KYIV, Ukraine (28 April) — The passenger train from Kyiv to Sumy was running Thursday morning with just a six-minute delay. The 200-mile route crosses territory scarred by more than two months of ground battles and aerial bombardment since Russia’s invasion began. Despite what appear to be concerted efforts by the Russian military this week to disable the vital Ukrainian rail network, this journey and dozens of others are providing a crucial means of military support and civilian escape through the country.
Rail also acts as a symbol of Ukraine’s defiance and the limits of Russia’s military power. After cities and towns were reduced to rubble, with thousands killed, the trains are still running.
Ukraine has one of the largest rail networks in the world, with 12,400 miles of track. Rail is one of the country’s largest employers, with more than 260,000 staff members. Before the war, it played a minor role in Ukraine’s agriculture and mining industries, but it has become a crutch for commodity industries as Russia maintains a blockade on the Black Sea. The movement of grain now is essential to maintain the country’s reputation as “Europe’s breadbasket.”
But the trains are no longer just for commodities and long journeys, as the network now moves military ordnance, refugees and humanitarian aid. Increasingly, it is transporting families back to areas previously held by Russian troops. It delivers foreign leaders, too: Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited Kyiv on Sunday, arriving by train from Poland, as have several other Western officials.
Comment: Several commenters here took exception to my statement that the trains of Ukraine are still running. Well, they are running and running surprisingly well. The Ukrainian Railway (UZ) partnered with Deutsche Bahn (DB) two years ago to up their game. That explains a lot. In six years of living in Germany, I gained immense respect for DB. I depended on it for operations and used it in my daily life. European rail in general is head and shoulders about the US rail system and the UZ is striving to become an integral part of that European rail system. The UZ is massive, massive by itself and of massive importance in Ukraine. Here’s some statistics from 2020:
- Main track running length – 19,787 km
- Electrified track – 9,319 km
- Number of railway stations – 1,402
- Number of freight (goods) wagons – 85,200
- Number of passenger cars – 3,883 (in active operation – 2,681)
- Number of locomotives – 1,944 (electric – 1,627, diesel – 301)
- Average number of employees – 266,300 people.
- Passengers carried (2019) – 149.6 million.
- Cargo transportation (2019) – 312.4 million tons.
To give an idea of their ability to repair quickly, here’s a quote from Oleksandr Kamyshin, the head of UZ from 15 April.
“As soon as our troops regain control of the cities, we in the railways rush to restore rail connections to these cities. This is important for passenger transport, for the delivery of humanitarian aid, and for the resumption of cargo operations. The conquered cities must return to normal life and work as soon as possible.“
“One week ago, the Minister of Infrastructure Kubrakov set us the task of restoring the railway connection with Chernihiv. Today we traveled with the team on the first train Kyiv-Chernihiv. Within a week, the railway infrastructure team repaired numerous damage to the track, catenary, and cities. The most difficult task was to restore the bridge. They worked clearly and fulfilled the task of the Minister on time.”
The refugees got out. Quite a feat, but I see no reason for the Russians to interfere with that. Humanitarian supplies are also getting in. Even here, Russia would be foolish to interfere with that. At first, I would think Russia would want to keep all that rail infrastructure intact. They were planning on a swift victory, a change of government and being back to a working Ukraine firmly within Moscow’s sphere of influence long before today.
But now those trains are bringing tanks, artillery, ammunition and troops to the front lines. Just today there are photos of those Polish supplied T-72s already near the Donbas front. The UZ did that. Surely the Russians want to stop that flow. They try, but it seems a half-assed effort. They lack full air superiority which would allow their aircraft to roam the rail lines taking out every train they come across. Their precision rockets and missiles are either not precise enough or available in enough numbers, or both, to do the job. Their adaptive targeting is certainly not up to snuff. Either the Russians lack the capability to overwhelm the UZ’s recuperative powers or they are just flat incompetent. Hell of a choice.
” Several commenters here took exception to my statement that the trains of Ukraine are still running.”
