Urban mobility in Kharkiv during the war

By Hannah Abson / Updated: 22 Sep 2023

Before the full-scale invasion, urban mobility meant one thing for Kharkiv and any other City in the world: an environmentally friendly and developed transport infrastructure, the ability to get from one point of the City to another quickly and efficiently. Starting from 24.02.2022 and for a certain period afterwards, urban mobility in Kharkiv stopped performing its usual functions. Below, we describe the functioning of Kharkiv's transport and the role of urban mobility during the war.

Within the first few days of the war, public transport in the City operated under shelling with a reduced number of vehicles on the routes and extended intervals. Later, as the intensity of the shelling increased, it became too dangerous to use public transport and, accordingly, to send employees of land transport companies to the routes that were familiar to the townspeople. For those who left the City in the early days, it was possible to get to the railway station relatively quickly and safely for further evacuation to other parts of the country. Later, it became almost impossible without personal transport.

In the first days of the war, the transport infrastructure of Kharkiv performed three main functions that can hardly be attributed to the usual concept of urban mobility, namely evacuation, humanitarian aid, and shelter.

Almost all transport companies in the City lost power on 27 February 2022 due to the hit to the energy infrastructure. As a result, trams and trolleybuses stopped functioning, and traffic lights, as well A traffic cameras did not work. A few months prior to the full-scale invasion, the City initiated the purchase of municipal buses (before that, bus routes had been fully provided by private carriers). Thus, only buses remained functional after the complete power outage at the beginning of the full-scale war and then during the blackouts.

Below are the memoirs of an employee of the Saltivske Tram Depot. This enterprise is responsible for bus and tram services in the City.

"On 24 February, at 7:00 a.m., I was already at the plant. I saw the first consequences with my own eyes - but at that moment, there were only broken windows. I also saw something that inspired me and gave me strength, something for which we had to work and must work - more than 40 pairs of eyes of my drivers and other employees were looking at me, and there was not even a hint of fear. When they met me in the lobby, they said, "We're going to go to the City no matter what happens." And so they did - some trams went on their routes and ran until 27 February, when the power grid was completely cut off. This is how the working day began on 24 February and has continued up to this day.

25 February. The first evacuation measures, evacuation of families with children and the elderly from remote areas of the City and nearby villages to metro stations, transportation of volunteers to bakeries and other important industries, and organisation of humanitarian aid transport. Local bakeries, other industries, and supermarkets were the first to volunteer to provide food aid. We delivered all this, as well as medicines, water, warm clothes and many other things to metro stations and other places of refuge.

There is a bomb shelter on the territory of the enterprise which was actively used from the first days of the war. On some days and nights, more than 200 people took refuge in it. Unfortunately, on 27.02.2022, the enterprise was completely de-energised. The shelter was no longer heated. People had to cook in the homes of nearby residents. In addition, thanks to the help of caring entrepreneurs, cooking for the shelter residents was organised in a cafe on the Heroiv Pratsi market.

And it was at this time that the Russians began to actively destroy the enterprise: with ‘Grad’ rockets, aerial bombs, grenade launchers and artillery. Those who were in the shelter at the time (it was several metres deep, with walls and ceiling made of one metre thick concrete) said that some explosions caused the pallets and beds they were sleeping on to jump up. After one such night, the storage facility was almost empty, with only employees and drivers remaining, who continued to do their jobs despite everything.

Then, on 7 March, when three buses were destroyed by fire, we were forced to rescue the remaining bus fleet. The buses were moved to the territory of Trolleybus Depot No. 2 under intense shelling, thanks to the selfless and active help of trolleybus and bus drivers. At that time, by the way, everyone became bus drivers - even tram drivers and conductors.

Evacuation activities and the transport of humanitarian aid, which has already started to arrive from all over the world, continued. The work was organised from the territory of Trolleybus Depot No. 2".

All municipal enterprises and executive bodies of the City Council were involved in the evacuation, humanitarian aid and protection of the population.

For many residents of the City, from 24.02.2022 to 24.05.2022 inclusive, metro stations became a shelter, and its underground tunnels became an opportunity to get to safer areas of the City. For 3 months, the subway did not perform passenger transportation functions. The trains that were taken underground, and the metro stations served as literal homes for many people. According to the subway, about 25,000 people a day stayed at metro stations.

As of now, the Kharkiv Metro is performing the functions of transport and temporary shelter during massive shelling. Starting from 1 September 2023, the subway took on another function – ensuring safe  education. Due to the destruction of many of the City's schools and the constant danger of land-based education mode, some premises at metro stations have been converted into classrooms for more than 1,000 children.

