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Movement is Life: how the Ukrainian railways' directors survive the war while continuing their work

Movement is Life: how the Ukrainian railways' directors survive the war while continuing their work
photo: Archives/Movement is Life: how the Ukrainian railways' directors survive the war while continuing their work
18 / 03 / 2022

More than three weeks have passed since Russia's military invasion of Ukraine, an event that has completely changed the daily lives of Ukrainians across the country. Despite the danger, the Ukrainian railways' network and its leaders continue to operate, offering hundreds of evacuation trains daily from various parts of Ukraine.

Every morning the head of the railways, Oleksandr Kamyshyn, 37, gathers all the executives for morning meetings. Given war realities, this does not sound like an ordinary work meeting. There are no cell phones, no zoom. They resort to the Soviet closed-circuit phone system connecting all the stations for communication.

Directors do not stay in one place for long because they are the prime Russian target. Their strategy is to relocate quickly to avoid the aggressor's attack, so they operate 231,000 personnel from a train in constant motion, crossing the country continuously since the first day of the war. They often conduct their work aboard regular passenger trains to blend in with the general mass of people. The directors decided to leave its main headquarters in Kyiv as early as February 24.

The Ukrainian railways network, one of the largest in the world, has been a lifeline for civilians affected by the invading war and has winched to safety more than 2 million people from danger zones since the invasion began. Evacuation train schedules are made the night before and changed in case of emergencies - Russian bombs hitting railroad tracks, shelling of station areas, and other inhumane horrors that Ukrainians face every day. To ensure stable evacuation, workers risk their lives. In an interview for CNN, a Ukrainian railways employee said: "We're responding and repairing the railroad even under artillery fire every day. Unfortunately, some of my colleagues have been killed and injured in the shelling." At the time, 33 were people killed, 24 were injured. What the actual numbers are today, unfortunately, is unknown.

To date, the Ukrainian railways are still connecting all major hubs. The exceptions are towns like Mariupol, which the Russians have temporarily taken under control, preventing the city from providing humanitarian corridors and evacuating civilians endangered by the 24-hour shelling and bombing.

Upon arriving in Lviv, Kamyshyn makes quick visits to the central train station and holds calls and meetings, ensuring that the Ukrainian railways are uninterrupted. Although the directors were offered a place in President Zelenskyy's bunker, they refused and have been traveling all over the country since February 24, getting into some of the most dangerous sections of the railroad system. They are guided by rather simple logic, admirable in such menacing times: "If we expect employees to show up in these places, we should do the same."