An image of this railroad carriage, which is exhibited in one of Kyiv’s central squares, has gone viral in Ukraine. It was part of a special train that regularly evacuated Ukrainians from the almost-encircled city of Irpin in the first days of the full-scale Russian invasion in 2022.
On 3 March, the carriage was hit by shelling and badly damaged by shrapnel. Fortunately, there were no casualties and the train continued its journey.
Before the war, the state railway company Ukrzaliznytsia was seen as a problem: inefficient, corrupt, opaque, and too big to be closed down due to its up to 400,000 employees. Several attempts to reform the company had failed.
In the crisis of the last two years, however, its shortcomings proved to be a lifesaver. As a centralised state structure, it is reliable and fast in evacuations. Its unprofitable and widespread network, with many branch lines, meant that for many communities in at-risk areas, the railways were sometimes the only way out of danger.
And, despite the everyday challenges of life in Ukraine, there are no delays.