Walking through Kyiv’s central station with Oleksandr Kamyshin is like visiting his region with a general.
His authority clears a path through the crowd as he leads us at high speed. His staff straightens slightly as he passes.
“I go to the station once a day. Some days, more than once. I think it’s the best way to have boots on the ground during a war,” says the 39-year-old railway chief.
The historic station has a brutal facade of a Soviet-era building. But the inside is far from gray.
“It’s important to raise morale,” says Oleksandr, proudly pointing to the new features.
“Do you hear that? The music,” he adds.
Instead of a constant stream of blaring train announcements, the platform where thousands of Ukrainian women and children passed now blared pop tunes.
Ukraine’s railway system has transported four million people to safety since the start of the war. Its 27,000 km track spans the entire country and has been a vital lifeline – transporting emergency supplies and aid as well as people.
Oleksandr was appointed CEO of Ukrainian Railways just six months before the Russian invasion in February. Since then, its job is to manage the network and maintain its functionality while vulnerable to targeted attacks.
In April, a Russian missile was fired at Kramatorsk’s eastern station, killing 60 people and injuring more than 110. It is one of the deadliest air raids ever carried out in the war. The missile dropped on the ground of the station was emblazoned with a dark message – “For the children”.
So far 307 railway workers have been killed and 665 injured in this war. Railways employs 231,000 people and is the largest workforce in the country.
“We are the second army of Ukraine,” Oleksandr said in the cabin of a sleeper train from Kyiv to Dnipro.
As we reach our last stop, he shows us the WhatsApp messages on his phone. Intelligence is coming hard and fast.
“I got the information at 5:45 in the morning. It says that 10 planes, TU-95s, are ready to launch. Two planes in another place and six planes in another place, and now we see how many missiles they can carry. Let’s go,” he says. .
They had at least 69 missiles.
Three hours later, explosions were heard across the country. Russia launched a massive airstrike that morning – the most widespread since the start of the war. The Ukrainian Air Force says it shot down 54 rockets.
Three people, including a 14-year-old girl, were injured in Kyiv.
Under the cover of air defenses, the trains continue to run side by side. A reliable childhood comfort for many and the backbone of a war-torn country.
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