Already on 16 May 2022, 23 bus, 4 tram, and 9 trolleybus routes resumed their operation. All the more or less populated districts of the City at that time were connected by buses. Later, as the transport infrastructure was ready and rolling stock was repaired, the situation in the Kharkiv Region got stabilised, and City residents returned, transport links to remote areas of the City were restored. Thus,  n June, anotherr7 buses, 1 tram and 2 trolleybus routes were launched. During this period, transport services were provided to Zhukovskoho Avenue, Novoselivka, Kholodna Hora, Moskalvika, Zhykhar, and Rohan. In July-August, 9 more bus routes, 1 trolleybus route and 3 tram routes were restored and extended. Then, the City was filled with life even more, and every month until the end of the year, new routes were opened and existing ones were changed. We studied the demand for transportation and continued to restore infrastructure and the rolling stock. At the same time, it is worth noting that by the decision of the City Council, all public transport is free for use by the citizens.

After being able to resume the functioning of transport routes, the City faced problems such as blackouts after massive shelling of the power grid and security at public transport stops. For some time, when Russian troops had not yet been driven away from the City, the threat of MLRS shelling remained. Unfortunately, during this period, there were civilian casualties at public transport stops in the City.  Concrete mobile shelters were installed at the busiest stops to allow people to wait out the shelling. In case of blackouts, the City has developed new bus routes that sometimes duplicate the City's tram and trolleybus routes.


As a result of Russian military aggression, 111 trolleybuses, 135 tram cars, 94 buses, and 46 subway cars were damaged (fully or partially). The contact networks of trams and trolleybuses (about 150 km of networks in total), as well as ground power substations, were severely damaged.

As a result of the shelling, the Nemyshlianske and Saltivske electric depots (Kharkiv Metro) and the infrastructure of the Saltivske Tram Depot and Trolleybus Depot No. 2 were completely or partially destroyed.

Unfortunately, this data is not complete and changes after new shelling. However, the reconstruction work is ongoing.

The gradual restoration of public transport in the City would have been difficult without the support of international partners, donors, and twin cities. Not only were medicines, food, and clothing sent to Kharkiv for the population, but also equipment and materials to restore the damaged infrastructure, and later rolling stock for municipal transport.

Thus, since 2022, the City has received trams from the Prague City Municipality, buses from the cities of Pilsen and Opava, and trolleybuses from the cities of Brno and Opava. The twin City of Nuremberg and the Kharkiv-Nuremberg Association should be singled out for special mention, as they have provided and continue to provide buses for the City's transport enterprises. In particular, the City has provided significant assistance to other enterprises that are involved in the City's life support (water and heat supply). We are currently waiting for assistance from the City of Warsaw to provide subway cars.

This transport is used to cover the busiest routes in the City where electric transport is partially or completely impossible. In particular, the buses duplicate one of the City's largest tram routes which is currently out of service due to significant infrastructure damage.

Such assistance is particularly important to meet the City's short-term needs due to significant damage to the transport network and the loss of rolling stock.

At the same time, the City continues to work with international financial organisations such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the European Investment Bank to upgrade the City's rolling stock and transport infrastructure. Much of this work was started before the full-scale invasion which made adjustments not only to the timeline but also to the technical requirements. Other projects were initiated by the City relatively recently due to significant losses in electric transport. 

Prior to the full-scale invasion, Kharkiv was working on a Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan which was implemented by the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) with the support of the governments of Germany and Switzerland. However, after 24.02.2022, it was decided to suspend the project which was resumed only this year. Currently, together with the project consultants, this work is underway to update data on the transport situation in the City, assess mobility, taking into account the consequences of hostilities in Kharkiv; clarify the vision, priorities and goals, taking into account the plans for the restoration and development of Kharkiv.

Given the rethinking of mobility, taking into account security and military factors, more details about the Kharkiv Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan will be available after the work of the project's team of consultants is completed and discussed with the public.

For the implementation of the Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan, it is important to develop the Concept of the Master Plan of Kharkiv and make appropriate changes to the Master Plan itself. The UN4Kharkiv group (UNECE), Kharkiv City Council and the Norman Foster Foundation are working on this. As part of the work, it is planned to develop 5 pilot projects and 5 City-wide strategies, including those for urban transport. The first results of the group's activities will be reported to the public later.

In view of the above, we would like to express our gratitude to all international partners who have contributed to the support and restoration of not only the transport infrastructure but also the City of Kharkiv as a whole. Special thanks go to the employees of the City's utility companies who continued to work and help the City's residents under the threat of their lives.