești consist of a blue shield, loaded with two golden lions, with a red tongue, which sustain a silver, uprooted oak tree. Everything is put on a red scarf with the inscription of M.V.V. (Mihai Viteazul-Voievod)

Coat of arms of Ploiești

I can see the resemblance, but no way did Ploieşti come up with the livery on their own!

Bonus video

One thing you won’t see in Adelaide is snow – here is KT4D #075 headed through a Romanian winter.

Further reading

Tram diagrams:

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Why was this barbecue on the tram tracks?

A few months ago I came across a photo on Twitter showing a barbecue along tram tracks, with a hotplate full of sausages sizzling away on top. So where was the photo taken, and what was the story behind it?

Photo by DelegueLata on Twitter

The barbecue looked cobbled together, just sitting on top of a small set of rail wheels.

Photo by DelegueLata on Twitter

The tweet was posted on May 15, and the caption being in French was my first lead.

Donc les cheminots ont fabriqué un barbecue roulant adaptable au rails du tramway pendant leur manif. Ils sont très forts.

Which translates to:

So the rail workers made a rolling barbecue that could be adapted to the tram rails during their protest. They’re very strong.

And one of the follow up tweets pinned it down to France.

C’est le même écartement entre rails SNCF et tramway, c’est donc un outil détourné !!

It is the same distance between rails SNCF and tram, so it is a hijacked tool!

Further searching online brought me to a photo posted on Reddit on May 14, showing the same event from a different angle.

Photo by nerdastic on Reddit

Where a poster by the name of OoRenega asked:

Mais c’est à Nice ça non?

But it’s in Nice, no?

To which ElWeedoHermano replied:

Absolument, sur l’avenue Jean Médecin!

Absolutely, on Avenue Jean Médecin!

With the location pinned down, I headed over to Google Street View, where I soon found the same ‘Promod’ store seen in the background of the original photo.

As well as the ‘Bocage’ and ‘Crocs’ stores in the background of the photo posted to Reddit.

With the location and date, I was also able to find this news article by the France 3 Provence-Alpes network.

Railway workers demonstrated in the center of Nice on Monday “without train”

Laurent Verdi with AFP
Posted on 14/05/2018 at 15:15

Around 800 people, employees of SNCF and workers from other sectors demonstrated Monday in Nice against the reform of the SNCF. The demonstrators blocked a time the entrance of the town hall of the city.

Nearly 90% of the staff of the SNCF are on strike Monday in Nice according to the unions. Management also recognizes a particularly difficult day.

In Nice, a general meeting of the staff of the SNCF took place Monday morning at the initiative of the inter-union near the central station. About 400 people were present to discuss the social movement.

At the end of the general assembly, a procession of 800 people , according to the unions, marched in Nice to demonstrate against the reform of the SNCF. This procession was made up of SNCF staff and other sectors as well as political activists.

The protesters left the central station, went up Avenue Jean Médecin, to finish in front of the town hall of Nice as shown in this report by Nathalie Morin and Yannick Fournigault.

The network also posted footage of the protest.

In which I found the same tramway mounted barbecue that started my search.

Mystery solved!

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Rubbing the dog’s nose for good luck

The stations of the Moscow Metro are known for their ornate architecture, but Площадь Революции (Ploshchad Revolyutsii) station on the Arbatsko-Pokrovskaya Line has another form of artwork to offer.

Staircases lead down to the interchange passageway

A series of bronze sculptures.

Bronze sculptures along the Moscow Metro platform

For some reason the dog sculpture is the most popular.

Polished brass on the dog's nose

With every second person seeming to stop on the way past.

Rubbing the dog's nose for good luck

And give the dog a pat on the nose.

Moscow's most loved dog

Presumably thinking it will bring them good luck.

Good luck comes to those who rub the dog's nose

But a nearby rooster is also getting a similar amount of attention.

The rooster is also getting attention from Muscovites wanting some luck

But why so much attention?

«Архнадзор» explains the history of the superstition.

The tradition to touch the statue of a bronze border dog at Ploshchad Revolutsii station arose long ago, but at first it was just a student problem. One can understand: the students in the majority of their people are dark and disorderly, they remember about the exam three days before its end, when all that remains is to hope for only a miracle. And who else can pray for the miracle of the Soviet Komsomol – not the saints of the saints. So let the mystical patron of a lost Komsomol become a bronze animal, whose polished snout mysteriously flickers in the twilight of Moscow dungeons. In general, at first it was rather funny.

While also detailing the damage this ‘tradition’ has caused to the sculptures.

In the past ten years, the pilgrimage to the underground shrine suddenly became a nationwide action. Check for yourself: out of ten metro passengers passing along the platform, at least three will certainly attach to idols, and if someone does it in passing and in jest, then many are genuinely religiously zealous. At peak hours, the frequency of wiping each dog’s nose reaches 20-30 approaches per minute, and a queue forms.

Once the dog’s noses just glistened, and now they have completely lost the surface relief and are already beginning to lose shape. Pay attention to how finely and conscientiously the texture of these statues is worked out – the roughness of the soldiers’ overcoats, the furry dogs and everything else. The dog muzzles first lost their hair, then their noses – only holes remained, in a few more years they would not be there either. Roosters are rapidly losing feathers.

History of the sculptures

Russian language Wikipedia explains the history of the sculptures:

As Ploshchad Revolyutsii station there are 76 bronze figures depicting Soviet people, located on the pedestals in the corners of each archway. There are 20 different designs: 18 of them are repeated four times, and two – twice.

The sculptures were made at Монументскульптура (Monumentskulptura) in Leningrad under the guidance of prominent sculptor M. G. Manizer, with the team of sculptors including A.I. Denisov, A.A. Divin , A.A. Vetutnev, I. P. Ivanov, E. G. Falco, M. A. Vladimirskaya, V. A. Puzyrevsky.

And the scenes pictured:

The sculptures are arranged in chronological order from the events of October 1917 to December 1937:

Arch I

  • Revolutionary worker with rifle and grenade
  • Revolutionary soldier with a rifle

Arch II

  • Peasant in sandals, who took up arms
  • Revolutionary sailor with a gun

Arch III

Arch IV

Arch V

Arch VI

  • Birdhouse with chicken and rooster
  • Agricultural mechanic

Arch VII

  • Male student
  • Female student with a book


  • Female discus thrower
  • Footballer

Arch IX

  • Father with a child
  • Mother with a child

Closed arched passage (sculptures are only from the side of the platforms)

  • Pioneer with model airplane
  • Pioneers geographers

All the figures (except the figures of the pioneers) in order to fit into the limited vaulted volume of the arched passages are depicted either on their knees, or bent, or sitting.

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