Caution! Changes in Ukraine since autumn 2007
In Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and some other former Soviet countries there are two main categories of trains:
Elektrichkas operate on short routes, connecting oblast centers (regions' main cities) with smaller towns and villages, sometimes they also connect two oblast centers. The fare is usually ca. 3-5 times lower than in a long-distance train on the same route. Moreover, elektrichkas stop on every station, while long-distance trains stop only in bigger cities, sometimes only in oblast centers. Places in elektrichkas are not numbered in any way, there are no travel classes, all carriages have no compartments. You buy the ticket for a certain route and certain day. On initial stations the tickets should usually be bought in the ticket offices - sometimes it is required to show the ticket while entering the platform.
Long-distance trains are divided to "passenger trains" (пассажирский поезд, passazhirskiy poyezd) and "fast trains" (скорый поезд, skoryi poyezd), but these terms are rarely used. The train's number is relevant. The trains defined as "fast" have lower numbers (eg. in Ukraine approx. lower than 200). There is also a category of "firmennyi" trains (фирменный поезд, firmennyi poyezd) whose distinctive features in comparison to "fast trains" are: higher (approx. by half) price and higher standard (newer carriages and equipment).
Carriages in long-distance trains
In long-distance trains all places are numbered.
There are the following classes of carriages (from the most expensive to the cheapest one):
In some trains there are restaurant cars (вагон-ресторан, vagon-restoran). Besides, the conductor (проводник, provodnik) always sells tea, coffee. Usually also beer (unoficially). In every carriage there is also a generally accessible boiler.
In the carriages there are usually a few electrical sockets. There may be placed near to the entries to the toilets and in the toilets, sometimes also in other places in the carriages. It happens, that these sockets work. If they don't, you can sometimes charge your phone at the conductor's room (unoficially, with some fee).
See also: diagram of a platzkarta carriage.
Tickets for long-distance trains
Ticket prices are set for each train separately. In Russia there is also the so called schedule of flexible tariff regulation - the prices rise in the periods when more people travel by trains.
To buy a ticket, you should state: the date, train's number, and carriage's category.
In Russia and Belarus tickets are sold only after showing the passport or its copy. Sometimes it's enough to just say the last name, initials, and number of a document - internal passport (basic ID) or foreign passport. These data are always placed on the tickets and checked while boarding the train. There are no student discounts.
In Ukraine since autumn 2007 the passenger's personal details are no longer required to purchase tickets. Instead, a limit of number of tickets (nine) that can be purchased at once by one person has been introduced. Theoretically, you cannot also determine the number of the carriage you want to travel in. In practice, it all depends on the cashier's will. There are student discounts, but they apply only to full-time students of Ukrainian universities.
In Russia after purchasing the ticket you get two copies - one of them you give to the conductor after boarding the train, the second one you leave for youself. You have to present the ticket and ID while boarding. Also people who "see off" are let into the train.
In Ukraine the ticket is printed only in one copy. You should show it while boarding, but in no circumstances should you give it then to the conductor! The conductor should take the ticket only after departure from the initial station.
In long-distance trains all places are laying/sleeping berths (with exception of not numerous obschiye vagony), so bedlinen sets can be used. In international trains the bedlinen sets are usually free (included in the ticket price). In other trains to get the linen you should pay an additional fee. In Ukraine since autumn 2007 the fee can be payed only in the ticket office while purchasing the ticket (earlier it was also possible to pay it to the conductor).
See also: how to read a railway ticket.