Chernobyl Child: Sergei Kravchenko, aged 14
By John Varoli
In the twenty years since Chernobyl exploded and gave the world yet another synonym for destruction, a generation of children has grown up with no memory of the event. Like everyone in his class in the village of Novy Bobovichi, Sergei Kravchenko, aged 14, knows only what he hears from his parents and other adults.
Unlike other historical events, Chernobyl is not a topic relegated to the history books. It continues to shape Sergei's life and may even mean his early death. For five years after the blast, his parents continued to live a small village in Russia's Bryansk region on the border of Belarus. The area was hard hit by the Chernobyl fallout, but it wasn't until 1991 that the village was deemed unsuitable for human habitation.
Sergei's parents moved about 30 kilometers to Novy Bobovichi, and Sergei was born one year later, suffering from congenital heart defects. Sergei says little about his health. He'd rather show off his recent photos of Novy Bobovichi after returning home from the UNICEF photo workshop in Minsk in early March.
Sergei's photos are packed with emotion. Most show destroyed, abandoned and crumbling industrial sites – a ruined brick factory, derelict huts at a tourist resort that ironically was completed in early spring 1986, and rows of abandoned village houses. Among the more ominous is a shot of mushrooms in a jar..
“We still eat them even though they tell us mushrooms easily absorb radiation,” says Sergei nonchalantly, as he flashes to the next photo, which showed seven ten-ruble banknotes neatly laid in a semi-circle.
“I like this photo because it shows what the government thinks of us,” he says grimly. “These 70 rubles (just under $3) a month, which my parents get as compensation can't buy you anything.”
As they say in Russian, however, everything has a positive side. To discourage locals from burning wood from contaminated trees, Novy Bobovichi and other villages are now supplied with natural gas for heating. Asphalt roads have been laid to keep radioactive dust from rising into the air.
Previously, Sergei gave little thought to such things. The UNICEF photo master class taught him a number of valuable lessons.
“Before this, I had no idea of the scale of the Chernobyl accident and how many lives it effected in all three countries,” says Sergei, sitting in his school which has just 77 students, down from 200 in the late 1980s. “Now that I am better able to use a camera, I have a strong desire to use my photos to explain to the world how we live, and that 20 years later the problem of Chernobyl still exists.”
A photo by young photographer Anton Gordeichik of Belarus, of a general secondary school. It was closed in 1987. More than 150 children once studied there. Anton was one of 12 young participants in a recent UNICEF-supported photographic workshop marking the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster.
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