Currents News Staff
“First light” in Ternopil, in Western Ukraine, is the rising sun — the city lights have been kept off since the war began — more than two weeks that have exhausted, overwhelmed and completely upended normal life.
But, through it all, Ukraine’s rail network has kept running. Every morning, the railway’s executive, led by 37-year-old Oleksandr Kamyshin, gather for a morning call. No cell phones, no Zoom, just a Soviet-era closed-circuit phone system that connects every station. They won’t stay here long, they can’t. They believe they’re a prime Russian target.
“The strategy is to move fast so that they don’t catch you,” said Oleksandr Kamyshin, Ukrainian Railways CEO, “and don’t spend a long time at one location.”
Instead, their work managing 231,000 employees continues on a single-car train headed west. For now. Often their work is aboard ordinary passenger trains – to blend in with the masses.
Since the war began, they’ve been in near-constant motion, criss-crossing the country, to keep the Russians guessing. The decision to leave their headquarters in Kyiv was made in the early morning hours of Feb. 24.
Kamyshin snapped one last picture with his two young kids in Kyiv, one still asleep. He says his children are no longer in Ukraine.
“For me it’s easier when they know that they are safe and I have time to do my job,” said Kamyshin.
The country’s rail network, one of the largest in the world, has been a lifeline in war, moving desperately needed supplies in, and desperate people out of danger. So far, they’ve moved more than 2 million people since the invasion began.
Schedules are drawn up the night before and changed in response to panicked scenes like this one in Kharkiv or in Lviv in the early days of war.
The CEO is surprised that they’ve still been able to use the trains in a war zone.
“That’s something which is surprising for the whole country and for the president as well,” said Kamyshin.
It’s surprising because every day, the network is hit by Russian bombs.
Small damage breaks the link between the cities temporarily, but a downed bridge, indefinitely.
Near Kharkiv, an undetonated bomb fell right next to the tracks. The Railway Director, Roman Chernitskyi, says they see shelling every day.
“We are reacting and repairing railways even under artillery shelling every day,” said Chernitskyi. “Unfortunately, some of my colleagues have been killed and injured during shelling.”