From Kyiv to Odesa, to Kharkiv, and to Lviv, the railway has always played an essential role in bringing people in Ukraine closer, taking them to thrilling destinations, and getting them back home.
Amidst Russia’s military aggression, Ukraine’s rail transport company, Ukrzaliznytsia, has been indispensable in evacuating people from areas affected by Russian shelling, delivering foreign delegations to Ukraine, and transporting humanitarian aid and food to the corners of the country where it was most needed.
Learn more about the dedication of Ukrainian railway workers amidst the war, routes turned into art projects, and the surprising train souvenirs you can get in Ukraine down below.
1. Ukraine may boast a rich historical background of its railways. The first railway connecting Lviv to Peremyshl (Poland) was constructed in 1861, spanning a total length of 97.6 kilometers. The first railway station in Ukraine was also built in the city of Lviv.
2. Mariupol — Rakhiv is the longest Ukrainian railway route, connecting seven regions of Ukraine within its 1,806 km lenghth. The second longest train route, spanning 1664 kilometers, links the city of Uzhhorod in the West with Lysychansk in the East of the country. They used to take passengers on a scenic, approximately 30-hour journey across Ukraine, but now both routes are temporarily impossible: Mariupol and Lysychansk in the Luhansk region remain under temporary Russian occupation.
3. In some Ukrainian cities, a delightful musical touch awaits travelers as they arrive and depart from railway stations. The handpicked compositions of Ukrainian artists often carry symbolic significance for the particular city or route. For instance, at the Central Railway Station in Kyiv, passengers can listen to the official and beloved anthem of the capital, “How Can I not Love You, Kyiv of Mine” by Ihor Shamo and Dmytro Lutsenko. Alongside it, Kolia Sierha’s composition “Home” has been played for the passengers of the train Kyiv-Kramatorsk since May 2023. The song talks about the return of all Ukrainians to their cities and homes after the victory over Russian aggressors.
4. Since Russia’s full-scale invasion had begun, passenger flights in Ukraine were temporarily canceled. Under such a scenario, the Ukrainian railways emerged as the most reliable and truly essential mode of transportation. In 2022, Ukrzaliznytsia helped successfully evacuate 4 million citizens, including a million children. Moreover, around 2,500 wounded have been evacuated via medical trains.
Ukrzaliznytsia also handled the transportation of 120,000 animals, including a crocodile, as well as 11,000 tons of humanitarian aid, and facilitated 7.4 million shipments from Ukrposhta, the national postal service of Ukraine.
5. Ukrainian railways have been assisting prominent politicians and celebrities with their visits to Ukraine. In 20 months, Ukrzaliznytsia train cars have seen the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen; President of the United States, Joe Biden; President of Poland, Andrzej Duda; President of France, Emmanuel Macron; former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson; Hollywood actors Orlando Bloom and Misha Collins, eco-activist Greta Thunberg, and many others. In total, the railway company has transported more than 270 foreign delegations as of the beginning of 2023.
6. Ukrzaliznytsia opens doors to international travel, allowing Ukrainian passengers to explore a number of European countries, including Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria, Moldova, Romania, and the Czech Republic. Furthermore, Ukraine’s railways are not only about passenger transport but also excel in the domain of freight. Regarding cargo transportation volume, Ukrainian railways has been the fourth on the Eurasian continent, surpassed only by the railway giants of China, Russia, and India.
7. Ukrzaliznytsia means punctuality, even in times of Russia’s war against Ukraine. In May 2023, the train Kherson – Lviv came under fire by Russian troops at the Kherson railway station. In particular, due to enemy shelling, one of the train cars caught fire. However, the train crew quickly responded by detaching the burning car from the train, boarding the passengers, and departing with only a 14-minute delay. Despite everything, they arrived in Lviv on time, and the crew was greeted with applause by their colleagues and locals at the Lviv railway station.
8. Preliminary assessments indicate extensive damage to railway infrastructure caused by Russian military aggression: up to 507 kilometers of rail tracks were affected, along with 126 damaged railway stations. The direct financial losses incurred by Ukrzaliznytsia are estimated at $4.3 billion.
9. Ukrainian Railways has pioneered the world’s first autonomous kitchen on wheels, known as the “Food Train”. The main goal of this project is to ensure food delivery to regions of Ukraine where infrastructure has been severely damaged due to Russian military aggression. The train can function independently for 5-7 days, thanks to a powerful 400 kW generator car, and it is equipped to handle over 10,000 meal portions daily.
10. The first art train in Ukraine was launched by GOGOLFEST festival in partnership with Ukrzaliznytsia. “GogolTRAIN” took festival-goers to Mariupol in 2019 and Kherson in 2020. The train journey with artists, musicians, directors, and public figures became an event of its own.
In 2021, to celebrate Ukraine’s 30th Independence Anniversary, a total of six journeys were organized to festival destinations in Odesa, Kamianets-Podilskyi, Kherson, Kharkiv, Lviv, and Dnipro. The art train featured three festival-themed cars, where passengers could immerse themselves in a blend of music, performance, and educational programs. And from the outside, the train cars were transformed into canvases adorned by talented Ukrainian artists.
11. Ukrainian photographer Sasha Maslov has dedicated a photobook to Ukrainian women working as railway crossing attendants and safety controllers, delving into the intriguing question of why these professions remain relevant despite the near-complete automation of the Ukrainian railways. “Ukrainian Railroad Ladies” is not just a photo album but a sociological investigation into the phenomenon of the Ukrainian railway system as a whole.
12. “Children’s Railways” are also a thing in Ukraine, and they continue to operate despite the ongoing war. The first miniature railroad was constructed in Dnipro as far back as 1936. Since then, these miniature railroads have also opened up in other Ukrainian cities, welcoming thousands of young visitors each year.
In 2023, despite the war, Ukrzaliznytsia opened the new season for children’s railways in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Dnipro, Lviv, and Rivne. In particular, the Kyiv Children’s Railways marked the 70th season of its train operation. The primary mission of these miniature railroads is to introduce enthusiastic children to various railway professions while creating a fun space for the little Ukrainian passengers.
13. Ukrzaliznytsia has its own merchandise store, “The Iron Shop”, located in Kyiv. Here, one can find a variety of unique railway-themed items. Among them are the iconic metal cupholders, which are inextricably associated with a comforting cup of tea on a long train journey. The store also offers pins depicting trains, lamps with a symbolic train schedule for the temporarily occupied territories, photo albums, and a variety of pieces with the inscription “Iron Bravery”. It refers to the indomitable spirit and resilience of the Ukrainian people, and the dedication of railway employees in particular.