LVIV, Ukraine – Russian forces are bombing parts of Ukraine’s rail network, making it harder to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people trying to flee the conflict, according to Oleksandr Kamyshin, chairman of Ukrainian Railways.
“We keep fixing our infrastructure but they keep destroying it,” Kamyshin told POLITICO. “We keep fixing it and we’re doing it under fire, but we keep running the trains.”
So far, he estimates the company has sent 670,000 people from the war-torn central east and south of Ukraine – as well as 11,000 cats and dogs – either directly west. at the borders, either in cities like Lviv or Uzhhorod which are close. to the border with the EU.
“We have a daily schedule, updated at 9 p.m. for the next day,” he said. “We see which cities are under control, then we go there.”
The Russian government insists it does not target civilian infrastructure, but there is growing evidence of indiscriminate shelling in cities such as Kiev and Kharkiv. Meanwhile, Ukrainian Railways continually shares photos on the Telegram messaging service of severe damage to passenger rail infrastructure, including twisted metal, broken bridges and unexploded ordnance.
On Wednesday morning, Ukrainian Railways said it was ready to set up an evacuation corridor for citizens trying to leave Volnovakha, a town between Donetsk and Mariupol under heavy shelling.
Asked if the company needed technical support to keep its trains running, Kamyshin said the message was simple – the invasion must stop: “Make Putin stop the war. That’s the only thing, we won’t stop.
The company has now started producing hedgehog anti-tank obstacles while Ukraine International Airlines, the national airline, has offered its stewards to help staff fill trains and stations while all commercial air traffic is still banned, he said.
As of Tuesday afternoon, many train traffic from the east of the country had been delayed by at least five hours, although there were still cross-country services entering Lviv from Lysychansk, east east, towards Uzhhorod just a few kilometers from the border with Slovakia. Trains were also returning east to central Ukraine.
Amid a steady flow of people heading west, there is also a focus on strengthening connections with EU countries. Kamyshin said he discussed plans to increase capacity on rail links to Poland on Tuesday evening with the country’s transport minister, Andrzej Adamczyk.
There is currently a humanitarian train that runs regularly from Lviv Central Station to the Medyka border crossing with Poland, mainly for women and children, although some foreigners are allowed on board. These services are filled with people trying to flee the country while on their way back to Ukraine, cars are filled with water, food and medicine.
“We constantly flip them,” Kamyshin said of efforts to increase frequency.
From Wednesday, a free evacuation train from Przemyśl to Prague will leave every evening at 9.30 p.m., with the aim of transporting refugees further into central Europe. Upon returning to Poland, anyone willing to fight for the Ukrainian government will be able to board, the company said.
There are also five daily trains running from Kiev to Przemyśl in Poland and on Tuesday Kamyshin said the company managed to start a separate service over the border to Chelm. At the start of the conflict, Czech Railways had also offered to provide wagons to be used to ferry people out of Ukraine.
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