Conflicts & War

Ukrainian railways: Kyiv’s second army

By Luis Lidón

Pokrovsk, Ukraine, Jul 5 (EFE).- Ukraine’s railway network and its collective of 200,000 employees have become key to Kyiv’s resistance to invading forces.

“The president of Ukraine surprised the world. The Ukrainian Army surprised the world. And the Ukrainian railways also surprised the world,” Oleksandr Kamyshin, director of Ukrzaliznytsia, a state-owned railway company, tells Efe.

“We have almost the same number of employees as the army. With over 200,000 people, we are the largest employer in the country,” Kamyshin adds. “We continue to do it every day. And that is the reason why some say that we are the second army of Ukraine.”

Kamyshin is very popular in Ukraine and is always happy to chat to employees or citizens, be it over complaints or suggestions for the service.

The 38-year-old, who sports a distinctive hairstyle that combines a braid and undercut, now faces the tough challenge of managing Europe’s third-largest railway network — spanning over 23,000 kilometers — in the midst of war.

Ukrainian trains are vital to the nation’s resistance. Cargo planes cannot fly over the country and Russia has imposed a naval blockade, so trains have become the only way to transport goods and people quickly in a huge country, the largest in Europe after Russia.


Since Russian troops stormed Ukraine on February 24, trains have been instrumental in getting people to safety.

According to the railway chief, the organization has facilitated the evacuation of 3.8 million people from central, southern and eastern Ukraine and the transportation of some 600,000 from western Ukraine to neighboring countries including Poland, Slovakia and Hungary.

The transport network has also been a target for Russian strikes. So far, 177 workers have been killed and 52 others injured.

Trains get bombed daily and the company repairs any damage without taking into account the cost, Kamyshin explains in Pokrovsk, the last point of evacuation for civilians by train from Donbas, the mining heartland of eastern Ukraine and where Russia has ramped up efforts to command full control of the area.

Train rides for those who decide to flee the Donbas are free and the railway network works closely with NGOs to help vulnerable people get out of conflict zones.

Larisa, a 55-year-old woman who is in charge of a convoy that evacuates refugees from eastern regions, says she is proud of her work.

“The workload during the war is not a problem, but it affects me to hear the pain of so many people: their stories about relatives who have died, disappeared, the time they have spent hiding in basements, how someone was executed or tortured,” says Larisa.

“People also appreciate our work and the help we give them, but I wish that didn’t have to happen, that no one had to leave their house for fear of being bombed,” she adds.


Trains have also transported a long list of heads of state and government such as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who praised Ukrainian railways for offering them a comfortable and safe trip.

Kamyshin has become famous for coining the term ‘iron diplomacy’, in reference to the shuttling of Western politicians on Ukraine’s railway networks to Kyiv.

“That is our role in this war. To continue to maintain a service and help European and world leaders to come to Kyiv and give us their support. And our role is to take them and bring them back safely,” Kamyshin concludes.EFE

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