I sure hope that isn’t directed at me as I said nothing about “the trains of Ukraine” not running, only that the tranformers turn AC to DC to run the trains and there isn’t an infinite supply of them.
From the BBC linked article:
“The railway is the country’s biggest employer with 231,000 staff …”
While I’m impressed with Europe’s rail system, that number seems rather large. Did any of them join the ranks of the refugees in the SIX weeks since the BBC put out that piece you linked to? I ask because the traction substation missle strikes commented on were reported on Southfront’s website on the 29th. This BBC report predates that, which means the Russians left the system in place to let Ukraine’s people leave, which as you point out was a good move.
“Either the Russians lack the capability to overwhelm the UZ’s recuperative powers or they are just flat incompetent.”
My vote is for incompetence as they certainly haven’t done like we would have done and blown most of that stuff up already, and taken the losses in the air to achieve that. It further shows that the Russian Federation, baring the nuclear weapons and strategic rocket forces, is not the military powerhouse our neocons have been telling us it was for years.
“Humanitarian supplies are also getting in. ”
To play devil’s advocate how would a military analyst determine which train was carrying tanks and which “humanitarian” food and “humanitarian” medical supplies?
I concur with your statement regarding the substations being blown up, also what I learnt from other sources is that the electric trains are needed to transport the war material. Also with all those fuel depots being blown up I wonder how much it will help in the war effort. So far it seems to me that Russians are trying their best to limit civilian casualities after all Putin said that Russians and Ukranians are one people (for all it is worth). Thanks
Yes, you were one of my inspirations, but not my main muse, because of your question about traction substations. If the trains are still running, the Russians failed to destroy sufficient substations to make any real difference. I don’t know what kind of redundancy was built into the system or how many spares the UZ has on hand, but it’s obviously enough. Those Polish T-72s just got railed across Ukraine. Hitting all the traction substations is certainly a smart targeting plan, but as I said, the Russians are doing a half-assed job of it. It is a sure sign of incompetence and just not giving a shit. It’s like our bombing of ball bearing factories in WWII. Hit them all and hit them hard in the face of losses until it makes a difference. Of course, then they’ll have to hit all the diesel locomotives to make the job complete. That’s asking a lot of a military force that doesn’t seem to give a shit.
I think the UZ is manpower intensive because many of the tasks and functions are still manual rather than automated. That’s a good thing in a wartime rail system. It also appears that most of the UZ workforce stayed on the job. Like DB employees, keeping the trains running is a near sacred vocation, not a mere job. They stayed because it is their duty. In my readings, I came across a retired UZ union boss who came out of retirement to become a conductor at soon as the war started. I bet he was not the only one.
It’s easy to tell which train is carrying tanks or other heavy equipment and which ones are carrying humanitarian goods. The tanks are on flatcars. Artillery and tank ammo would also be on flatcars. Humanitarian goods would be in boxcars and passenger cars. Aside from hitting the flatcars, it would make more sense just to hit all the locomotives with manned aircraft or armed drones. Of course that would require air superiority or really giving a shit.
Let me ease your mind. Like you and our host I don’t trust Putin any further than I can throw him, find this war an abomination, and fully support the Ukrainians to fight. However, I’m not a cheerleader for war expansion. I agree with what Col. Lang suggested at the beginning, a Presidential “finding” to legally justify support against a defacto enemy. It was written about on the 26th of Febraury. (see below). To quote him:
“Covert action gives Russia the opportunity to avoid a direct confrontation with a NATO country with all the risk of a nuclear exchange that would be present.”
We don’t have that, we have very broad and very public proclimaitons from Biden on down that are as overt as possible. If rumours from the Russian side are true NATO already has active duty officers engaged on the ground inside Ukraine. I don’t trust Biden, his handlers, or the neocons. The later are hell bent on the destruction of Russia and that means expanding the war, the former hell bent on finishing Obama’s transformation of America and that means further wrecking the economy, opening the border, and, now, seeing the first leak ever out of the Supreme Court (if that isn’t as fake a story as the Rolling Stone “Rape on Campus” story), wrecking what is left of institutional integrity and public support thereof.
