The Iron People | JEF Malta

In the last few years, the world has faced endless crises. Whether through COVID-19, political instability, or economic crises – it is no surprise that Collin Dictionary’s word of the year is ‘permacrisis’. The biggest crisis of 2022 has by far been the Russian invasion of Ukraine. So how have the Ukrainians handled it?

Estimates say that within a few weeks of the full-scale invasion, 4 million Ukrainians sought safety using the vast railway network within their country. Oleksandr Kamyshin, head of the Ukrainian railway service known as Ukrzaliznytsia (Укрзалізниця), is quoted as saying that:

“[some say] the railways have been like a second army”

– this is no understatement.

Map of the Ukrainian railway network.

They have been vital not least because of the humanitarian effort as already mentioned, but also for the war effort itself. The railways allow Ukrainian troops to be ferried around the frontlines, to bring in fresh supplies and even to rotate equipment which oftentimes needs maintenance work, much of which is being conducted across the border in Poland. When the Ukrainians faced a naval blockade in Odesa, they improvised and collaborated with partner countries such as Romania, who resurrected a Soviet-era railway network so that Ukrainian grain exports could resume, albeit with a lower-than-normal rate of export.

The trains have also served in a diplomatic capacity, taking leaders such as Von Der Leyen, Macron, Scholz and Draghi to summits with President Zelenskyy. Perhaps a more famous commuter in Ukraine is Boris Johnson, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He was granted the first-ever Ukrainian railway loyalty membership card – numbered 001, due to his frequent diplomatic use of the network. He remarked that the railway workers have lived up to their name and are true ‘iron people’, a name originally given to them due to the nature of their work.

Former Prime Minister of Italy Mario Draghi (left), President of France Emmanuel Macron (middle), German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (right), on a train to Kyiv.

The company, which based on figures prior to the Russian invasion was the largest employer, has witnessed colleagues fall in the line of duty. One such example of this is during the rather infamous bombing at Kramatorsk railway station, which claimed the lives of civilians and workers alike. In total around 300 railway workers died during the war. Despite all the physical, emotional and mental hardships and the barbarity these workers have witnessed, they continue to endure and find solutions to their problems. According to Kamyshin, as of  October, there had not been a delay that lasted longer than an hour – quite forgivable considering that the delays are caused by war. Just a day after the liberation of Kherson, Kamyshin was in the city to work on restoring the railway connection.

Oleksandr Kamyshin, head of the Ukrainian railway service, pictured in front of Kherson railway station just a day after its liberation.

The people of Ukraine, admittedly against their will, have all had to step up and become Iron People. This war will be remembered for its tragic and unnecessary loss of life, but it will also be remembered for how the Ukrainian people rose to the occasion and showed the whole world that they are remarkable and a force to be reckoned with. While the war seems to be far from over, they have already achieved victory on many fronts and have given the global community a lot to learn from. The unity, resilience and spirit of the Ukrainian people are a great inspiration to a world which seeks to tackle 21st-century issues such as climate change, economic and energy crises, and so many other difficulties. It is time for all of us to rise up and become Iron People.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and are not reflective of ‘A Bird’s Eye View’ as a whole.


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