Ukraine’s resilience to Russian onslaught extends to its railways, says the head of the company, which has kept trains running smoothly since the war began.
Operations have not been fully suspended since late February “more than two hours” despite fighting across the country, Ukraine Railways CEO Alexander Kamyshin told AFP at the InnoTrans trade fair in Berlin.
“It’s the 210th day of the war. And no matter how hard they shoot at us, we keep running,” Kamyshin said.
About 8,000 railway workers fight in the Ukrainian military.
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, 244 employees have been killed and 425 injured at Ukrzaliznytsia, the country’s largest public company with 231,000 employees.
“That is the highest price because a damaged infrastructure can always be rebuilt. But people? Life and human skills: something we will not rebuild,” said Kamyshin, who was invited to share a booth with Polish railway company PKP at the fair.
The remaining staff are working amid the relentless bombardment, constantly rebuilding what was destroyed, said the imposing young manager, whose looks – the sides of his scalp shaved, pulling off a black ponytail – stands out amid the dark business suits the industry gather .
“We never stopped working for people. Never, not a single day,” said Kamyshin, who wore a polo shirt with his company’s logo.
He said his staff had become experts at repairing bombed infrastructure, with just a single full breakdown lasting two hours.
We figured out “how to fix everything so that (the service) is never down for more than two hours,” he said.
– European connection –
Kamyshin said the railways are a vital lifeline for his ailing country.
“Some days it was the only way to drive through Ukraine,” he said, referring to major road damage.
“We have reestablished communication with Balakliya. This is indeed the “easiest way” to reach the eastern city.
He pointed out that the journey of world leaders to Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, including a joint visit by France’s Emmanuel Macron, Germany’s Olaf Scholz and Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi in June, was through the rail network Poland was made possible.
As soon as a new territory has been recaptured by Russian forces, the Ukrainian Railways goes to work to reintroduce damaged lines to the network. Thus, a week after the Ukrainian recapture, Kharkiv left a train for Balakliya.
“The government supports us financially.” Kamyshin said, noting that the support was badly needed as the company made most of its revenue from cargo before the war.
Looking to the future, Ukraine hopes to one day join the European Union, which would also mean integrating its railways into the EU network.
Kamyshin strongly supports a European Commission proposal to unify the continent’s railways more quickly, which would mean changing track gauges in countries where it’s wider, like Ukraine, Moldova, the Baltics and Finland.
“We have already started with that. We have no choice but to finally switch to the European standard gauge,” he said.
However, he also has a lot to do: the Ukrainian rail network, which is constantly being bombed by the Russian army, is the third largest in Europe with 23,000 kilometers of track, behind Germany and France.