The train runs again, despite the missiles, between Izium and Kharkiv, in eastern Ukraine
MISE À DAY
While a rain of Russian missiles fell on many cities in Ukraine on Monday, railway workers managed the feat of restoring a rail link in its eastern part cut off due to the fighting.
Following the truck bomb attack which damaged a bridge through which pass the main roads and railways linking Russia to the Ukrainian occupied peninsula of Crimea, the Russian army has indeed intensified its strikes on civilian targets.
But despite the shelling, rail passenger transport has resumed between Izium, a city in the east recently recaptured by Ukrainian forces, and Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city, in the northeast, after an interruption in seven months imposed by the Russian offensive launched on February 24.
“The trains will run twice a day, every day”, assured Andreï Gadiatsky, director of the railways of Izium, standing in the rain in front of the barricaded windows of the partially burned station.
For some inhabitants of this region in the heart of the fighting on the eastern front, it is the way to finally be able to access basic necessities.
“It will allow them to go to Kharkiv, to use their bank cards,” Mr. Gadiatsky stressed.
Raissa Starovoitova went to the station on Monday because she was having difficulty to give credence to the rumors that the trains were running again.
“I came to inquire about the train, because I need go back to Kharkiv,” she told AFP, relieved to be confirmed that she could leave later in the week.
The 65-year-old retired teacher had returned to Izium after the Russians left to see what had happened to her house.
“They took everything they could… the mattresses , the bedding… I came to at least take the bedding, but it was gone,” she said.
The old airport shuttle
There is no electricity to power the locomotives that once served the eastern Ukraine network, and Russian missiles still regularly hit Kharkiv's rail yards.
But a Ukrainian DPKr-3 diesel train that once shuttled between Kyiv and the Ukrainian capital's international airport, Boryspil, has been put back into service… 600 kilometers further east.
< p>At the start of the war, Izium came under intense bombardment from the Russian army, which eventually occupied it from early April until it was recaptured last month by Ukrainian soldiers.
After the Russians withdrew, the discovery of a mass grave and the corpses of torture victims made Izium a symbol of the alleged atrocities committed by the occupiers.
Today, this city is again connected to the regional capital, Kharkiv, by the rail line, with stops at former frontline towns like Savyntsi, Tsyganska and Balakliya.
Maria Tymofienko did not go in Balakliya since the start of the war.
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“I'm 73 and I still have to ride my bike because the buses don't run,” she told AFP as the train winds its way through wooded hills under gray skies. /p>
She hopes Balakliya, where she has family, will give her some respite from the now-ruined Izium.
A neighbor “was hanged”
“I have no hope. If it's like Izioum, I don't know. Here they broke into my apartment, my garage. They stole everything. They ate all my canned food. They took all the tools,” she told AFP, blinking to hold back tears.
“So many people died under the rubble. Apartments were destroyed, schools. It was terrifying,” she continued, bundled up nicely on those first damp, cold days of fall.
“So many people were tortured, taken away, beaten. A man, my neighbor across the street, was hanged.”
“Yesterday my granddaughter called me and said, 'Grandma, I 've checked on the internet, and the train for Balakliya will resume service tomorrow”. And I was like, 'Okay, okay, I'll take it.'