My comments have been directed at you analysis of the situation on the ground. Please don’t take personal offense, but what is in the American press often reads as if it were written by people with Putin Derangement Syndrome. That does tend to make impersonal analysis difficult. As to your specific situational comments let me respond:
“I think the UZ is manpower intensive because many of the tasks and functions are still manual rather than automated. That’s a good thing in a wartime rail system.”
Yes, bloated an inefficient. DB wasn’t brought in to make a wartime rail system were they? As to other matters regarding Ukraine’s military the archives of Turcoplelier have a nice write up of the wrecked Ukrainian military from 2016, written by “shellback”:
It’s worth re-reading. We’ve been rebuilding Ukraine’s military for a decade. Why? And lets not forget that wonderful VP who got a Ukrainian prosecutor fired, and that wonderful impeachment over a presidential phone call. I hear that VP’s son’s laptop is now considered real, but at least now we’ll have an official department of disinformation to get to the bottom of things like that. I wonder how that makes all the Americans here feel?
I enjoy going back and reading all those old posts and comments on the first war in Ukraine. We were almost all supportive of the rebels fight, derisive of the state of the Ukrainian armed forces and disdainful of the power of the Pravy Sektor and Svoboda at the time. The Ukrainian military was definitely at its lowest point and the government was running close to being totally taken over by the extreme right. The hints of democracy of the Orange Revolution were being crowded out. The proxy fight over the fate of Ukraine between the Nuland crowd and the Putin crowd was only making things worse.
Our rebuilding of the Ukrainian military finally showed we could do it right. We certainly screwed the pooch in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially in contrast to what the Russians did in Syria. Their job there showed imagination, skill and patience. They were and are embarrassingly competent. Even their bloodless taking of Crimea was masterful. Unfortunately for them, the Syrian experience doesn’t appear to be the rule for the rest of the Russian armed forces. All the smart modernization efforts were being eaten alive by a growing kleptocracy at all levels. The same was happening in the DNR and LNR. Those statelets were becoming more like a 1930 Soviet gulag rather than advancing from their promising, but violent beginning. While in Ukraine all that Western investment and Orange Revolution reform was starting to take root. The judiciary is still a corrupt mess, but much of the rest of the government in Kyiv was being cleaned up. The right wingers were steading losing power from their 2014-2015 high water mark.And the progress of their armed forces has exceeded everyone’s expectations.
I know there are some in the West who see this as an opportunity to destroy Russia once and for all. There are more who see this as a continuation of the containment and rollback policies of the Cold War. If Russian forces suddenly withdrew behind their pre 2014 borders, do you really think Ukraine or NATO are going to try to march on Moscow? We won’t even fly our planes over Ukrainian territory. Russia won’t be destroyed or dismantled as some have actually called for. Putin might be finished, but Lord knows what would come if that happens. Russia and the West are turning their backs on each other. That’s probably better than continued direct confrontation. That’s not the end of the world.
“The proxy fight over the fate of Ukraine between the Nuland crowd…” she wasn’t the leader then or now. To paraphrase the political book of the left, “Don’t think of an Obama”
Western investment in Ukraine? You mean billions from the congressionally funded NGO the National Endowment for Democracy? What did they buy other than political parties?
The judiciary there is still corrupt? Just like when Biden got them to stop investigating his son? What was Barack doing then, and what has he said about it since?
Nuland was the face of our involvement at the time. As she said in 2013, the US spent over five billion on Ukraine since 1991 under every president since Bush the Elder.
Viktor Shokin, the prosecutor general fired on threat from Biden because he wouldn’t prosecute corruption, wasn’t investigating Hunter Biden or Burisma. Shokin wouldn’t even prosecute corruption within his own office. The IMF’s LaGarde threatened to withhold $40 billion over Shokin’s corruption around that same time.
Yes, she was the face, Obama is the big dog calling the shots. So the IMF and Biden managed to give away $41 billion in exchange for one prosecutor and the courts are still corrupt? They should have both read “The Art of the Deal” by everone’s favorite president.
