Saturday, November 19, 2022

19: Russia, Ukraine

. For safety, the cell decided to move around Ukraine by train, working out of the carriages; they also nominated their replacements, in the event that any of them were killed. Between saboteurs and Russian troops pouring into the country, they assumed they were being hunted, so they regularly changed locomotives, carriages and routes as they traveled from place to place......... In late February and through March, terrified Ukrainians across the country made their way to their cities’ main train stations. Panicked people on the platform tried to break into the carriages, mobbing the doors and beating them with their hands. When allowed to board, they folded their bodies into the compartments: Luxury sleeper carriages made for 18 would hold 150, a second-class carriage, made for 54, would carry 500. These people had left everything, possibly lost everything, and now they were packed shoulder to shoulder so tightly there was no room to sit. The largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II had begun. For days that turned into weeks, Ukrzaliznytsia employees worked nonstop, without breaks, moving people away from this nightmare. ......... Post-independence in 1991, the state monopoly had come to embody the morass of much of Ukraine’s attempts at post-Soviet reform — emblematic of the endemic corruption, political infighting and cronyism. In this time of existential crisis, however, Ukrzaliznytsia made its own contribution to Ukrainian resilience, reflecting the country’s unification in the face of imminent destruction. .......... Ukrzaliznytsia is so vast it has long been referred to as “a country within a country.” There are 230,000 employees, from those on the trains themselves (locomotive drivers, their assistants, train attendants, conductors) to everyone at the station (stationmasters, security officers, ticket sellers, luggage-storage clerks, cleaners) and then everyone behind the scenes (track inspectors, car inspectors, signal maintainers, structural engineers, electricians, electronic-equipment engineers, locomotive electricians, greasers, train dispatchers, railcar loaders, railcar mechanics, switchmen, track workers and depot attendants, without whom passenger toilets would back up). Then there are depot and workshop jobs (hostlers, repairmen, carpenters and factory workers, to name a few). Ukrzaliznytsia does its own laundry, it has its own glass factory, a carriage factory, a steel-rail rolling factory and another factory that cuts the rails to size. There are railway schools for children, vocational schools, summer camps, sanitariums and hospitals. The 15,000 miles of tracks are government-run and controlled from the center, including stations, depots and factories. .......... Because many traffic controllers and safety officers live along the tracks, Ukrzaliznytsia knew how many tanks passed the border, how many helicopters were landing and how many paratroopers had arrived. Rail workers literally counted parachutes on the tracks. Kamyshin could follow the Russian military’s progress in real time based on when it passed particular stations, and he told me that he fed the information to the military. ........... The Kremlin was running a limited-strike campaign and did not actively target critical rail infrastructure, like bridges and train yards, because they assumed they would quickly take control of the country and depend on the same infrastructure. ......... The state monopoly learned to be nimble and adapt to wartime footing. ........ In the chaotic first days, videos surfaced of foreigners, mostly African and Asian students, being prevented from boarding the trains. Human Rights Watch collected testimonies that “revealed a pattern” of blocking foreign students from evacuating. ............ For a country that has skillfully mastered the Western media narrative — from promoting Zelensky’s famous leaked phrase “I need ammunition, not a ride” to the ubiquitous Snake Island slogan “Russian warship, go [expletive] yourself” — the railway’s triumph quickly became another public relations boon and a morale booster. .......... “For a lot of the fighting, it was often a matter of which side was firing more artillery rounds a day. Quantity really mattered a lot, and that comes down to logistics, not just how many rounds can each type of artillery fire a day, but how much artillery can you get to each position — what is the logistics network like?” ............ “All you have to do is look at a map, the problems are very obvious,” says Michael Kofman, director of the Russia Studies Program at the Center for Naval Analyses. “Access to supplies by rail made a real difference in the Russian ability to sustain offensive operations.” .......... “We have a rule: Our tanks go in first, followed by our trains,” Kamyshin told me. “Once our troops reclaim our territory, our job is to restore rail service there as quickly as possible.” ......... Repairs that would have taken a year took weeks or months. The Kyiv School of Economics estimated that by mid-September, Russians had damaged $4.3 billion in railway-station infrastructure and rolling stock. ............. analysts believe Ukraine also relies heavily on the railway network to resupply its own troops. ........ In April, a missile strike on a crowded platform in eastern Kramatorsk station killed 60 and wounded 111 ......... Ukrzaliznytsia’s Telegram channel, with 300,000 subscribers, popularized the hashtag #IronPeople. ......... “Half of our traffic is electric trains and electric locomotives, so when they hit energy infrastructure, we also suffer, but we’ve learned to deal with it, to repair it promptly and keep going,” Kamyshin told me. “We’ve prepared our stations so that when the power, water or anything else in the city and in the regions goes out, we can continue to operate. The station will always be light and always be warm.” ......... The first passenger train to arrive in Ukraine came, perhaps fittingly, from the West: A line linking Lviv to Krakow was completed in 1861. Western Ukraine, commonly called Galicia, was controlled by the Hapsburg empire, while central and eastern Ukraine belonged to the Russian empire. Russia’s humiliating defeat in the Crimean War propelled it to launch an ambitious reform and industrialization effort, particularly regarding the rail system. In 1865, the Russian empire completed its first railroad in present day Ukraine, connecting the port city Odesa to the southwestern agrarian town Balta to transfer grain from the heartland for export to Europe. At the time, Ukraine accounted for 75 percent of all exports from the Russian empire. ................ By 1914, there were more than 10,000 miles of track crisscrossing Ukraine. During World War I, empires battled along train lines across the continent, destroying and rebuilding stations in Ukraine as they came and went. When Germany first occupied Kyiv in 1918, it hired local women to wash the main passenger station, to make a point about how backward and dirty the Russian empire was. ............. Unlike in the rest of Europe, the Nazis did not rely on trains to transport Jews in Ukraine to death camps. With the help of Ukrainian collaborators, they were shot close to their homes, often referred to as “holocaust by bullet.” ......... At its height, the U.S.S.R.’s railroad network totaled 91,600 miles. It was among the largest in the world. It had its own ministry with as many as four million employees. Train attendants memorized all routes from Vladivostok to Tbilisi. A railway job was prestigious, not just because of the relatively higher salaries but because of the benefits that came with it. Generations went to work on the rails and proudly referred to themselves as “dynasties.” ........... After Ukraine’s independence in 1991, Kyiv painted green Soviet carriages blue and redesigned the uniforms and epaulets, but little else changed. Ukrzaliznytsia’s six regional branches still don’t bear Ukrainian names or orientations — their directions only make sense when viewed from Moscow: The “southern branch” is actually in the center of Ukraine, while the “southwestern branch” is geographically in the north of the country. ............. Trains had been one of the few places where regional and ethnic stereotypes were challenged, where identity and civic understanding were formed. Ukraine is one of the poorest countries in Europe. Most Ukrainians still travel around by rail, which is old and slow, leaving plenty of time to chat or drink with your neighbor. “Ukrzaliznytsia, it’s like a social glue” ............. In April 2019, Zelensky was elected on promises to rid the country of corruption. .......... or if this was yet another attempt at reform that would have been thwarted by the usual dark forces of Ukraine’s turbulent politics and oligarch-aligned economy. ......... Zelensky was elected by the highest-ever percentage of votes, but in the days before the invasion, his approval rating was lower than it had ever been. ............ Ukraine had too many rail lines, making it possible to ferry goods and people on varying lines and reroute the trains quickly in the event of an attack. Because Ukrzaliznytsia had only electrified part of its rails, diesel-powered trains could still run when electrical substations were attacked. ........ (Electrified rails are considered faster, cheaper and more environmentally sustainable, but diesel locomotives are more reliable in war.) Reformers complained there were far too many workers, but that also meant there was a surplus of engineers familiar with making repairs in tight economic conditions. Employees, used to top-down command structures, reported for work. .......... The invasion revealed a new kind of nationalism. The same politicians, highly placed civil servants and businessmen who previously thwarted aspirations of the newly democratic Ukrainian state were now fighting for their homeland. Many Ukrainians themselves were surprised by how quickly the country united. ............. At the time, she could ride free to any part of the Soviet Union — Kaliningrad, Vladivostok, Belarus, Crimea, Sochi, the Caucasus. “I loved it, it was like romance,” she told me. She built her own house, raised her children and kept to herself and her books. Now, she sent money to her daughter and grandson who fled to Norway when the invasion began. .......... In the dark, every night, they could see rockets and missiles streaking the sky. ........ “That’s it, we are home! Home!” Oleh proclaimed, brushing back his hair and rubbing his eyes. I asked what he would do first. “I’m going to hug everything,” he said. “I just want to come home and hug everything.” ......... Even during heavy street fighting, she walked the seven minutes from her house to survey the station and file a daily damage report. ......... “Can you imagine our houseplants, plants this big” — she spread her arms wide — “freezing? There is no way we would leave them there.” ......... the railway had become a kind of religion. The pay had not kept up with the times and the job had lost prestige and many of its previous benefits, but this war had made the Ukrzaliznytsia workers proud of being called #IronPeople. ........... “The first time I went on an emergency train, I said, ‘Give me a bulletproof vest, a helmet, just in case,’” she told me. “They smiled and said, ‘What helmet, what bulletproof vest?’” .......... Then there was Yana, an 11-year-old who weighed only 60 pounds. The staff carried her into the train in their arms. A rocket had taken her legs. When Tetiana walked into their compartment, she heard Yana’s mother trying to calm her. “Yanochka, everything will be OK! Everything will be done for you! They will fix your legs, the doctor says they’ll get you heels and you will dance!” .......... Tetiana turned to look at Yana’s mother, wanting to see this strong woman with such a confident voice. She looked down and saw the attack had taken one of the mother’s legs too. ......... As Russia loses territory, there is a persistent anxiety that Putin will do something to offset his military’s initial failings. People fear an escalation. Anything can happen — a chemical or nuclear attack. Across the country, the train system has taken on roles it never has before — feeding, sheltering and providing trauma counseling and first aid for the masses. ............. But with 6.2 million internally displaced people in all of Ukraine — nearly a fifth of the country, the largest human displacement in Europe today — the cities were full, though there was space in the countryside. What will we do for work there? No one could answer. ........ He told me that Yevheniya had what drivers called the “Bakhmut burn” — the smell of those who didn’t have water to bathe and lived in smoke from bombardments — but was in relatively good spirits.

