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Pole to Pole

Day 33: Dno to Kiev

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleTo bed at two, wake at six and stumble to the uncongenial toilet and washroom which serves the entire coach. There is a wooden frame for a washbasin in my compartment but the basin has gone, as have most of the light fittings.

At breakfast time we are passing Orsa, 100 kilometres west of Smolensk. We are now in Belorussia, our third Soviet republic, after Estonia and Russia. From here on down to Odessa and the Black Sea we shall be following the Dnieper, Europe's third-longest river, and a significant part of one of the great trade routes of history, linking Russia and Scandinavia with Asia and the Mediterranean. There is a real sense of putting the north behind us and heading towards the centre of things.

I walk along the train. Windows are lowered as the temperature rises. The open mixed-sleeper coaches are crowded, but oddly peaceful and intimate. Everyone makes the most of their own space, people sprawl asleep, unembarrassed by public exposure. I squeeze past bare feet, stockinged feet, recumbent grandmothers, chess-playing old men, children clustered at the window. The click of wheel on rail is the loudest sound, and even that is lulling and hypnotic.

At the town of Zlobin, some 200 miles from Kiev, we cross to the left bank of the Dnieper and into the Ukraine. I'm sitting with a Ukrainian writer and film-maker, Vadim Castelli, and we drink a toast to his country in pomegranate juice. He is vehemently proud of his homeland.

'Ukraine is potentially such a rich land . . . we produce about one-third of all industrial output of the USSR, we produce more than one-third of all agriculture of the USSR. About eighty to eighty-five per cent of all these riches just go . . . to this bottomless pit which is the Soviet economy . . . '
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 33
  • Country/sea: USSR
  • Place: Dnieper River
  • Book page no: 72

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