With respect to:
“Like DB employees, keeping the trains running is a near sacred vocation, not a mere job.”
There is a big cultural difference between far-west-Ukraine (Lviv) and the rest of Ukraine. Even the people in Lviv are not as conscientious as the *Germans* but the people in the rest of Ukraine are about as conscientious as the Russians. I’m still mad about buying three Staedtler ballpoint pens from a stationary store in Lviv and taking them back to my hotel to find out that they didn’t work at all. I was such a sucker – and Lviv is where the more honest Ukrainians live!
UZ traction substations run about three-quarters of a million USD each. It takes a month or so to replace one (rushed) *if* you have spares (UZ does not – manufacturers maybe) *and* the old one wasn’t destroyed by a cruise missile and/or 25 tonnes of toxic transformer oil didn’t go up in flames.
UZ has no money for such costly repairs, but my U.S. tax dollars are sure to find their way to Ukraine. Still, weeks without electric trains on those segments hit. ~30km or so between traction substations. Russia said Podobortsy, Lvov, Volovets, Timkovo and Pyatihatka were hit. That takes out electric trains on the lines from Poland to Lviv and from Slovakia/Hungary to Lviv. Diesel locomotives can still use the tracks, but they have to be UZ broad-gauge ones. Standard gauge locomotives used in Europe won’t work. The problem would be getting enough busy diesel locomotives from anywhere further east over to the Lviv region.
That said, there’s no easy way to find out how this impacts the eastern lines from/to Lviv. There are normally a hundred or so trains into Lviv daily. No idea how many of those were electric. Comments on some sites say over half, which sounds reasonable (but no way to verify).
I am not as optimistic as you on the supposedly wonderful performance of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
I agree that the Ukrainian infantry are certainly highly motivated and aggressive, or a big chunk of them. However, the regular army, having the overwhelming majority of combined arms capabilities, does not appear to be “winning”, as much as the Russian Army is losing to friction and warfare fundamentals.
The vaunted “success” of Javelin/NLAW/Stingers appear to be the reservist infantry, and the TB2/drone units seem to be niche innovator type units. ISW characterized the Russian northern-axes withdrawals as “in good order”, and it does seem that the Ukrainian regular army could not properly disrupt and defeat the Russian withdrawing units. Operationally and strategically, Russia has maintained initiative thus far.
Instead, this war is reinforcing some warfare fundamentals. (Perhaps to minimize collateral damage or due to EW interference), Russia did not sufficiently utilize artillery to suppress Ukrainian infantry in the beginning. Its initial attacks were essentially pure-armor attacks. Which is a reminder from World War 2, that infantry remains pivotal in the attack, and that armor’s role remains the exploitation and approach march. All WW2 combatants learned that pure-armor attacks are risky. Soviet Union and Russia chose to take the tactical risks of pure-armor attacks to maintain operational mobility, and we are seeing the faults demonstrated. It is unclear if Russia understands this problem.
We are seeing some indications of EW from this war, but there is little open source discussion. That is likely a key aspect of this war. EW was key in 2014.
The Ukrainian Air Force, after all the Western assistance and cooperation, still had fewer flight hours than the Russians. So that is another indirect indicator of the supposed-success-of-Western-army-reforms.
Rails are a waste of money. Massive burden on taxpayers and could never be self supportive. CCP is experiencing it right now. Russia could have taken out the rails if they wanted. As for the US it will never work. Crime is so bad nobody would want to ride it. I brought this up during a Houston market research meeting and everyone agreed. The crime is getting worse. Salt Lake has a decent train system but it’s a massive burden on taxpayers and is only there as a remnant of the olympics. Last time I was there methheads on it and people not paying.
TTG – Bless the rail workers. Russia has a huge rail network also. They have 800,000 people employed in the rail industry. All government owned, but lately there have been moves towards privatization. That would make it another cash cow for some of Putin’s oligarch friends. Which is probably why many of those 800,000 workers are now looking after themselves instead of the rails, and why they are having so many accidents.
