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Chernobyl Child: Elena Kovaleva, aged 15

UNICEF/SWZK00935/Kovaleva
© UNICEF/SWZK00935/Kovaleva
A cross near an orthodox church in Luninets, photographed by Lena Kovaleva of the Russian Federation, aged 15, one of 12 young participants in a recent UNICEF-supported photographic workshop marking the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster.

Elena Kovaleva, age 15, powers up her computer and opens Photoshop, eager to show her recent Chernobyl zone photos taken as part of a UNICEF-sponsored photo master class. The anxious audience expects the obvious – abandoned buildings in contaminated zones, or people stricken by the effects of the radioactive fallout.
 
Elena, her tightly braided blond pony-tail draping across her shoulder, brings her first photo up on the screen. First, a cow. Next, the cow being milked. Then, more cow shots.

In an era where jaded audiences are hungry for ever more graphic and horrifying images from disaster areas, Elena's images might seem disappointing. Her photos, however, are in fact a testimony to the power and truth of her own eyes, and the knowledge they have to offer. Perhaps it's no surprise that only a teenager is capable of such perception.
 
“We've long been warned not to drink the milk, not even today,” said Elena, pondering the image of the cow on the screen as we sit in her school in the Bryansk region village of Vereshchaki. “They say there's still a lot of radiation in the soil, and that this gets into the food chain when cows eat the grass.”'
 
Local authorities say leukemia is a major problem among cows, and the animals have been placed under vigilant veterinary control. Milk is tested for radiation and cows undergo frequent blood tests. Despite the risks, most locals continue to consume dairy products, as well as many other risky natural foods such as mushrooms and berries. In this poor region, where salaries rarely exceed $100 a month, many must choose between going hungry or the risk of radiation poisoning.
 
“The cow in the photo belongs to my family, and since we watch him carefully and get him checked, we're not afraid to drink the milk,” continues Elena, confident that such measures are adequate.
 
Like most residents of the Chernobyl zone, Elena has absorbed the disaster and its consequences into her every day life, and is not perturbed by things that would shock and worry an outsider. Her village is all she's ever known. She's grown used to it, has adapted accordingly, and remains optimistic about the future.
 
Her photos, however, have succeeded in eliciting a torrent of emotions and thoughts that previously might not have touched her. Take her next batch of photos, a number of portraits of an unassuming middle-aged woman.
 
“Zinaida Dmitrievna is a `liquidator' from Belarus,” says Elena, using the term given to those tens of thousands of men and woman who risked their lives in the weeks after the accident to go into contaminated areas and clean up. “I was fascinated by her stories and previously had no idea even what a `liquidator' was.”

UNICEF/SWZK00934/Kovaleva

Zinaida Dmitrievna, from the village of Vereschaly, was a clean-up worker, or “liquidator” in Belarus after the Chernobyl disaster. She took blood tests in five villages. This photo was taken by Lena Kovaleva, aged 15, of the Russian Federation. Lena was one of 12 young participants in a recent UNICEF-supported photographic workshop marking the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. Lena says of Zinaida “I was fascinated by her stories and previously had no idea even what a `liquidator' was.”

Like most residents of the Chernobyl zone, Lena has absorbed the disaster and its consequences into her every day life, and is not perturbed by things that would shock and worry an outsider. Her village is all she's ever known. She's grown used to it, has adapted accordingly, and remains optimistic about the future. Her photos, however, have succeeded in eliciting a torrent of emotions and thoughts that previously might not have touched her.

From 2-7 March 2006, UNICEF held a photo workshop for children aged 12 to 17 from each of the three countries hardest hit by the disaster: Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine. Renowned photographer Giacomo Pirozzi worked with the 12 children – four from each country – who were all from Chernobyl-affected families. After an introduction to photographic techniques, the children went on location in Belarus to capture images of life after Chernobyl. Those from the Russian Federation and Ukraine subsequently went on location in their own countries. The photos taken by the children form an exhibition for the International Conference on Chernobyl in Belarus, April 19-21 and will feature as a photo essay on the UNICEF website for CEE/CIS.

 

 

 

 

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Protecting Children from the Impact of Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster Statement by Mr. Kul C. Gautam, Deputy Executive Director, UNICEF



PHOTO ESSAY
From 2-7 March 2006, UNICEF held a photo workshop for children aged 12-17 from the three countries hardest hit by the disaster: Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine.

 

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The proof of the pudding…
UNICEF’s study tour to Switzerland convinced Moldovan delegates to use iodized salt in processed food.

 


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