In a remote corner of the Russian Urals region of Sverdlovsk, tiny villages are shadows of their former selves. For the few local residents, a narrow-gauge railway is their lifeline. The tracks end at Kalach, home to just a dozen people, all of them adults. About 600 people lived in Kalach about 30 years ago.

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Snow lies on the ground in the village of Kalach, Sverdlovsk regionMaxim Zmeyev/Reuters
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Vassa, 86, who suffers from hearing difficulties, poses in her house in the village of KalachMaxim Zmeyev/Reuters
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Sergei plays the accordion for Vassa, his partially deaf mother, in their house in the village of KalachMaxim Zmeyev/Reuters
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Local resident Lyudmila stands in a goat barn in her house in the village of KalachMaxim Zmeyev/Reuters

Reuters photographer Maxim Zmeyev travelled along the railway lines to record the lives of the few people who have remained in the remote snow-covered villages. Boarding a 50-year-old diesel train on this line is like going back in time, says Zmeyev.

It takes about eight hours to travel the full 150 km (100 miles) of the line. En route is the town of Sankin, population 600, where Kalach residents get their post delivered and, for some, collect their state pensions once a month.

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The Jakushin family – Egor, Alexey and Lena – pose for a picture at their home in SankinMaxim Zmeyev/Reuters
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Local resident Babushka (Grandma) Shura shows her scarecrows in SankinMaxim Zmeyev/Reuters
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Alexander removes ash from a stove as a cat sits nearby in his house in SankinMaxim Zmeyev/Reuters
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Car tyres painted in the colours of the Russian flag stand in front of the administration building in SankinMaxim Zmeyev/Reuters
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Snow covers railway tracks near Sankin in Sverdlovsk regionMaxim Zmeyev/Reuters
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Dogs run past the boiler room, which heats the House of Culture in Sankin, Sverdlovsk regionMaxim Zmeyev/Reuters
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Elena, Olga, Galina and Tatiana drink and eat at the House of Culture in SankinMaxim Zmeyev/Reuters

The trains run a just few times a week, so some in Kalach use a Pioneer motorised railcar to get around. They are nicknamed "Trouble" because they often crash or come off the tracks.

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A man nicknamed "Barcelona", Alexey Bolotov and Alexey Jakushin drink vodka as they travel on a pioneer motorised railcar towards KalachMaxim Zmeyev/Reuters

The forestry industry here suffered when the former Soviet Union imploded and people moved away in search of work in the steel-making city of Yekaterinburg and beyond. Alexander, who used to work in the forestry business, recalled the trains that used to take timber from the forests to the railhead in the town of Alapayevsk. "Those were the days," he said.

Around 90 percent of Sverdlovsk region's population of 4.5 million live in its cities. Life in remote rural areas means making the best of things. In Kalach there are no telephones and no mobile reception. Electricity has only been supplied for a few hours in the evening for about the past decade.

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The Sverdlovsk region of RussiaGoogle
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An engine driver's assistant walks past Soviet narrow-gauge diesel locomotives TU7 and TU4 at a train depot in Alapayevsk in Sverdlovsk regionMaxim Zmeyev/Reuters
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Nina Vysotina, 60, poses in her office at the railway depot in Elnichaya, Sverdlovsk regionMaxim Zmeyev/Reuters
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Engine driver Alexander Kuznetsov, 53, drives a train through the village of StrokinkaMaxim Zmeyev/Reuters
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Alexander poses with a gun in his house in the village of KalachMaxim Zmeyev/Reuters
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An abandoned house stands in the village of KalachMaxim Zmeyev/Reuters
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A rusty car lies near an abandoned house in the village of KalachMaxim Zmeyev/Reuters
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Local resident Sergei poses for a picture on a street in Alapayevsk in Sverdlovsk regionMaxim Zmeyev/Reuters
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A woman who lives in Muratkovo speaks to the train driver who is taking her daughter to school in SankinMaxim Zmeyev/Reuters
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Children from the village of Muratkovo study inside a train on the way to schoolMaxim Zmeyev/Reuters
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People travel inside a train on the route from Ugolnaya to Elnichnaya, Sverdlovsk regionMaxim Zmeyev/Reuters
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A man sleeps inside a train travelling to Sankin, Sverdlovsk regionMaxim Zmeyev/Reuters

The isolation of these communities makes healthcare a difficulty. One resident gave birth to her son Yegor, now 6, in the train on the way to hospital in Alapayevsk.