Michael Williams

The fearless wartime feats of Ukrainian Railways

March 18, 2022 Blog


 ONE of the remarkable stories coming out of the war in Ukraine is the astonishing achievement of Ukrainian Railways in transporting millions of refugees fleeing across the country and into Poland. With the bombs raining down and under artillery fire, the brave staff have kept the trains running under the most dangerous circumstances.

The other day, the BBC’s Fergal Keane interviewed the national railways’ chairman, Oleksandr Kamyshin, about this amazing achievement. Surrounded by bodyguards because the Russians would like to kill him, this 37-year-old is quite unlike the hatchet-faced apparatchiks who run Russia’s rail network. He appears something of a hipster, with a dapper beard and a topknot in his hair.

Constantly on the move to evade the Russian attackers, he explains: “We have to be faster than those people who try to track us.”

The railway is the country’s biggest employer with 231,000 staff across 233,000 square miles (603,470 sq km) of territory – Ukraine is the second-largest country in Europe.

So far Mr Kamyshin estimates his staff have helped to move 2.5 million people to safety. But the vast operation has come at a cost. Schedules have to be constantly updated because of Russian attacks. Since Vladimir Putin’s invasion began, 33 railway staff have been killed.

“They hit our track daily. They hit the stations. Our people risk their lives. They go under shelling. They keep saving people,” Mr Kamyshin tells Fergal Keane.

This vast logistical operation reminds me of the heroic efforts of Britain’ railways during the second world war which I wrote about in my book “Steaming to Victory: How Britain’s railways won the war”. Except this time the cargo is vulnerable, frightened refugees.


March 18, 2022 Blog

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