Railroad ladies: celebrating the women who keep Ukraine’s wheels turning — in photos

12 July 2021
Images: Sasha Maslov / Institute Artists

Walk along the railroads that cover Ukraine’s vast expanses, and you’ll find tiny, colourful buildings: miniature domains where the traffic controllers and safety officers oversee the smooth working of the nation’s trains. Many work long hours, and over 80 per cent of them are women.

A new photobook is giving a face to the female workers who keep the wheels of Ukraine’s railroads turning. Released by Osnovy Publishing, Ukrainian Railroad Ladies follows the journey of American-Ukrainian photographer Sasha Maslov, who travelled across the country profiling female railroad traffic controllers. “I was obsessed with these houses as a kid, when I used to travel around Ukraine and gaze out from the train windows. They always fascinated me with their appearance and sense of mystery: just sitting in what seems like the middle of nowhere,” explains Maslov, who now lives in New York City. “I decided to come back to it as a photographer to rediscover this child’s curiosity. ”

Maslov spent 18 months visiting stations across Ukraine, and photographed more than 50 women in their tiny offices. Painted in different colours, and personalised with floral wallpapers, plants, religious icons, and ornate furniture, these are the intimate spaces where the women featured have worked for many years, hours on end. Maslov’s colourful, serene portraits tenderly capture the often semi-monastic atmosphere the spaces provide.

The book also explores the role of these professions in the 21st century and the effect of automatisation. “Ukraine’s railroad ladies are a kind of lighthouse: a symbol of how certain things in this country stand firm in the present as a defiant nod to the past,” adds Maslov.

Get your own copy of the book here.

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