Railway Workers Are Ukraine's 'Second Army'


The railway system is named the “iron road” in Russian and the “ironery” in Ukrainian. “It’s not for nothing that we are called the iron people,” prepare driver

Yurii Yelisieiev,

42, says of Ukraine’s railway employees.

Since Russia launched its full invasion in February, Ukraine has relied on its railway system to evacuate civilians, deliver overseas dignitaries to Kyiv and transfer humanitarian provides, important items, exports and weaponry. “It’s the backbone of the Ukrainian economy,” says

Serhiy Leshchenko,

a supervisory board member at Ukrzaliznytsia, or Ukrainian Railways. “It’s the backbone of the Ukrainian state. And in terms of a target, it’s second only to military.”

Alexandr Kamyshin, CEO of Ukraine’s railway system


Jillian Melchior

On June 5, 4 missiles struck a railcar restore facility in Kyiv. Russia claimed the power housed army automobiles, however Ukrainian Railways says it was used to repair grain hoppers and different vehicles for cargo exports. In April a missile struck the railway station in Kramatorsk, within the Donetsk area, as civilians gathered to flee. Some 60 individuals, together with youngsters, had been killed. The Russians have focused bridges, substations and different rail services.

The Kyiv School of Economics Institute, which is tallying battle destruction, estimates that between Feb. 24 and June 8, Russians inflicted $2.7 billion in harm on the railway infrastructure and rolling inventory.

“Some people say railway men are the second army,” says the Ukrainian railway system’s CEO,

Alexandr Kamyshin.

War has claimed the lives of some 165 of his staff. Another 252 have been injured and 5 captured by Russia.

Mr. Kamyshin, 37, makes a degree of touring all over the place he asks his railway employees to go. That consists of a number of journeys to Kramatorsk, in addition to close by Lyman. “If it’s not safe, then we should take those people out. If it’s safe, then I can go there,” he says. “When people see that I can go there, they go as well.” With some 230,000 staff, the railway is the largest state-owned enterprise in Ukraine, and there have been “zero train attendants or track managers or any other managers who rejected to do their job because of the war.”

When battle erupted, Mr. Yelisieiev was on a commonly scheduled prepare journey to the western metropolis of Lviv. He spent the subsequent weeks serving to run evacuation trains from Kharkiv, a metropolis beneath assault close to the Russian border, to Kyiv after which to the relative security of Lviv. The evacuees included his circle of relatives.

Yurii Yelisieiev, a prepare driver


Jillian Melchior

“I will remember those train rides for the rest of my life,” Mr. Yelisieiev says. Panicked civilians crowded onboard, and moms handed their toddlers via the prepare home windows “because they were afraid the children would be trampled.” Some 2,000 to three,000 individuals crammed onto trains that normally had a capability of 600. “The state of tension was felt” even from the motive force’s cab, he says. He shared his snacks with younger youngsters and let a nursing mom feed her child in his compartment.

Illya Prudnik,

a 20-year-old prepare steward, remembers how as soon as on the Kharkiv prepare station, artillery hit so shut that he may really feel the vibrations from the ground as everybody dived to the bottom. During one journey, he acquired a message on his radio of an unwell passenger a number of vehicles down, however the prepare was too packed to make his means via. When it pulled right into a station, he grabbed his first-aid equipment and sprinted down the platform to assist.

Train drivers needed to relaxation so they might keep alert, however within the early days of the battle the stewards typically stayed awake for so long as 45 hours, Mr. Prudnik says. The journey was additionally emotionally grueling. “When you are a steward and talking to people, they tell you stories,” he provides. “You are trying to encourage them, to lift their spirits . . . but of course it is pretty stressful to be in the midst of this every day.”

Illya Prudnik, a railway steward


Jillian Melchior

Anastasia Tregub,

24, fled Kyiv in early March by prepare amid rumors that Russia could conduct a nuclear strike on town. “It was very scary to be on that train,” she says, however the railway employees stored calm and cared for the passengers. “I needed to have a person to talk with because I was alone,” she remembers. One steward “talked to me all the time, as much as I needed at that time. . . . They were so kind to me.” The railway employees, she says, “are our angels. They rescued and helped a lot of people from Ukraine, so I am very appreciative of them for that.”

Mr. Kamyshin says the evacuation trains have introduced some 3.8 million individuals to security, together with about one million youngsters. They additionally rescued some 120,000 pets. In the southwestern metropolis of Uzhhorod in March, I met refugee households who escaped with solely small baggage—and their beloved cats.

The battle has shut down air visitors, and Russia has seized key port cities and blockaded the Black Sea. Most grownup Ukrainian males beneath 60 can’t depart the nation throughout wartime, which limits who can drive throughout the borders. And the visitors traces at factors of entry stretch for miles.

By day 20 of the invasion, Mr. Kamyshin says, the railway felt the evacuation of civilians was “established, it’s on track.” So “we started focusing on cargo again, and since then we constantly work on increasing the cargo export.” He estimates the railways transfer 300,000 tons of cargo day by day. Roughly half of Ukraine’s trains run on diesel, which it now self-supplies by rail.

Unfortunately, the heroic efforts of railway males can’t clear up the issue of transporting Ukrainian crops, which feed the world. Secretary of State

Antony Blinken

estimated final month that there have been some 22 million tons of grain “sitting in silos in Ukraine right now.” Russia is aware of meals shortages can induce political crises and will hope to make use of a man-made famine as diplomatic leverage.

Mr. Kamyshin estimates that earlier than the battle 90% of Ukraine’s grain was exported by way of seaports. “We can do 10% more” by rail, perhaps “20%, but not five times more. And that’s the point that should be clear to everyone.”

Ukrainian railway tracks differ in width from most European ones. For a prepare to cross the border, its wheels have to be swapped to suit the tracks, says Mr. Leshchenko. “Even if you had enough railway cars with systems of switching, there’s a lack of infrastructure on the Europe side” to deal with the grain, together with too few storage services. Already, trains are more and more backed up on the border.

The railway system hasn’t all the time been revered in Ukraine. For years, it has had a popularity for corruption and inefficiency. But railway employees’ heroism all through the battle has helped elevate its stature. “We just do our job,” Mr. Kamyshin says. “No one sees any other option.”

Ms. Melchior is a Journal editorial web page author.

Journal Editorial Report: Paul Gigot interviews army analyst Seth Jones. Images: AP/Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly

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