Throughout the war in Ukraine, Russia has carried out constant attacks on the country’s railway system.
UkraineUkrzaliznytsia, the state-owned railway company, is the country’s largest employer with more than 200,000 employees in 233,000 square miles.
During the war, it was a lifeline for millions of people who fled the country and proved essential for Ukraine’s strategic goals.
Russia has launched dozens of attacks on rail infrastructure, hitting its tracks, bridges and electrical substations with a range of weapons such as rockets and cruise missiles.
While many of them caused only minor, repairable damage to the railroad, the human cost is greater with a missile attack on Kramatorsk Station. killing dozens of civilians who tried to flee.
And it’s not just people who are transported.
The extensive rail network was used to supply major Western arms shipments that helped Ukrainian forces defend the territory against the initial Russian offensive and assisted in the transportation of grain.
Damage so far only ‘disrupts and delays’
Ukrainian officials say Russia is aiming to destroy the country’s infrastructure – while Russia’s Defense Ministry has admitted its rail attacks were aimed at disrupting the flow of Western weapons.
Experts say that if Russia’s goal is to cripple Western arms supplies, it has so far failed.
Defense and intelligence experts say the attacks on the railroad were widely seen as “disruptive” but did not cause significant and lasting damage.
They point to two main reasons why his forces failed to effectively damage the railway line: the ability of the Ukrainian force to repair the damage and the difficulty in hitting moving targets.
Russia ‘struggles’ to hit moving targets
Ed Arnold, a European security researcher at the Royal United Services Institute, told Sky News that Russia is struggling to hit moving targets because of its weapons capabilities.
“Russian attacks are unable to deliver a fatal blow to the rail network because they lack the precision-guided munitions needed to strike military targets. ‘prevent. ,” he said.
“Unless Russia targets the array more broadly and with more precision-guided munitions, this will likely remain the case. »
Along with its inability to hit moving targets, Ukrainian forces were able to repair damaged sites quickly, with little disruption to services.
Ukrzaliznytsia is deploying crews of workers to repair tracks and reroute trains around the clock, while officials travel the country to inspect the damage.
The number of daily passengers on Ukrzaliznytsia trains has reached up to 200,000 passengers, according to its head, Oleksandr Kamyshin.
Mr Kamyshin, 37, said last month that the longest delay on the network was “less than an hour”.
Reduced attacks to prevent damage for future use
Along with questions about the capability of Russian weapons, other experts suggest that the fighting forces may not want to completely destroy the railroad infrastructure.
Analysts at McKenzie Intelligence Services, which study geospatial data and imagery, say combat forces can avoid causing serious damage to the rail network if they intend to use it to transport their own equipment.
However, they added that both sides would seek to destroy parts of the rail network “if they felt they were going to lose ground in order to deny the other side the use of it and slow down their movements”.
West invests in reparations over grain concerns
Apart from transporting weapons and people, the railway also proved essential in enabling Ukraine to export its grain.
With Russia’s Black Sea Fleet blockading ports, grain risks rotting in silos unless it can reach markets around the world.
In response, Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged £10million at the G7 summit to help repair Ukraine’s damaged rail infrastructure to get grain out of the country.
Although little long-term damage was done to the railway infrastructure, Russian attacks on the railway killed dozens of civilians and workers.
While Russia admits targeting military supplies, it denies hitting civilians despite series of attacks.
On April 8, a Russian missile hit a train station in the eastern city of Kramatorsk and killed 50 people.
The station was used as an evacuation point for thousands of civilians trying to flee the country and marks perhaps the deadliest attack on the railway to date.
Since the Russian invasion, according to the UN, more than 14 million people have fled their homes.
Some headed to western Ukraine and others to neighboring countries like Poland or even further.
While many Ukrainian men remained in the country after being banned from leaving soon after the war began, many of those who fled included women and young children.
The Kremlin denied responsibility for the attack and blamed Ukraine, saying its own forces were not using the type of missile that hit the station.
Along with attacks on railway stations, the head of Ukrzaliznytsia said that last month 122 railway workers were killed and 155 others injured at work and in their homes.
As Russia continues its attack on the railway, it is not yet clear how far it will go.
Either way, with doubts about its capabilities and little lasting damage from strikes so far, Ukrainian forces are keeping the system going.