The chairman of Ukrainian Railways has said that the Polish, Czech and Slovenian Prime Ministers, who traveled by train for a Tuesday meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv, took a “strong step” to show support for his war-torn country, albeit a “naïve” one.
“That was really important for us, even if it was naïve,” Oleksandr Kamyshin told CNN Wednesday.
Kamyshin, the national rail system’s top executive, called the move naïve because the delegation of EU leaders announced their travel plans while they were still en route to the capital.
Kyiv has been terrorized by a campaign of Russian airstrikes that have hit residential areas in recent days, including several apartment blocks – prompting a 35-hour curfew that began Tuesday evening.
Ukraine’s rail system is not immune to those strikes. But Tuesday morning, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced that he, along with Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša and Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala, were heading toward Kyiv.
“I was keeping their secret, but when I saw something was published online, it surprised me. I didn’t understand that,” Kamyshin told CNN.
While en route, Morawiecki wrote in a Facebook post: “It is our duty to be where history is being made. Because it’s not about us, it’s about the future of our children who deserve to live in a world free from tyranny.”
Fiala also tweeted that the “purpose of the visit is to confirm the unequivocal support of the entire European Union for the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine.”
Security concerns have been at the top of the 37-year-old rail executive’s mind ever since the war began.
Kamyshin and his top deputies have spent the last three weeks criss-crossing the country, managing the railway’s 321,000 employees and roughly 1,450 stations on the move. He believes that railway management is a target for Russian bombs, so staying in near-constant motion is a matter of personal safety.
“Even to my kids I don’t tell them, ‘Hey don’t reveal your location,’ because everyone should understand that it’s war. I can’t instruct prime ministers,” he said.
According to Kamyshin, it was the Prime Ministers’ idea to travel to Kyiv by train, believing it was the safest mode of transport.
He agreed, despite a train station in Zaporizhzhia being hit Wednesday morning by a Russian bomb, shortly after their visit, which left a crater-sized hole on the railway tracks, and damaged the rail station.
“Any smart person would choose the train over a car these days,” he said. “Even with bombing everywhere, stations and trains are the safest places in the country right now.”
Kamyshin said the delegation traveled on a special train with four of the railway’s newest sleeper cars. The only other passengers were part of the delegation or security.
“It was a regular, normal train, with normal rail cars,” he said. “So [the delegation’s route] was not more special than the others. … It was the same track that normal passengers take as well.”
The journey took around eight or nine hours, he said. The leaders spent a few hours with Zelensky and his team before taking an overnight train back to Poland.
“For me, it’s the best assessment of the railways if foreign prime ministers chose railways instead of a car or a helicopter, or any other option,” he said.