Kyiv, Ukraine — For months, the large plaque at Kyiv’s main train station was a long list of destinations inaccessible because of the war.
The list includes cities now known for the utter destruction they left in their wake when the Russians took control, like Mariupol, where Ukrainians held out for weeks at a steel mill. The goals often felt desirable as Ukraine pushed to retake the cities.
On Monday evening, one of those stopovers became a reality when a train departed from Kyiv bound for the port city of Mykolayiv, for the first time since the war began in late February. For months, Russia has attacked the city, which served as a buffer preventing its forces from moving further west and capturing the entire Black Sea coast.
The Russian retreat from Kherson last week finally put Mykolaiv out of Russian artillery range.
At around 10:14 p.m., Nataliia Barchuk, 35, who works on the train, stood at the door of a shiny blue carriage to greet the handful of passengers as they boarded.
“I just hope everything goes well,” she said. She was a little nervous but happy because restoring train service means restoring some semblance of order in the midst of war.
In the first days of the war, Russian forces tried to break through the Ukrainian defenses in Mykolaiv. Volunteer brigades joined the Ukrainian military to repel Russian attempts to cross the Varvarivsky Bridge, the only mile-long passage across the wide mouth of the southern Boh River. Had Russian forces been successful, they could have rolled along the Black Sea coast to Odessa, the Ukrainian Navy’s headquarters and the country’s largest civilian port.
In the defeat, Russia had resorted to long-range attacks. By the time the Russians pulled out of Kherson, Mykolayiv had had less than 50 days without shelling, rocket attacks or airstrikes since the war began, according to Vitaliy Kim, the head of the regional military administration.
Railway workers are also repairing the Kyiv-Kherson line and hope it could be up and running in the next 10 days. But Russian forces extensively mined the rails before escaping, and at least nine railroad workers have been injured in blasts in recent days, railway officials said.
The return of rail traffic was a strong signal that Mykolaiv residents could more confidently begin the hard work of reconstruction.
It’s not an easy task. There is still no potable tap water because the Russian army blew up all the city’s fresh water pipes.
Any concern from train staff was overshadowed by excitement at being part of the country’s recovery, they said.
“I’m proud to have this responsibility,” said Bohdan Stadnik, the train’s conductor, as patriotic songs blared from loudspeakers on the darkened platform.
Ukraine’s donation platform United24 is raising money to speed up repairs to the rails in reclaimed cities. Mr. Stadnik expressed confidence that Ukrainian Railways would soon serve all destinations on the targeted departure board.
They would not reach the end of the line, rail line officials said, until they reached Crimea, the peninsula that Russia captured in 2014 and used as a critical theater for the war.
On Tuesday, railway officials confirmed that the train to Mykolayiv had reached the city and arrived at a station with sandbags instead of broken windows.