By Tatyana Nechapayka
Women passengers on Belarusian trains can now choose to travel in separate compartments to their male colleagues.
Women may now escape their more unsavoury colleagues
The arrangement has been introduced on special Minsk-Moscow trains since 11 April following requests from the service's female customers.
The railway industry says women complained about male travellers' smelly socks and the smell of onion and vodka on their breath.
If the experiment proves to be a success, other services could follow.
"At long last, they're going to get rid of what bothers so many people," says Maryya Aliyeva, deputy chairman of the Belarusian Women Workers' Organisation.
"I travel a lot. You sit down in your compartment, and what you get is stinking socks, or they're drinking, or they've already had a few drinks to see them on their way, and they're tipsy.
"Separate travel would even be more hygienic. If you've got important meetings the next day, you want to relax, have a rest.
"But there's no need for separate carriages - if something suddenly crops up, then you would still want to turn to men for help and protection."
Since 11 April, women have had the right to choose. At the ticket office they can ask for a special mark to be made on their railway ticket. With this mark, men will not be allowed into their compartment.
For the time being, the Belarusian railway industry is not planning to offer women any other privileges or comforts. Women-only compartments will not carry any special signs. Nor will they be "disinfected", even if the previous occupants were men who smelt rather unsavoury.
Engineer Yuryy Maksimuk is perplexed by the new rules.
"Well, it would be just splendid, if I urgently needed to go on a business trip and there were no places for men on the train, and those hawkish women aren't prepared to allow a male passenger into their midst," he said.
Men account for 86% of passengers on Belarusian trains.
"If we end up having only one woman travelling in each compartment, then we will stop the new service because it won't be economically viable," says Andrey Kashko, head of passenger services for the Belarusian rail network.
Alyaksandr Patupa, chairman of the Belarusian Association of Entrepreneurs, agrees.
"This new arrangement is unlikely to pay its way," he said. "But in purely human terms, it's a useful service. People want to have a rest in trains - after all, they're not always interested in flirting. It's entirely normal for men and women to have separate sleeping compartments (if that's what they want)."
But Anzhalika Mikhaylava, an activist for the Belarusian Gender Equality League "Lyambda", is against the idea.
"This is simply dreadful. It's a completely Soviet approach, what one might describe as 'popular justification' for bureaucratic zeal."
"What is a train compartment? It's a place for people to talk. It's a place where romances are born. Both men and women will suffer under this initiative."
The Belarusian railway industry insists that it has no intention of separating families, groups and couples during their journey.
But it is unclear whether, under the new rules, passengers who feel tolerant towards each other will need to pay for a whole compartment, or whether there will still be "mixed areas".
Sceptics suspect that the service will become strictly compulsory, as was the case with the non-optional railway meal brought in six years ago.
The cost of the "food parcel" - two cups of tea and bed linen - on special Belarusian train services is included beforehand in the cost of a ticket, making it almost impossible to opt out.
However, this service is available in only two of the 14 trains that run from Minsk to Moscow. And it is those trains which are now offering women-only compartments.
The separate travel trial will continue on the special services until 29 May.