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‘We are the second army’: How Ukraine keeps its trains running under threat of attack

Oleksandr Kamyshin and I walk through Kyiv’s central railway. It is like accompanying a general on a tour of his territory.

His authority cuts through crowds and he walks with a fast stride. When he walks by, his staff stands a bit straighter.

“I go to the station at least once per day. Sometimes, it’s more than once. “I believe boots on the ground is a best approach during war,” said the 39-year old railway chief.

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This landmark station is characterized by the brutalist exterior of a Soviet-era Soviet building. The inside is anything but grey.

Oleksandr proudly points out the new features, “It’s important for morale.”

“Does that sound familiar? He adds music.

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Instead of constant shouty train announcements and humour, platforms that thousands of children and women fled from Ukraine now echo with pop music.

Since the beginning of the war, four million people have been evacuated by Ukraine’s railway system. Its 27,000km of track runs across the country, and has been a vital lifeline. It transports emergency supplies and aid as well as people.

Six months prior to the Russian invasion of February, Oleksander was appointed chief executive officer of Ukrainian Railways. His job since then has been to maintain the network’s functionality and manage it while under threat from targeted attacks.

A Russian missile that was fired at Kramatorsk’s eastern station in April killed 60 people and injured more than 110. It remains one of the most deadly air strikes in war. It was marked with the dark message “for the Children” on the missile that it left behind.

Image Oleksandr Kazyshin has kept the trains running

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The war has claimed the lives of 307 railway workers and injured 665 others. Railways are home to 231,000 workers and the largest national workforce.

Oleksandr, a passenger on a sleeper train traveling from Kyiv and Dnipro, says “We are second army of Ukraine.”

He shows us WhatsApp messages as we get closer to our final stop. Intelligence is coming in fast and hard.

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“I received the information at 5:45 AM. It states that 10 planes (TU-95s) are ready for launch. He says that there are two planes at one location and six in another. Now we can see how many missiles these planes carry.”

They carried at least 69 missiles.

Three hours later, explosions could be heard throughout the country. Russia launched an aerial assault that was the largest since the beginning of the war. According to the Ukrainian air force, 54 rockets were shot down.

Three people were injured in Kyiv including a 14 year-old girl.

The trains keep moving under the protection of air defense. It is a reliable comfort for children and a backbone to a country in war.


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