Written by Annie Nimity
As I type this in mid-August 2016, it’s nearly five years to the day since I attempted the Metro Party Challenge in Dnipropetrovsk in honour of my friend’s upcoming nuptials, as one does. Or at least as one does when one is in the habit of vacationing in the former Soviet Union, specifically in towns with nigh unpronounceable names and metro lines running from nowhere to nowhere. But let’s back up a bit.
Dnipropetrovsk (which was as of May this year was officially renamed Dnipro — annoying, as I enjoyed being one of the few non-Ukrainians who had mastered that mouthful) is the fourth largest city in Ukraine. It was once a “closed city” due to the fact that it was the production centre for the Soviet Union’s intercontinental ballistic missiles at a factory known under its acronym YUZHMASH. It wasn’t until the waning years of the Soviet Union that the government publicly acknowledged the city’s existence and “opened” it to foreigners — although to this day few non-Ukrainians have heard of it and fewer have visited. Certainly my friends and I were the only non-Ukrainians we encountered during our brief and hazily remembered trip to the city.
My friends and I stumbled off the train from Kiev early in the morning, bleary-eyed and slightly nauseated after an evening aboard a sweltering and thoroughly unventilated platzkart wagon. (Platzkart, in case you were wondering, is the third class train car, rather akin to a rolling dormitory. Air conditioning is nonexistent, and as Ukrainians are no strangers to the Slavic fear of death-by-draft, cracking a window was simply not an option.) We were met at the train station by our friend D, whose upcoming wedding to a resident of Dnipro we had come to celebrate in what we were referring to as ‘the first stag party in Dnipropetrovsk.’ D led us to his apartment where he and is bride-to-be welcomed us with shots of samogon, or moonshine, produced by D’s soon to be father-in-law. It was not yet 8am.
Dnipropetrovsk has an interesting, if rather ineffective, public transport system. Above ground, rickety trams, trolleys, buses and minibuses trundle through the streets, much as they do in any other major city of the former Soviet Union. Below ground, however… In the early 1980s, when Dnipropetrovsk was still a closed city, the Soviet government decided that as a large city and home to the Union’s premier ICBM factory, Dnipropetrovsk needed a subway system befitting its status. Construction of the Dnipropetrovsk Metro began in 1982, although the first — and to this day, only — line didn’t open until 1995. At 7.1km in length and with only six operational stations, it is the world’s shortest subway system. One end of the line, Vokzalna, deposits passengers at the train station (vokzal meaning train station and all), located on the edge of the central region of Dnipro. The opposite end of the line is located not in the centre of the city, but 7.1km in the opposite direction — in the suburbs, yes, but not far enough into the suburbs to be all that useful. In fact, unless you happen to both live and work along the metro’s short route, it’s not going to be all that useful to you.
Why do I mention this? See, D had invited us to Dnipropetrovsk for his stag party, not only because he and his fiancée lived there, but because he wanted us to take part in what he and his friends referred to as a Metro Party. The idea of a Metro Party was to ride the metro from one end to the other, getting off at each stop and downing a beverage — either a glass of beer or a shot of vodka, depending on what was available. I’m not much of a drinker, but I didn’t think that six drinks spread out over the course of several hours would do me in. D warned me not to underestimate the Metro Party, and I should have listened. Perhaps it was the samogon we’d started the day off with, but the other lady in our group and I only made it to about three stations, and I was far worse off than she was. The guys finished the Metro Party — or at least I think they did.
I was cleaning out my closet the other day and stumbled upon my Metro Party shirt. (Yes, we had matching shirts; yes, we were those obnoxious arseholes.) The red part of the decal has long since come off in the wash, and, like the city itself, many of the stations now bear different names than they did back in 2011, but it still fits. And I’m still a lightweight.