Ukrainian Railroad Ladies is a series of portraits of women who work as traffic controllers and safety officers at railroad crossings in Ukraine. The women spend their long shifts in the little houses built specifically for them along the tracks.

The series studies Ukrainian landscapes where the exteriors of the houses play a prominent role. Looking into the intimate details of the interiors of the tiny homes, the photographs invite the viewer to meet the Railroad Ladies themselves. Given the almost full automatization of railroad crossings in Ukraine and around the world, the project also raises the question of why this profession still exists in the 21st century, exploring its anthropological and social aspects and the role and importance of the railroad, in general, in the country.

Ukraine has been consumed by political turmoil: a war in the East and loss of its territory to an aggressive neighbor, nevermind the endless corruption and permanently troubled economy. In Ukraine, people pay little attention to the women they see from a train window, standing and most-often holding a folded yellow flag (a sign to the train engineer that all is well on the tracks ahead). And although the country and the world are consumed with much larger issues, these people with their folded yellow flags play a big, yet silent role in Ukrainian everyday life.

In a storm, it’s often hard to see the lighthouse. Ukrainian Railroad Ladies are that lighthouse. They are a symbol of certain things in this country that don’t change, standing firm in the present as a defiant nod to the past. They endure, unfazed by the passing of trains and time. And as the trains transform, from rickety, loud beat-up cars to smooth aerodynamic bullets, the Railroad Ladies remain standing. They are the connection between the past and the future of Ukraine: the past that is being glorified by the people who remember the Soviet times of Ukraine as the glory days, and despised by the ones who want to disconnect themselves from it and move on to a new, more promising future.

Like many controversial symbols, they will be missed and will inevitably become a subject of nostalgia in the future. For now, they are standing strong, resilient to, or not noticing changes, awaiting the next train.

—Sasha Maslov

Editor’s note: This project was discovered through the LensCulture Exposure Awards 2020, selected as a special Juror’s Pick by Mee-Lai Stone, photo editor at The Guardian. See all of the other winners and finalists here.