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Ukrainian Railways' 'Iron People' receive food aid from British rail companies

16 January 2024
  • Thousands of food parcels have started being delivered to Ukrainian Railway employees and their families, paid for by donations from British rail companies.
  • Industry body Rail Partners fundraised over £106,000 in donations from Britain's rail companies, equivalent to over 7,000 food parcels for Ukrainian rail workers on the front line.
  • Rail Partners chief executive, Andy Bagnall, travelled to Kyiv along with Steve Montgomery, managing director of First Rail, and David Brown, managing director of Arriva Trains, as part of a global rail delegation to raise awareness of the ongoing challenges. 

Thousands of food parcels, paid for by donations from British rail companies, are being delivered to Ukrainian rail workers and their families. Known in Ukraine as the ‘Iron People', many are working at the front line helping to repair the damage from Russian attacks, including the latest round of missile strikes over the Christmas period. 

At ‘Rail Partners with Ukraine’ fundraiser in September 2023, industry trade body Rail Partners and its member private-sector passenger owning groups, freight operating companies, and other industry colleagues, raised over £106,000 to purchase the food parcels and deliver them to Ukrainian rail workers. The funding fed into a wider effort by the Global Ukraine Rail Task Force, including financial support from American, Norwegian and Swedish rail companies. The aid delivery was arranged by the charity WE Aid and distributed to individual workers and their families by the Trade Union of Railway Workers and Transport Builders of Ukraine. 

The food packages consist of a variety of essentials such as oil, sugar, flour, salt, pasta, rice, corn and wheat cereals, canned fish and meat, pate, tea, and biscuits, all sourced in Ukraine. Some of the funding has also paid for household cleaning products for rail workers living in temporary accommodation having been forced to flee their homes due to the fighting. 

A delegation from the Global Ukraine Rail Task Force visited Kyiv last week (Thursday 11 January) to show solidarity with rail colleagues working in the most difficult of circumstances and to continue to raise awareness of their ongoing struggle. The CEO of Ukrainian Railways (Ukrzalinytsia, or UZ) Yevhen Lyashchenko and the CEO of UZ’s Passenger Rail division Alexander Pertsovskyi received a symbolic cheque for the value of the aid. 

Rail Partners chief executive, Andy Bagnall, travelled to Kyiv as part of the delegation along with Steve Montgomery, managing director of First Rail, and David Brown, managing director of Arriva Trains, to see firsthand the challenges Ukrainian rail workers are facing as they play their part supporting the Ukrainian war effort.  

Since the Russian invasion on 24 February 2022, the railway has played a key role in the conflict. It has helped evacuate civilians in the first days of the conflict, stepped in to provide a vital lifeline for grain exports, following the closure of the Black Sea Ports, and has helped with troop movements and evacuating injured personnel. 

The Global Ukraine Rail Task Force is continuing to collect donations to support the Ukrainian Railway and its people, you can donate at: https://www.we-aid.org/en/initiatives/allrail-support-ukraine-rail-task-force/.  

Following the visit, Rail Partners chief executive, Andy Bagnall, said:

‘It was a privilege to meet the Iron People of Ukraine's railways and hear first-hand about the work they've been doing to keep the railways running in incredibly challenging circumstances.

‘Rail Partners members are proud of the food aid we have been able to provide Ukrainian railway workers and their families so far. Thank you to colleagues from across the British rail industry who donated to make this happen.

‘It’s important for us to continue to raise awareness of Ukrainian Railways’ struggle and to show solidarity with rail colleagues there. We need to highlight what they are achieving in very difficult circumstances – and encourage colleague across the railway and beyond to continue to help support them.’

Steve Montgomery, Managing Director of First Rail, said:

‘As part of the railway family we wanted to demonstrate our support for Ukrainian workers. We understand how important this is. We believe it’s the right thing to do and it’s what our staff back in the UK would expect us to do.’

David Brown, Managing Director of Arriva Trains, said:

‘On behalf of the UK rail industry, we wanted to show our solidarity with our ‘railway family’ in Ukraine and express our admiration for what they are achieving in such difficult circumstances. 

‘From a distance it was hard to get your head around what they were doing and the calm, focused way they have responded in a time of conflict. It’s inspiring that the leadership of Ukrainian Railways sees this challenging time as a catalyst to drive positive change.’

Notes to editors

Arriva: Since entering the UK rail market in 2000, Arriva now operates 282 trains and covers around 15% of the entire network, with services ranging from rural commuter lines to long-distance and inter-urban routes. It is the only owning group running services under all operating models in use in the UK.

Arriva’s companies include: Chiltern Railways, CrossCountry, Grand Central, Arriva Rail London

FirstGroup: is a leading private sector provider of public transport. It is the UK’s largest rail operator and one of its most experienced, running all types of passenger rail: long-distance, commuter, regional and sleeper services. 

FirstGroup operates three Government contracted operations (Avanti West Coast, GWR, SWR) and two open access routes (Hull Trains and Lumo). Its businesses are vital to communities and the services it provides are critical to delivering wider economic, social and environmental goals. 

FirstGroup’s companies include: Avanti West Coast, Great Western Railway (GWR), South Western Railway (SWR), Hull Trains, Lumo

Ukrainian Railways: Ukrainian Railways (UZ) is a state owned, joint stock company administering railway infrastructure and rail transport in Ukraine. Ukrainian Railways is the world’s sixth largest rail passenger transporter and world’s seventh largest freight transporter. Since the start of the conflict on 24 February 2022, over 6,000km of railway tracks have been damaged and become non-operational in Ukraine and hundreds of objects of railway infrastructure have been damaged.

UZ employs a workforce of 220,000, of which 573 have sadly lost their lives, and thousands have been injured. The Ukrainian Railways' contribution to the war effort should not be underestimated. Since the beginning of the conflict they have:

  • transported over 4 million people to safety – 1 million of these being children  
  • within 8 days established a hospital train to transport the injured, sick and medical professionals 
  • rebuilt the bridge at Irpin, a strategic suburb west of Kyiv, in 29 days – a task which would normally take months 
  • enabled over 200 delegations of world leaders and diplomats to travel into Ukraine as well as transporting President Zelensky 
  • initiated the Children’s Railway initiative to engage children in the railway so that their association isn’t just one of evacuation and war, but to demonstrate the potential of rail for adventure and fun. They have an ambition to become the most child friendly railway in the world 
  • have been critical in the movement of military personnel and materials as well as civilian freight traffic such as grain exports
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