Text resize: A A
Change contrast

A train to the war

Connecting the front lines with the home front, the intercity train Kyiv-Kramatorsk is one of Ukraine’s busiest railway services. Introduced in the country shortly before the eruption of the Maidan protests, the train line has already become embedded in the nation’s recent history.

January 29, 2024 - Kateryna Pryshchepa - Articles and Commentary

Soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine boarding a train in Kyiv heading to Kramatorsk. Photo: Kateryna Pryshchepa

It is early morning in January 2024 and my favourite coffee place in the Kyiv central train station is not serving customers. The air-raid alarm had been going on for some minutes now and passengers had been asked to leave the train station building. Refusing to make a fresh cup for me, the coffee place staff agree to sell me a bag of beans I wanted to give as a present at my destination. With the bag of coffee beans in hand, I get to the platform where the train is ready for boarding. A crowd in uniform is also getting on board.

Although it was not introduced with this purpose in mind, the intercity train line connecting Kyiv with the Donbas cities has been connecting the war zone with the rest of Ukraine for almost ten years. In January 2024 the train leaves Kyiv train station at 6:45 in the morning and arrives in Kramatorsk – the last train station on the Kyiv-Donetsk railroad covered at present by the railway connection – at 13:41 the same day, giving the passengers some daylight to get to their ultimate destination. The train in the meantime would leave the station in Kramatorsk and be on its way back to Kyiv 50 minutes after its arrival.

Whichever direction it goes – to Kramatorsk or to Kyiv – more than half of the passengers on board will be wearing army uniforms. The service men and women go west from Donbas for short vacations and supplementary military training, while also returning back eastward to their units deployed on the Donbas front. A significant part of the civilians on board will be the family members of army personnel, heading east to spend some time with their loved ones serving in Donbas. Soldiers sometimes manage to get one or two days off duty on the spot. And no matter which direction the train goes, there will always be wives and husbands, boyfriends and girlfriends, and parents and children gathering on the platform before one of them would get on the train.

On my January trip from Kyiv to Kramatorsk, the people in the seats next to me included a volunteer fundraising for and supplying army medics with high-quality medical kits, an army paramedic returning to her unit having attended the funeral of an army comrade, and a soldier going back to their unit after a short break at home. The coffee beans I am bringing to Kramatorsk will hopefully please my interviewees – a group of army paramedics.

On its way back to Kyiv, many passengers keep calm and quiet. There is considerably less chatter in the cars compared to most of the trains currently running in Ukraine. But still you can register the hopes, pain and sometimes bitterness expressed by the passengers. A few minutes after the train leaves from Kramatorsk, a passenger two rows ahead of me is inviting someone for a date in Kyiv tomorrow. Another passenger promises his comrades that he will be back in Donbas by the time their unit returns to the trenches from the short break they are having in one of the Donbas towns. When we approach Kyiv, a young soldier in the seat in front of me tells someone over the phone that a girl he was hoping to see in Kyiv will not be coming. “She says they did not give her time off at work. She knows I might not be coming again and still she won’t come,” he says.

But some passengers have a desire to talk. A young smartly-dressed woman in one of the seats nearby is chatting with a girl who is returning to Kyiv having visited her family, who live in Donbas, with her mum. She finds the woman very interesting and runs between her and her mum’s seat. The girl tells the woman that she is six, is in first grade at school and is doing very well in math lessons. She also asks the woman where her husband is and if she has a daughter. The woman replies that her husband is at war and her daughter is waiting for her in Kyiv. A young soldier sitting next to the woman offers his seat to the girl for a while so the two can chat more comfortably.

Regular trips on this train keep you up to date with the latest army fashion. Last summer almost every military passenger would have a patch with a funny cat eyes image on it. Now, a badge of “Baby Yoda” wearing a scarf in the Ukrainian national colours seems popular among female military personnel.

The intercity Kyiv-Kramatorsk is one of the most popular services organized by Ukrainian Railways. Last summer the company announced that 94 per cent of the tickets on each trip were sold on average, with a sold out train quite a regular occurrence as well. The soldiers riding home and standing and chatting in the space between the cars is a regular sight. Civilians with no valid ticket will not be allowed on the train, but military personnel can get a ride even when there are no free seats left. The conductors will issue a sort of confirmation document confirming the ride.