Muralidhar Rao – 1400-plus dead civilians in the suburbs of Kiev that Russia had occupied. Many thousands more still uncounted in Kharkiv, the Donbas, and Mariupol. And today truckloads of stolen Ukrainian grain are being taken to Russia. Russian TV personalities are bragging about the theft. Saying they will sell it to China. Putin is attempting to win the war by a horrific repetition of Stalin’s Holodomor.
I always travel by train in Europe where possible, fast, cheap compared to air and it delivers you to the center of the city.
I stand by my statement. If don’t think Russians are complete idiots. If they wanted to dismember the rail system, they could. The first point would be to use cratering munitions and target bridges and approaches that are not easily repaired. The second point is to kill the rail workers repairing the damage. Delayed action and anti personnel munitions plus follow up attacks should catch the tiger teams. I assume there is an endless supply of European track components available via Poland, etc. This is not rocket science.
Or persistent chemical agents on cargo trains. Low collateral damage and immediate effects. When will they do it.
Logistics wins wars. Rail transport is critical for the movement of armor and ammunition to the frontlines. If Ukraine survives it will be because of its soldiers defending their homeland and railroad workers quickly repairing the damage; not corporate war profiteering. The next months are critical. If the Russia Federation cannot seize Odessa to seal off Ukraine from the sea and collapse rail transportation; the invasion will have been for nothing unless the Kremlin secures a peace treaty/armistice and keeps the conquered land east of the Dnieper River and a DMZ is setup on the line of contact to stop the shelling.
Nancy Pelosi’s and Adam Schiff’s visit to Kiev and saying the US will ‘be there for you until the fight is done’ indicates that they will do anything to keep this from happening, They will keep the war going, forever, until a Russian regime change occurs or a nuclear holocaust blows up the world.
Russia has the ability to stop most rail traffic in Ukraine.
If they are not doing so it is because they consider the cost on the civilian population to be too high vs its military benefit. Russia could have their TU-160’s drop 100,000 lb’s of those good enough dumb bombs on every run. They could hit railyards, supporting infrastructure and if they wanted to be really vicious, mines (unexploded cluster bombs). A force of 5 Tu-160’s would be enough.
Who would stop them, the ghost of Kiev?
I’m glad that the Russians still have enough confidence to not resort to such brutality.
Ukraine still maintains enough A2/AD capability to keep those TU-160s at bay. Russia has not achieved air superiority over Ukraine.
I doubt the Russians are too worried about tanks and only marginally more so about artillery supplies from the west. The logistics of moving it to the far east and keeping it operational is a beast. The Russians have multiple places where they can target it en route. Tanks drink fuel and artillery, shells (and fuel).
I’m fine with giving tanks / artillery to Kiev. If nothing else they have something to barter when this horrible war ends. If I was Russia, I’d be worried about the Switchblade drones which are much easier to transport and move.
You don’t think the Russians are too worried about Ukrainian tanks and artillery? I take it you haven’t been under artillery fire before. I can safely say the Russians do not want to see more Ukrainian tanks and artillery. Switchblade drones seem to be a potentially effective weapon, but they’re not going to win the war for Ukraine by themselves.
>>I take it you haven’t been under artillery fire before. <<
Truer words never spoken. I flinched during a canon demo at Williamsburg 🙂
I was contrasting paper weapons vs deployed weapons. The concern of more NATO tanks and artillery drove the Russians to bomb targets they initially avoided, such as fuel depots. It looks like the Russians believe they can stop that category of weapons without totally destroying Ukraine's rail network. Only time will tell how effective they are.
Weapons like the switchblade will not win ground but are attritional and matter more as the war drags on.
Don’t feel lonely. I flinched Sunday at our Mayday parade every time the Shriner’s fired their human cannonball. So did everybody else in our VFW color guard, combat veterans all. That Shriner cannon and their clown cars were the big hit of the parade. And well deserved for their many children’s hospitals throughout the country. I’m going to send them a small check.