How Was Russia Able to Launch Its Biggest Aerial Attack on Ukraine? Western and Ukrainian officials have said Moscow’s stockpile of missiles was dwindling. But the assaults this week raise questions about that. .......... The 96-missile barrage fired across Ukraine on Tuesday was Russia’s biggest aerial attack of the war so far. ........ they’re reaching out to Iran, they’re reaching out to North Korea.” ....... The swarms of Iranian-made drones that are attacking Ukraine — most notably, the long-range Shahed series that can carry an 88-pound warhead and crash into targets in “kamikaze” strikes — have been Russia’s newest weapon in the conflict. ......... Russia very likely stockpiled microchips and other technology necessary to build precision missiles before invading Ukraine in February, possibly starting years ago, given Moscow’s deteriorating relations with the West after its illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. .......... such microelectronic components were also used for civilian purposes and that Russia may have obtained them through third parties, such as states or private entities willing to risk the penalty of U.S. sanctions if caught. ......... many plants associated with the Russian military industrial complex are working in three shifts and even on weekends ........ Russia’s increasing reliance on the S-300 as an attack weapon against ground targets in Ukraine has been one signal to military officials and experts that it is running out of its cruise missiles or other, more conventional offensive weapons. ........ Western militaries believe Russia has long kept a reserve of missiles and other weapons on hold in case it goes to war with NATO. .......... “They apparently have a withhold for a notional NATO attack,” Mr. Cancian said on Thursday, “which we would regard as absurd, but they regard it as a real possibility.”

For Ukraine, Keeping the Lights On Is One of the Biggest Battles This week’s missile assault by Russian forces has hit at least 15 energy facilities — some for the fifth or sixth time — forcing controlled blackouts in every part of the country. ....... Russia is turning winter into a weapon, even as its soldiers flail on the battlefield. ........ Keeping the lights on for the majority of the millions of people who live in cities and towns far from the front — and keeping those places functioning through the winter — is now one of the greatest challenges Ukraine faces. ....... President Volodymyr Zelensky said late Wednesday night, “If we survive this winter, and we will definitely survive it, we will definitely win this war.” ......... some sites were hit a fifth or sixth time this week. On Tuesday alone, close to 100 missiles rained down on Ukrainian territory, part of a pattern that many Western officials and legal experts say is a war crime. ......... The national energy utility has now imposed sweeping but controlled blackouts that include every region of the country, leaving millions without power for six to 12 hours a day. ........ The missile exploded with such force that the blast shattered windows at a school a mile away, triggered a fire that burned for four days and knocked out power to more than half a million people. ........... “One missile,” Mr. Levytskiy repeated. Russia has fired more than 4,500 missiles across Ukraine over the course of the war .......... the Russian military was being guided by electrical engineers familiar with the country’s energy grid, since much of it was built when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union. .......... The precision of the strikes on the infrastructure stands in contrast to the disarray that has characterized much of the Russian military effort. With each loss on the battlefield, Moscow has stepped up its campaign to subjugate Ukraine by targeting civilian infrastructure. .......... There is no evidence of a mass exodus from the country, although Ukrainian officials have said one goal of the Kremlin is to send another flood of refugees to European countries. .......... Compounding the dangers for Ukraine, Russia is also attacking water infrastructure directly. ......... “It’s very difficult to get the spare parts now as all the logistic chains are broken,” he said, leading to difficulties at water purification and wastewater treatment facilities. ......... Putin is a monster, Mr. Levytskiy said, using more colorful language. But every time Russia strikes, he said, Ukraine will rebuild.

The Monster Buffalo Snowstorm May Have Set a Record. More Is on the Way. The city is on track to break snowfall records set in 2014 with at least another six inches forecast to arrive Saturday night........ the storm appeared to drop a record amount of snow for Erie County in a 24-hour period — up to six inches per hour at times, leaving more than 50, 60 and even 70 inches over the whited-out region. ........ in parts of the region south of the city, snowfall totals crept above six feet, even as the storm shifted north. ........ “There’s been a lot of snow,” he added. “But it’s better than a tornado. It will eventually melt.”

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