Tears, smiles and the occasional artillery explosion greeted passengers as the first train in eight months pulled into the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson from Kyiv and families divided by war were reunited.

"I promised I would come back. It happened so I kept my promise," said Anastasia Shevlyuga, 30, moments after stepping off the train and meeting her mother.

For others, the moment was more sombre.

Svytlana Dosenko fought back tears as she waited for her only son who she last saw before Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February.

The wait has been excruciating. "He's the only one I have left," she cried.

The past months have been wracked with grief, humiliation and fear since Russians forces fanned out from the Crimean peninsula and occupied large swathes of Ukraine's Black Sea coast, including Kherson.

Two days after the war began in February, Ms Dosenko's husband died of Covid after power was cut to the hospital where he was on a respirator.

Liudmyla (L) hugs her granddaughter Ania who arrived on the first train to arrive back to Kherson

In the months that followed, she lived under Russian occupying forces, who frequently searched apartments and set up checkpoints throughout the city.

"It was very messy and very hard. My place was searched by Russian soldiers. They broke in, looking for weapons," she explained.

She planned to board the train returning to Kyiv on Saturday evening with her son.

"I just want to see him and tell him I love him," she added.

Just a few feet away on the platform, Lyudmila Romanyuk, 66, clutched a bouquet of flowers and grinned as she anxiously awaited the arrival of her granddaughter.

"Her parents in Kherson don't know that she's coming... we planned it," she said.

"We're free finally!" she exclaimed.

"It's a win-win. We got liberated and my favourite child is coming here."

Others showed up not to greet anyone but merely to enjoy the latest sign of Kherson's return to Ukrainian control.

For the region's railway workers, the arrival of the train was a moment of immense pride.

More than 100 workers pulled 12-hour shifts in the freezing rain for the past week to clear and repair nearly 60km of track alongside demining teams.

Trains have long formed the industrial and economic backbone of Ukraine and since the onset of the war have provided a vital lifeline, moving millions fleeing conflict while also supplying fighters on the front line.

The reopening of the line to Kherson will also provide another crucial supply artery to a city desperate for relief.

As Russians retreated over a week ago, they destroyed critical infrastructure, leaving Kherson without power and water supplies as the harsh winter weather sets in.

The train's carriages were decorated ahead of the journey

Since then, humanitarian aid has trickled in on trucks and cars travelling over the battered road connecting Kherson and the nearby city of Mykolaiv.

The train arriving this morning was painted over by various Ukrainian artists, with signs such as 'People of Steel' and 'Train to Victory' inscribed on the train cars.

Among the crowd was 67-year-old Hryhorii Vyrtosa, a construction worker who was excited to board the train as it meant seeing his son for the first time in eight months.

"I feel happiness, huge happiness. I will shout out to the whole world, 'Glory to Ukraine'," Vyrtosa he said, his smile beaming.

The journey marked the first time Mr Vyrtosa, a Kherson region native with Moldovan roots, got to see his home region after escaping Russian-occupied Skadovsk in April.

Upon arriving, he shouted 'Glory to Ukraine' to applause from the crowd and tightly hugged his son.

"I can't even put my feelings into words," he said.