Russia’s military has initiated a series of attacks on Ukraine’s railway network, which is critical for transferring Western weapons to Ukrainian soldiers, evacuating refugees, and exporting food.

According to a Russian official, the goal is to hamper Western weapons delivery. According to experts, Ukraine’s railways looked to have been mostly spared at the start of the invasion because Russian planners hoped to use them to carry their own troops and arms across the occupied territory. The most recent strikes appear to be more concerned with causing harm than with destroying the system.

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Here’s an overview of the attacks and their significance.

Why are railways so crucial to Ukraine?

The relatively flat country has a big railway network, which has proven crucial for supplying key Western armament supplies — and has also aided in the migration of people fleeing Russian air attacks and ground gains.

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The influx of Western weapons into Ukraine aided its military in blunting Russia’s early attack. It also appears destined to play a key part in the struggle for the Donbas in the east, which Moscow now claims is its primary focus following its failure to seize Kyiv.

At the request of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the United States and other Western allies have expanded military shipments. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has warned that any Western convoy bringing weapons into Ukraine will be considered a legitimate target by Moscow.

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According to Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, the rail assaults were intended to delay the transport of Western armaments.

What were the most recent missions?

Over the previous day, Russian forces utilised precision-guided missiles launched from the sea and air to destroy power facilities at five railway stations in Ukraine.

Some strikes were centred in and around the western city of Lviv, close to the border with Poland, which has served as a transit point for NATO-supplied munitions. The strikes, according to Lviv’s mayor, damaged three power substations, shutting out power in portions of the city that has witnessed only occasional bombardment during the war and has become a safe haven for citizens fleeing the fighting.

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Has the train system ever been struck before?

Last month, a Russian missile struck a packed railway station in eastern Ukraine, killing at least 52 people and injuring dozens more.

Thousands of civilians, especially women and children fleeing the Donbas region, had congregated at the Kramatorsk station on April 8 when a missile struck.

Zelenskyy accused Russia’s military of launching a premeditated strike on the station. Russia blamed Ukraine, claiming that its own forces do not utilise the type of missile that destroyed the station.

In late April, Russian forces bombed multiple railway junctions in the country’s west in an attempt to impede armament delivery.

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What is Russia’s strategy?

Russia seems to have largely spared Ukraine’s rail system at the outset of the invasion because it had planned to use it to move its own troops and arms across the country, which it had hoped to overrun quickly, military experts say.

“Now that they know they won’t be able to use it, they are striking the rail system that is likely carrying armor and reinforcements to the Ukrainians,” stated Dominique Trinquand, a retired French general.

While Russians have conducted targeted attacks on the rail network and fired pricey missiles into its power supply lines in the last week, their goal appears to be to damage rather than destroy the network.

“It won’t stop the Ukrainians, but it will disrupt them,” ex-British military intelligence officer Frank Ledwidge said. According to him, the Russians also intend to damage Ukraine’s morale.

“It’s like saying, ‘Nowhere is safe’, ‘Your army can’t protect you’, ‘We reign over your country at will.’”

What does the United States have to say?

According to a senior US defence official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon’s assessment, while the Russians have attempted to hit critical infrastructure around Lviv, especially railroads, there has been “no appreciable impact” on Ukraine’s effort to resupply its forces.

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According to the official, it is unclear whether the Russian strikes have been extremely accurate, and they have also not hampered efforts to bring weapons into Ukraine.

This report was contributed to by Jon Gambrell in Lviv, Cara Anna in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, and John Leicester in Le Pecq, France.