Ukrainian-American portrait photographer and storyteller Sasha Maslov is based in New York City. As well as having his work exhibited in various photography galleries and art spaces around Europe and the United States, he's a regular contributor to a number of magazines and leading publications in New York and around the globe. He actively pursues his perosnal documentary projects, such as Ukrainian Railroad Ladies, which was awarded third place in the Portraiture category in last year's Sony World Photography Awards.
Now, as a photographer and a storyteller, I wanted to return to these houses and discover more about the people who worked there.
When I was a little kid growing up in Ukraine in the 1990s, I remember leaning out of an open window when traveling on the overnight train and spotting these little houses, sitting in a vast open landscape neatly next to the track. Back then I didn’t think much about the function of these houses, to me they were pure magic. The inhabitants, standing heroically in front of the house, held out a flag signaling to the train driver that all was well ahead on the tracks. They seemed like cartoon characters.
Now, as a photographer and a storyteller, I wanted to return to these houses and discover more about the people who worked there. Little did I know that I would find a world within a world, a totally under-looked part of Ukrainian Railways, where the crossing houses are still manned.
Most of the crossings are automated, but Ukrainian Railways (Ukrzaliznytsia) has kept the crossing houses manned, partially because people tend to break the rules and try to outsmart closed barriers or red lights by sneaking in front of the passing train. Having a guard on duty seems to stop the rulebreakers.
Most of the workers at the crossing houses are women – about 80 percent. The houses themselves are different depending on the year they were constructed and the region they’re in. The interiors of the houses are often decorated with personal effects, religious artifacts – even furniture. Gardens and the areas around the houses are also looked after by the workers. For most people the amount of time spent in the crossing houses and the personalization and creation of these intimate spaces has made them their second home.
Being a photographer, I’m very appreciative of the doors that can be opened by a camera, for the people I am able to meet and stories I am able to tell.