Americans are used to the convenience of USPS Express Mail, FedEx or UPS ready to ship anything safely to almost anywhere in the U.S. or around the world. Americans clearly take this amazing service for granted, so they will not understand the news story from a week ago, when a train-car attendant of the St Petersburg, Russia -- Sevastopol, Ukraine rail line was arrested, for smuggling hundreds of rare military medals through the border. The 49 year old woman was hiding the "treasures" under bags of clean sheets.
In Russia, if you decide to send something valuable, let's say a $20 bill to your nephew for Christmas -- it will never make it to the addressee, it will be stolen by the postal workers. If you send regular mail to another city in Russia, don't hope it will be there next day, or the day after. Sending packages with valuable items is an absolutely crazy idea. There are no FedEx and UPS locations even in the major cities like Moscow. This author had to FedEx a document once, and this task required a two hour drive through Moscow traffic to a distant location, where after showing your ID to several guards you arrive at the only FedEx office serving 15 million Muscovites. It's not exactly a convenient way to do business.
However, Russians are smart, and they find ways to communicate and send packages quickly. Having my own business at the age of seventeen, I had to send packages overnight from Moscow to Kiev regularly. The package would be sent at 9 pm on Sunday from Moscow to arrive in Kiev at 9 am on Monday. That's challenging even for FedEx, but only cost me about two American dollars. If I was sending cash, the service would require a 1% surcharge. Also, for additional charges, you can send any kind of contraband or products that can't legally cross borders without tariffs and customs inspections. Everything can be shipped if you're willing to pay the price. I have witnessed the most amazing things in my life, while sending music CDs and contracts for my clients.
Moscow has nine major train stations (vokzal) where thousands of trains head in different directions to the former Soviet Union, Asia and Western Europe. Each train car has two attendants; each train has 10-15 cars. Each attendant has his own connections and ways of bribing the customs officers. Every evening, for one hour until the very last moment before the train leaves, there are hundreds of people with envelopes, small packages and huge hand trucks loaded with boxes. If you have to use the "Russian FedEx" regularly, you know the faces of the train attendants, so you can get faster "screening" and discounted rates. If you don't know any conductors, plan to spend ten minutes negotiating the deal.
After your package gets on a train -- it's on its way, and if you have legal contents in your shipment, there's nothing to worry about. If you are sending cash or perfume, or God knows what, there's no insurance anyone can issue guaranteeing that the package will reach its final destination. Sometimes going cheap doesn't mean getting the best deal. Even if your package is legal, "compensation" of some kind for the customs officials may be necessary.
In major cities you can get DHL or FedEx service for 48 hour international mail -- just be ready to spend over a hundred dollars. The train stations serve specific geographic routes, and if you are sending something locally -- just drive or take the subway to the right train station and save yourself some money.