Ukrainian families reunite as Kherson railway station reopens

Ukrainian families reunite as Kherson railway station reopens


Tears, smiles and the occasional artillery blast greeted passengers on Saturday as the first train in eight months pulled into the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson from Kyiv, reuniting families separated by war.

“I promised I’d come back. It happened, so I kept my promise,” said Anastasia Shevlyuga, 30, shortly after getting off the train and meeting her mother.

For others, the moment was darker.

Svytlana Flaschenko fought back tears as she waited for her only son, whom she last saw before Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.

The wait was unbearable.

“He’s the only one I have left,” she exclaimed.

The past few months have been marked by sadness, humiliation and fear as Russian forces fanned out from the Crimean Peninsula and occupied much of Ukraine’s Black Sea coast, including Kherson.

Two days after the war began in February, Flaschenko’s husband died of Covid after power was cut off at the hospital where he was on a ventilator.

In the months that followed, she lived under the Russian occupying forces, who repeatedly searched apartments and set up checkpoints throughout the city.

“It was very chaotic and very tough. My apartment was searched by Russian soldiers. They broke in and looked for weapons, ”explainedDOSenko.

She wanted to board the train to Kyiv with her son on Saturday evening.

“I just want to see him and tell him I love him,” she added.

– Proud –

Just a few yards away on the platform, Lyudmila Romanyuk, 66, held a bouquet of flowers and grinned as she eagerly awaited her granddaughter’s arrival.

“Her parents in Kherson don’t know she’s coming… we planned it,” she told AFP, laughing.

“Finally we are free!” she exclaimed.

“It’s a win-win situation. We have been liberated and my favorite child is coming here.”

Others came not to greet anyone, just to enjoy the latest sign of Kherson’s return to Ukrainian control.

“I wanted to make sure it came,” said Lyudmyla Smeshkova, 60, her pet Chihuahua Molly, who had her fur jacket zipped up.

For the region’s railway workers, the arrival of the train was a moment of great pride.

More than 100 workers worked 12-hour shifts in freezing rain last week to work with demining teams to clear and repair nearly 60 kilometers (37 miles) of track.

“It’s emotional. After hearing about the liberation of Cherson, we got the order to repair the 58 different damaged spots on the line,” said Denys Rustyk, 31, a railway worker from the nearby city of Odessa.

– Vital Lifeline –

Trains have long formed Ukraine’s industrial and economic backbone and have provided a vital lifeline since the beginning of the war, transporting millions fleeing conflict while also supplying combatants on the front lines.

The reopening of the line to Kherson will also be another vital artery of supply for a city desperate for help.

When the Russians withdrew over a week ago, they destroyed critical infrastructure and left Kherson without electricity and water as the harsh winter weather set in.

Since then, humanitarian aid has trickled into trucks and cars that travel the battered road between Kherson and the nearby city of Mykolaiv.

“For Kherson, this is critical as they will now receive equipment and help from the railroad,” said Yuri Karlyukin, 53, a 15-year veteran of Ukraine’s rail system.

“The sooner Cherson is connected, the sooner the city will come back to life.”

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