Circulation: Observations from Kyiv’s ‘Ghost Train’

By Olena Lysenko

May 4, 2020

Opened in 2009, Kyiv’s Urban Electric Train or “electrychka” makes continuous circuits of the city, crossing the Dnipro river twice. But underfunded and frequently delayed, the train is unpopular with locals. While it can be crowded in the morning and evening, the train attracts few passengers, leading it to be dubbed the “ghost train.”

“Personally, I don’t use Kyiv’s electrychka and during our filming process I got the impression that almost no one is using it either”, says Oleksiy Radynski, the Ukrainian filmmaker, who’s latest production, Circulation, was filmed from the windows of Kyiv’s electrychka, which snakes through the city’s outlying districts. The film was presented at 17th Docudays UA film festival where it has won the Special Mention Award.

Radynski’s film is a raw visual narration of the disorderly changes to Kyiv’s urban landscape. “Since the infrastructure in our city is catastrophic – it decisively does not fulfill its immediate functions, I came up with the idea to use it for a non-intended purpose,” he explained. “Thus, a non-functional “electrychka” has become a cinematic dolly, that is, a tool for moving the camera around the urban landscape. Perhaps, it became the longest dolly in history, its length was 50.8 kilometers.”

Тизер мого нового фільму, який можна буде подивитися в короткометражному конкурсі Міжнародний фестиваль документального кіно про права людини Docudays UA. Фільм з'явиться онлайн сьогодні о 20:00 й буде доступний до 10 травня на сайті (тільки на території України).Оператор Max Savchenko, звук Келлі Джейн Джонс, запис звуку Андрій Борисенко (Andrii Borysenko), корекція кольору Artom Sirko, дизайн титрів Dmytro Zagrebelnyy, продюсерка Lyubzja Knorozok.

Gepostet von Oleksiy Radynski am Freitag, 24. April 2020

For the last three years, Radynski cameraman, Max Savchenko, would board the train from either Vokzalna or Borshchahivka station at 6am to film the passing city. “It took us three years, because it was necessary to show the landscape not only in motion, but in transformation. Throughout our journeys, we observed the arbitrariness of the capital – the construction of low-quality residential complexes and redundant shopping centers, and the continuing decline of the city’s social infrastructure,” says Radynski.

The theme of urban change in Kyiv is a familiar one to Radynski. In 2019, he directed Facade Colour: Blue, a documentary which covers attempts by local activists from the #savekyivmodernism initiative to save Kyiv’s beloved UFO-shaped building known as “Tarilka” from being absorbed by one of Kyiv’s ubiquitous new shopping malls. In Circulation, Tarilka appears from the window of the train, even though Radynski didn’t intend to capture it on purpose. “It’s in the film, only because it was located not far away from the railway.”

Tarilka. Credit: Screenshot of “Circulation” (2020) dir. by Oleksiy Radynski

The history of Kyiv’s electrychka began in late 1970s in Troieshchyna, a district on the left bank of Kyiv, also known as a place where numerous foreign directors have staged film shoots in recent years. Being located away from the metro, it wasn’t well connected to the public transport system. During 1970-1980s the city authorities planned to build a metro line which would connect the left bank of the city from the North to the South. After this plan was dismissed in 1990, there was another idea to build a streetcar, which would connect the same areas, but it wasn’t fully executed either. Over the years, the plan to create the metro line to Troeschina district became a running joke, while the traffic problem was getting progressively worse. In 2009, the city authorities decided to use railroads, which were also used for freight trains to connect Troieshchyna with the right bank of the city. This way the route from Troieshchyna to Pochaina metro station was opened. In the next couple of years, the route of electrychka was turned into a circle with 15 stations in total.

Open air market near Pochaina metro station. Credit: Screenshot of “Circulation” (2020) dir. by Oleksiy Radynski
Podilsko-Voskresenskyy Bridge. Credit: Screenshot of “Circulation” (2020) dir. by Oleksiy Radynski

For railway enthusiasts and people who are interested in urban exploration such as Radynski, the train deserves some weird fascination and can drive one’s curiosity. With its ugly beauty of the industrialized areas it can make an interesting journey on the weekend.

The electrychka’s route includes the crossing of Petrivskyy and Darnytskyi bridge and passes close to the modernist Central Palace of Special Events, the walls of Baikove Cemetery. During the journey, an observant passenger may also catch glimpses of Dubky Park, the open air market near Pochaina metro station, and numerous multi-storey car garages, which have been illegally built on the principle of “self-construction”, an important phenomenon in contemporary Ukrainian architecture.

“Circulation” (2020) dir. by Oleksiy Radynski is available online until May 10, 2020 at DocuSpace