Paul Workman: A Train to Kyiv in the Middle of War

KYIV – Departure time is 11:26 a.m. Second Street. Car six. Several hundred people waited on the platform. The train was late and everyone knew it was coming. Many look like family going home. Children, cats and dogs.

Weeks earlier, when Russian forces launched the attack, the station in Lviv was home to newly created refugees fleeing the war. They were all heading in the same direction: west.

Train 11.26 was heading East, towards the skirmish. Go to Kyiv, where the Ukrainian army repelled the Russians in a spectacular military reversal, just outside the city.

Every liberated village reveals the tragedy, loss and anguish caused by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s personal obsession with the country he longs for. And now Ukrainians are punished for refusing to be Russian.

Look no further than the lines of body bags in Irpin to confirm what happened in Ukraine in the last month. A suburb far from the country’s capital.

This is not a quick and beautiful trip to Kyiv. An hour and a half passed before the train started to leave the station. We used an app to evaluate the speed. It reaches a speed of 50 km/h. The dull brown countryside passed slowly in the soft crash and creaking inside.

You can drive to Kyiv and people do it all the time, but taking the train seems safer and even faster. Or so we were advised.

The conductor, a blonde woman in her fifties, held a cup of tea and spoke no English. But she found someone did and informed us that the train won’t arrive in Kyiv until 10pm

That means arriving after the start of the nightly curfew.

Ukraine has kept its trains running day and night, at speeds and capacities it never thought was necessary or possible. It will go down in the annals as one of the few great achievements to be had from Putin’s aggressive war. With the railway workers being well-deservedly honored for their incredible work in perilous times.

Kyiv was under attack, shells hitting TV towers and apartment blocks, and trains still coming and going, overcrowded and horribly tired.

Our train first headed northeast to Rivene, and then turned south past what appeared to be a burning fuel depot. It looked as if another rocket had landed, with an explosion, as we slowly moved forward.

At some point we turned to the northeast again, which is probably when we saw a long column of Ukrainian tanks piled up on the wagons and parked on a bulkhead.

Around dusk, the light fades, we make one more axis, heading east, for the last 100 kilometers to Kyiv. Engineers have carefully chosen this way to avoid any possible trouble spots. At one point we could be within 60 kilometers of a town occupied by Russia.

When the cabin lights came on suddenly, the conductor sternly motioned for us to lower the window curtains and pay for our three cups of tea. About 10 cents each.

When we arrived, Kyiv was in near complete darkness and on guard. After the safe and slowest trip to the eastern front.

I ran into a few Canadians who appeared to be medical people carrying large backpacks

“Where do you go?” I ask. “Wherever the hospital sends us,” they replied.

And they were gone, up the dark stairs, past two rows of armed checkpoints, and into the night.


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