The train is also distinguished by a special honour bestowed by Ukrainian Railways. Music plays on the platform each time the train leaves from or arrives at Kyiv train station. With regards to domestic trains, only those leaving from Kyiv to six destinations get a musical send-off. One of them is the train to Kramatorsk. The Ukrainian Railways press service says there is no music to welcome or send off the train in Kramatorsk due to technical limitations.

Since the restoration of service, the train connecting Kyiv and Kramatorsk has been sent off from Kyiv with the song “Dodomu” (“Homebound”) by Ukrainian pop artist Kolya Serga. The song discusses the hopes of the soldiers serving in the Ukrainian army – to win the war and come back home to their loved ones waiting for them. When the train returns from Kramatorsk to Kyiv late at night, it is welcomed by the song “Voiny Svitla” (“The warriors of light”). This song was written by the Belarusian rock band Lyapis Trubetskoy in 2010 and was initially in Russian. During Maidan in 2013-14, a video clip of footage of the protests became popular on Youtube and used this song. It also became associated later in 2014 with those who volunteered to fight in the army against Russian forces in Donbas. The band itself and its leader Siarhei Mikhalok supported the protestors and played live at Maidan in 2013 and 2014. They also recorded the song with lyrics in Ukrainian.

Kateryna Pryshchepa · Intercity Kyiv-Kramatorsk

Ironically, these intercity trains were first introduced in Ukraine during Viktor Yanukovych’s presidency and not long before the Maidan protests erupted. It was a pet project of the president’s Party of Regions partner and Deputy Prime Minister Borys Kolesnikov. His idea was to introduce high-speed day trains that would connect the biggest cities in Ukraine. These would replace the overnight ones that Ukrainians had been used to for many years. The first intercity trains began their service in Ukraine in spring 2012 some weeks before the Euro 2012 football tournament, which Ukraine hosted in partnership with Poland. During this time, Donetsk was one of the host cities for games. Back in 2012, Ukrainian Railways was running a competition that would give passengers a chance to win match tickets when they used the new service.

After the Russian invasion of Donbas in 2014, the train line was cut and until 2022 it went from Kyiv to Kostyantynivka, located between Donetsk and Kramatorsk. At the same time, Borys Kolesnikov, the man who introduced the intercity trains in Ukraine, had fled Ukraine after the Maidan to return later and be active in the opposition to the Maidan government. But the train remained. After the break between April and October 2022, when the intercity service to Donbas was disconnected, it now connects Kyiv and Kramatorsk.

Over the summer of 2023, Ukrainian Railways added additional train services going to and from Kramatorsk. There is now a direct overnight train connecting Lviv and Kramatorsk, as well as a train from Kramatorsk to Kherson via Kyiv (the Russian occupation of the country’s southern territories has caused a massive rerouting of Ukrainian Railways’ connections). Despite this, the Kyiv-Kramatorsk intercity remains both a service and a symbol connecting the front lines and a peaceful life back home.

Kateryna Pryshchepa is a Ukrainian journalist and a contributing editor with New Eastern Europe.

Please support New Eastern Europe's crowdfunding campaign. Donate by clicking on the button below.

, , , , , ,


Terms of Use | Cookie policy | Copyryight 2024 Kolegium Europy Wschodniej im. Jana Nowaka-Jeziorańskiego 31-153 Kraków
Agencja digital: hauerpower studio krakow.
We use cookies to personalise content and ads, to provide social media features and to analyse our traffic. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. View more
Cookies settings
Privacy & Cookie policy
Privacy & Cookies policy
Cookie name Active
Poniższa Polityka Prywatności – klauzule informacyjne dotyczące przetwarzania danych osobowych w związku z korzystaniem z serwisu internetowego https://neweasterneurope.eu/ lub usług dostępnych za jego pośrednictwem Polityka Prywatności zawiera informacje wymagane przez przepisy Rozporządzenia Parlamentu Europejskiego i Rady 2016/679 w sprawie ochrony osób fizycznych w związku z przetwarzaniem danych osobowych i w sprawie swobodnego przepływu takich danych oraz uchylenia dyrektywy 95/46/WE (RODO). Całość do przeczytania pod tym linkiem
Save settings
Cookies settings