BTW those U.S.-provided M777 howitzers are no longer paper weapons. Ukraine is already using some of them in the fight against Russia, SecDef Austin just confirmed to Congress. My wild-arse guess is that they are being used against Russian units in Kherson Oblast and not yet further east in the Donbas salient. Time will tell.
Throughout history, Russia had excellent chess players (I always liked Botvinik, Tal and Karpov). In chess, especially the modern one (sadly the one where the machine beats the man), it’s important to know your opponent, his habits during play, the openings he’s strong in, is he better in endgames or middlegames, etc.
It’s interesting and due to loss of human lives very sad, to see how the conflict around Ukraine resembles a chess play where the western deep state is gradually forcing the Russians to play moves they intended not to play (e.g. destroying part of the infrastructure to slow down the influx of weapons).
The problem seems to be that the western leaders don’t understand the opponent’s position, although most leaders and not only western don’t have a clue about how their own people live. This position is very clear, if the Russians lose in Ukraine, they lose everywhere. And if you have a cornered man in a situation he cannot afford lose, you can beat him up, rob him, mock him, shout at him and etc. but in the end he’ll shoot you.
Not any more…
to quote the head of the Ukrainian rail system:
“On May 3, Russian troops attacked 6 railway stations in the center and west of the country, damaging the infrastructure severely, said Alexander Kamyshin, head of Ukrazaliznytsia.”
Russians are now going after the Transcarpathian rail infrastructure including the Beskydy Tunnel with cruise missiles. That’s one of the main supply routes for arms and material from NATO into Ukraine.
We should probably stop discussing the war lest they figure out how to fight it!
You may be right, but I’m sure that’s a conceit on our part.
I’m not faulting Russian war plans for trying a quick decapitation move. It was worth a shot. But if they didn’t have a complete war plan with detailed air target lists before this all started, they are absolute morons. Back in the Cold War, I learned from a former DATT Prague that he had the Budovar Brewery put on the official air target list. He figured we should hit them where it really hurts.
Just making a joke. You are right about the planning. Their intel about the Ukrainians also failed them miserably.
Why yes. I was just saying a day or two on this very forum that all the old weapons pulled out of mothball that the west is sending face the logistics problems of 1. training Ukrainians to use them and 2. getting them to the front. TTG assured us all that the stupid Orks didn’t know how to sufficiently damage the rail system and, even if they did, their weapons suck and would miss.
Well, surprisingly, the stupid Orks are doing what I said they would do (i.e. destroy rail transport that carries the useless west supplied weapons. Could they have read that here? Can stupid Orks even read? I heard that corruption is so bad in Russia, all the textbooks meant for school were sold on the black market for toilet paper. How did their inferior weapons even hit the target? Should I be tried for treason for giving the stupid Orks that idea?
An aside, why are all the Ukrainian soldiers so freaking old, like 40 and over? How long can a 40 something endure combat? Even the Nazi troops are generally old men. I was looking at pics of some of their dead and some of them that were captured. Old. Grey beards. Over weight. Where is the will to fight for UKR among the young men? Why are they fleeing the country and needing to be arrested at the border and pressed into service?
Aside #2. The war is over in the Donbas. UKR is no longer an organized fighting force in that sector. I win that bet.
The stuff is still getting through. Some of our howitzers are already in use. Polish T-72s are in country. So far, there are just delays on the rail lines. That could change, but it’s going to take a lot more cruise missiles to reach the desired effect. They’re now down to using their Bastion anti-ship cruise missiles in their secondary land attack mission. They should have started two months and a thousand missiles ago.
The Ukrainians are still holding their own on the Donbas front. They even have a mobile reserve of three tank brigades in theater. Saying you win a bet doesn’t make it so.
The Ukrainian Army is still an organized fighting force. Nowhere near destroyed as you said they would be by the 3rd of May.
Pay up on your lost bet. Show us the new Eric in a Tee-shirt proclaiming you to be a Bernie Sanders fanboy.
In response to this article from yesterday maybe?
So much for OPSEC.
The tunnel is a known commodity. I doubt either side waited for this article to do something about it. I am surprised that the Brits had to prod the Ukrainians to up its defenses.