Ukraine appeals to Canada for support with its damaged railway system

Photo by: Jakub Nawrot

Ukraine has appealed to Canada for help in repairing and improving their railway system as the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues.

Ukraine’s railways have proven essential to the country during the Russian invasion, which began over a year ago. Trains have allowed four million Ukrainians to escape occupied areas and flee to adjacent countries, bringing thousands of wounded Ukrainians to hospitals. The railway system is also used to transport Ukrainian soldiers to the front lines and to bring civilians and resources back to safety.

But as of late, enemy attacks on the railways have left 20 per cent of the system completely unusable, according to Ukrainian Railways CEO Oleksandr Pertsovskyi. Ukrainian Railways, a company which has played a major role in the relationship between Ukraine’s rail systems and the war, is now asking for Canada’s help.

The company is specifically interested in Canada’s potential support due to its position as a large industrial manufacturer in the railway industry.

While Ukraine’s railway industry has maintained overall success throughout the war despite challenges including bombings and blackouts, Ukraine believes it is the right time to reach out for support.

Ukraine has already made efforts towards making their railway services more accessible to civilians throughout the war, inducting measures such as the abandonment of ticketing. Trains were slowed down in fear of derailment or Russian sabotage, and pets were allowed on trains so fleeing Ukrainians could bring them along. Ukraine Railways estimates that 120,000 animals have used the system since the start of the war.

On Sept. 28, 2022, Omar Alghabra, the Canadian Minister of Transport, worked with Ukrainian officials to devise a support plan in coordination with major Canadian railways. The collaborators’ goals include supporting the rebuilding of damaged systems, maximizing rail capacity, analyzing challenges to the Ukrainian railway system and the hope of working with the government and industry allies.

“As a key ally and partner to the Ukrainian reconstruction efforts, the Government of Canada will leverage broader industry and supply chain partnerships that can help inform decisions on freight commodity movements by rail,” said Alghabra. “Together with our industry partners, we will ensure the continued movement of people and crucial commodities and products that are vital to supporting the wellness and livelihoods of Ukrainians.”

The Railway Association of Canada is currently analyzing what parts Ukraine’s railway system requires and how they can be attained within Canada. The association represents Canada’s largest rail companies as well as some rail manufacturers.

“Canada’s railways deliver reliably over more than 42,000 kilometres of track—as they have through two world wars and other major world events since Confederation,” said Marc Brazeau, the president and CEO of the Railway Association of Canada. “Overcoming logistical and other challenges, Canadian railroaders never shy away from stepping up in times of need and working together for the good of all. Our member railways have deep talent pools and a breadth of expertise to bring to bear in helping Ukrainians get food, energy and other goods to market at this incredibly difficult time.”

Ukrainian Railways hopes that with Canada’s help, the railway system might even surpass what it was before the war—currently, the distance between the rails is incompatible with the railway standard of the rest of Europe, something that the company hopes to change. They also hope to transform destroyed stations into ones that will provide better support to Ukrainians after the war, citing accessibility concerns as a major point of focus.

As the war in Ukraine wages on, the country is appealing to Canada for support in repairing and improving this crucial system, which has proven instrumental to their successes over the course of Russia’s invasion.

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