LVIV, Ukraine — Russian forces are bombarding parts of Ukraine’s railway network making it more difficult to evacuate of thousands of people attempting to flee the conflict, according to Oleksandr Kamyshin, chairman of state-owned Ukrainian Railways.
“We keep repairing our infrastructure but they keep destroying it,” Kamyshin told POLITICO. “We keep repairing it and we do it under fire, but we keep running the trains.”
So far, he estimates the company has sent 670,000 people from the war-ravaged center, east and south of Ukraine — along with 11,000 cats and dogs — to the west, either directly to borders or to cities such as Lviv or Uzhhorod that are close to the frontier with the EU.
“We have a daily schedule, updated by 9 pm for the next day,” he said. “We see which cities are under control and then we go there.”
The Russian governments it is not targeting civilian infrastructure but there is clear insistence of indiscriminate bombing within cities such as Kyiv and Kharkiv. Meanwhile, Ukrainian Railways is continually sharing photos on the Telegram messaging service of severe damage to passenger rail infrastructure including twisted metal, shattered bridges and unexploded munitions.
On Wednesday morning, Ukrainian Railways said it was prepared to run an evacuation corridor for citizens trying to leave Volnovakha, a town between Donetsk and Mariupol under heavy shelling.
Asked whether the company needs technical support to keep its trains running, Kamyshin said the message was simple — the invasion needed to end: “Make Putin stop the war. That’s the only thing, we will not stop.”
The company has now started producing anti-tank hedgehog obstacles while Ukraine International Airlines, the national flag carrier, has offered its stewards to help staff packed trains and stations while there’s still a ban on all commercial air traffic, he said.
By Tuesday afternoon, traffic on many trains coming from the east of the country was delayed by at least five hours, though there were still cross-country services coming into Lviv from Lysychansk, in the east, heading for Uzhhorod just a few kilometers from the border with Slovakia. Trains were also still running back east to the center of Ukraine.
Amid a steady flow of people heading west, the focus is also on boosting connections with EU countries. Kamyshin said he had talked over plans to increase the capacity of rail links to Poland with the country’s Transport Minister Andrzej Adamczyk late on Tuesday.
There is currently a humanitarian train regularly departing from Lviv’s central station toward the Medyka border crossing with Poland, primarily for women and children though some foreigners are being allowed onboard. Those services are packed with people trying to flee the country while on the return leg back to Ukraine the carriages are stocked with water, food and medicine.
“We’re constantly turning them around,” Kamyshin said of efforts to up the frequency.
From Wednesday, a free evacuation train running from Przemyśl to Prague will depart nightly at 9:30 pm, aiming to transit refugees further into Central Europe. On the return leg back to Poland, anyone prepared to fight for the Ukrainian government will be able to get onboard, the company said.
There are also five daily trains running from Kyiv to Przemyśl in Poland and on Tuesday Kamyshin said the company managed to start a separate service over the border to Chelm. At the outbreak of the conflict, Czech Railways had also offered to provide carriages for use in getting people out of Ukraine.
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