Russia finalizes train line to connect to the occupied Ukrainian territories in the Sea of Azov and Crimea

The Ukrainian army believes that this railway network will enter into service this year and will play a key role in the invader’s military logistics

Russian war in Ukraine
A Ukrainian soldier launches a reconnaissance drone in the Kharkiv region, on Wednesday.Inna Varenytsia (REUTERS)
Cristian Segura

Kirilo Budanov dropped a bombshell on March 31. That day, the head of the intelligence services of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense (GUR) stated in an interview with Ukrainian state television that Russia had “almost” completed the construction of a new railway line that will connect the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don with Crimea along the Sea of Azov. Until that day, Ukrainians had barely heard of this infrastructure, except for the propaganda statements made by Russian President Vladimir Putin, which few in Ukraine believed. The military authorities in Kyiv have admitted this week that they expect this route to come into operation in soon, which will be a significant step forward in Russia’s efforts to consolidate its military presence in four partially occupied provinces.

Tavrida-2 is the name of this train line, as reported on Wednesday by Denis Chistikov, the second-highest Ukrainian representative for the occupied territories of Crimea. Once completed, the 310-mile railway line will be the second rail network connecting Crimea — the peninsula illegally annexed by Russia in 2014 — with Russian territory. The first train line crosses the Kerch Strait bridge. With its nautical drones and NATO-supplied missiles, Ukraine has managed to push back the Russian Black Sea fleet stationed in Crimea. What’s more: two attacks in 2022 and 2023 against the Kerch Strait Bridge significantly reduced its capacity as a logistical connection. “Less than a quarter of the total load is carried by this bridge. The rest goes along the ferry crossing, which was recently hit,” Ukrainian Navy spokesman Dmytro Pletenchuk explained at a conference on June 17.

“I am sure that the Russians will be able to complete the railway before the end of the year,” said Pletenchuk, “at least from Rostov-on-Don to the Dzhankoi Isthmus.” This is one of the areas that connect Crimea with the occupied areas in the province of Kherson. Chistikov and the spokesman for the Ukrainian Navy have confirmed that the final section of the rail line, inside Crimea, still needs to be built. In a June 18 document, Deep State — one of the leading Ukrainian groups analyzing the situation on the war front — argued that the first 40 miles of the infrastructure, between the Russian border city of Taganrog and the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, on the coast of Donetsk province, will be completed “in the near future.”

Deep State added that works to connect the city of Donetsk with Mariupol, a variant of this new railway network, are well advanced in the middle of the route, up to the municipality of Volnovakha. Other Ukrainian defense analysis institutions, such as the Center for Investigative Journalism, claim that convoy tests were conducted this June between the latter locality and Mariupol.

Tavrida-2 will also connect Rostov-on-Don with the cities of Melitopol and Berdiansk. The project — according to the authorities imposed by the invader in the provinces of Donetsk, Zaporizhia and Kherson — is to consolidate the integration of citizens in these Russian-annexed territories. But the design of the line, which has been built in record time, indicates that its primary purpose will be to supply Moscow’s military forces. Currently, there is only one track, with points where trains can wait on parallel parking tracks to make way for a convoy arriving in the opposite direction. The line also has a newly built parallel road. Defense Express, a Ukrainian media specialized in military information, pointed out in April that the invading army also uses cargo trucks on platforms, instead of wagons, so that they can be easily lowered from the convoy in case they are unable to continue down the tracks.

Ukraine’s goal now is to find out how to interrupt the traffic of these trains. “Russia has actually been building a railway for over a year now to connect with our temporarily occupied southern territories,” Budanov said. “This process is almost complete, and it could pose a serious problem for us. I hope that we will somehow manage the land section of the railway. Everyone has experience in this, and this is much easier than the Crimean bridge issue.”

“Russians know how to build railroads — that’s a fact. They know how to restore it — this is also a fact,” Pletenchuk added. “Nevertheless, we should not forget that this logistics route is much closer to the front line, and therefore it is in the area of destruction of more Ukrainian weapons.”

Defense Express recalled in its analysis that, since World War II, military theory has indicated that bombing railway sections is ineffective. These are easy to repair and, as in the case of Ukraine’s rail network, there are multiple lines that can divert a convoy if tracks have been destroyed, meaning it can continue towards its destination, even if the journey is longer. That is why, as military experts have been explaining to this newspaper since 2023, Russia does not bomb railway lines in Ukraine, even though weapons supplies from NATO countries enter via the train line that connects the country to Poland.

The advantage for Ukraine is that the new Russian line has only one track. And there are at least two newly built bridges over which the trains will pass. These will be a weak point for the occupying troops. Defense Express estimated that the best place to strike will be in the areas where convoys wait for the oncoming train to pass. The disadvantage for Ukraine is that destroying a stretch of track, if not with an infiltrated sabotage team, is a small target that requires enormous precision if it is to be struck with missiles or drones. Making the situation more difficult, Russia this year reinforced its network of anti-aircraft defenses on the southern front.

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