Railway Helps Ukraine: how humanitarian mission unites European countries

2022/04/21 at 5:38 PM

The hostilities of Russia against Ukraine have broken many supply chains in the country. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian forwarders are establishing new solutions to tackle new issues. The most important task among them is to deliver humanitarian aid from European countries. Together with the Polish partners, the Ukrainian companies have successfully arranged a rail freight corridor for delivering humanitarian assistance, which was named ‘Railways Helps Ukraine’. In an interview with IntermodalNews, Volodymyr Demenko, CEO of Levada Cargo, explains how it works.

Unloading a covered wagon with humanitarian aid, source: Levada Cargo

When exactly did the humanitarian corridor start working?

It took us literally a few days from the beginning of the war to react and organise the work of the ‘Railway Helps Ukraine’ project. We understood that the best way to build logistics is by rail. Therefore, in a situation when the logistics chains were broken, it was very important not to give up but to look for ways to help. Thus was born the idea of organising a humanitarian corridor as an alternative to the road one. Of course, we use trucks for delivering shipments to small settlements but rail is a core of our project.

First, Oleksandr Kamyshin, chairman of Ukrzaliznytsia, called and offered to use passenger coaches that were returning to Ukraine after the evacuation of people. In turn, we called partners, including both logistics companies and associations: ASTRA Holding GmbH, MST Group Sp. z o.o., PCC Intermodal, CEO Club Ukraine, VR Capital, Lemtrans, European Business Association. It all started with them.

At that moment, their task was to form a system of contractual relations with both companies and representatives of the railway, jointly develop the first rules of cargo acceptance and organise a call centre. Later, we were joined by the Foundation of Polish-Ukrainian Cooperation “U-WORK”, Fundacja Ukraina and many others. It is important to understand that this was a joint initiative.

Could you specify the role of the companies involved in the project?

We have a call centre consisting of volunteers who are responsible 24/7 for coordinating actions by taking calls. Our partners, represented by Ukrainian and Polish logistics companies, cover all issues related to logistics. Ukrzaliznytsia and PKP LHS are partners, thanks to the coordinated work of which it is possible to deliver humanitarian freight from Poland to Ukraine by rail. In total, about 20 people work on our project on a volunteer basis. These are people of different ages, different professions, from different countries and industries.

Volodymyr Demenko, CEO of Levada Cargo, source: Levada Cargo

When did the first train run via the corridor?

We were provided with warehouses already in the first week:  in Sławków, Poland, and in Lviv, Ukraine. At the same time, the first trains with humanitarian aid left Lviv for Kharkiv. On 11 March 2022, the first 20 wagons of humanitarian aid were sent to Ukraine through the Sławków station.

From which countries is the humanitarian aid delivered and for which Ukrainian cities or regions is it destined?

In the first weeks, we saw great support and a desire to help. Thanks to caring Europeans, it was possible to establish the delivery of humanitarian goods. The heavy goods vehicles with the humanitarian aid were received from Poland, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland, the Netherlands and China. They were loaded with things, food, medicine and equipment.

Usually, all aid from Europe arrives at a warehouse in Poland, and then essential goods are delivered in coordination with the Ukrainian authorities to the regions. The Kharkiv, Kyiv, Zaporizhia and Luhansk oblasts have already received assistance. The cargo was also sent to other regions where it was needed. At the moment, the aid collection and delivery system is working and is working fast.

Which terminal in Ukraine is used for the transhipment of humanitarian cargo?

As we have already seen, Russia is launching missile strikes, including on infrastructure. That’s why we don’t name locations so as not to endanger the lives of people who work there in very difficult conditions. We are not ready to risk people and the opportunity to continue to help.

Humanitarian aid, source: Levada Cargo

What types of wagons do you usually use for moving humanitarian aid?

Our humanitarian corridor is based on wagonload traffic. Therefore, we do not use containers and flat wagons. Instead of them, we prefer the covered wagons. This is due to the fact that at the time of active hostilities in the country, the route can be changed and the final destination can be also replaced by another station if it is needed. In such an extraordinary situation, the covered wagons are more efficient as they can be easily and faster unloaded compared to the containers. It takes around 2 hours to unload one covered wagon. To date, we have delivered more than 2,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

What difficulties do the participants of the project face in moving humanitarian goods?

We need help to cover the logistics costs of PKP LHS. However, the main problem is that the need for aid is growing rapidly, and not only in areas where hostilities continue. The world must understand that the war in Ukraine continues and threatens to turn into a humanitarian catastrophe.

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