Restored Soviet Railways Further Integrate Ukraine with Europe and Help Ease Grain Crisis
Ukraine has established new links to Europe and introduced safe trade routes thanks to an unlikely source: old Soviet railways. In just the last two months, Ukraine has refurbished and now opened three defunct railways in the country’s west. In all, Ukraine has quickly restored about 42 km of old railroad — some of which had been abandoned for decades.
The enduring Russian blockade of many Ukrainian ports has put increased pressure on railway shipments and trucking, causing weeks-long shipping delays. Long queues at border crossings with Moldova and Romania have limited the amount of grain Ukraine can export. These traffic jams will likely be reduced in the short and long term thanks to a new rail line to Moldova and two to Romania, allowing for increased exports of Ukrainian grain.
Soviet Relics Become Ukrainian Lifelines
The reconstructed line to Moldova (Berezino-Besarabeasca) bypasses railways in the breakaway, pro-Russian Transnistria region of Moldova and relieves congestion in the Ukrainian port of Reni. Opened on August 22nd, this 22 km stretch of track had been abandoned for 25 years. Ukrainian authorities estimate that the new route will transport 12,000 tons of goods per day.
The Berezino-Besarabeasca line provides Ukrainian grain shipments with a faster route to Giurgiulești —the vital Moldovan port on the Danube River. From Giurgiulești, Ukrainian shipments can also advance to the Romanian trading hub of Galați, where recent improvements to the railway allow trains from Ukraine to arrive directly at the port. Prior to the Romanian upgrades, Ukrainian trains —which use the wider Soviet track gauge— had to inefficiently transfer their cargo onto standard gauge trains used by Europe.
Although Kyiv completed the reconstruction of two railways to the Romanian border on August 27th, the Rakhiv-Berlebash-Border and Teresva-Border lines will not be operable until Romania refurbishes 16 km of old railways on their side of the border. Once complete, the railways will relieve the other two backed up Ukraine-Romania lines and transport 3.5 million tons of cargo per year, according to the head of Ukraine’s state railway company. Romanian authorities have yet to announce reconstruction plans. Ukraine renewed the railroads, which had been abandoned for 11 and 15 years, respectfully, in only two months.
Increased Ukraine-European Integration
In the long term, the reconstructed rail systems will hasten the economic and social integration of Ukraine with the European Union. Once fully operational, the two Romanian lines will connect major western Ukrainian cities with passenger and commercial transport to southeastern Europe and beyond. Ukraine plans to restore two Polish-bound railroads as well. Such connections will make future inclusion of Ukraine in the Schengen free travel zone simpler and faster. Finally, the reconstruction of the Europe-bound railroads continues the trend of militarily, politically, and economically incorporating Ukraine into the Western world and dislodging it from the Russian sphere.
Strengthening the Ukrainian Economy and Easing Grain Shortages
These new avenues of commerce provide Ukraine safe and more efficient passage for desperately needed imports of petroleum products, coal, and fertilizer, in addition to increasing exports of Ukrainian grain and agricultural products. Accelerating the below-average flow of grain and other exports will improve Ukrainian’s battered economy and help to ease grain shortages worldwide. Based on Ukrainian estimates, the restored western railways will ship about 600,000 tons of cargo a month, much of which will be cereals. The renewed trade routes also provide Ukraine with enhanced economic security in case the recent grain deal with Russia falls through.
Will Zadeskey is a historian focusing on Romania, Moldova, and Transnistria. He received his Master’s degree in Slavic and East European Studies from The Ohio State University.