Media centre

Introduction

Latest news

Publications

Calendar

Ethical Guidelines

Contact information

 

Chernobyl Child: Vitaly Sigaev, aged 13

UNICEF/SWZK00921/Sigaev
© UNICEF/SWZK00921/Sigaev

By John Varoli
 
The 20th century has been especially cruel to Russia's Bryansk region. Its grim legacy is felt strongly by Vitaly Sigaev, age 13, whose mother, Galina, is a local tour guide in the city of Klintsi. She knows the grim history of a fertile agricultural region that once had enormous potential.
 
During the First World War, German and Austrian troops devastated the area. The Russian Civil War brought the Red Terror, and a decade later Stalin brutally collectivized the peasantry. In 1941, the Nazis invaded.
 
This gruesome history helps locals cope with the Chernobyl disaster, many seeing it as yet another tragedy to be endured. With Vitaly by her side, Galina recalls the first days after the explosion at Chernobyl.
 
“We heard there had been an accident at the Chernobyl plant but no one told us the extent of it,'” says Galina. “We thought it was just a small mishap and so, as usual, everyone went to the May 1 parade. Many people who went out that day later went bald.”
 
Even though he was born seven years after the Chernobyl meltdown, Vitaly suffers from poor health – a compromised immune system, frequent headaches and, like many other children, brittle bones. His arm has been broken four times in the same place in the past four years. In 2001, Vitaly's grandfather died of leukemia at the age of 60.
 
“Vitaly's generation is already suffering, but those who are born even now will also suffer from radiation poisoning,” says Galina. “Scientists believe that gene mutation will continue to afflict future generations.”
 
UNICEF's photo master class in Minsk in early March gave Vitaly and other children a rare chance to see the extent of the Chernobyl disaster; that it goes far beyond their towns and villages, and into the neighboring countries of Ukraine and Belarus. The most jarring moment came when Vitaly and his group visited a children's cancer hospital in Minsk.
 
“I felt sorry for these children, and realized we have to help them,” says Vitaly, who despite his own illnesses, realized that he is more fortunate than others. “I was really taken by one boy, Dima, who though very sick, continued to be happy, friendly and was fighting to keep the cancer from crushing him.”
 
Vitaly's photos show very well how the experience touched him – many of his images have a subtle but strong dose of hope and faith. Take the photos of the Russian Orthodox novices from a nearby seminary, who take care of the young patients at the hospital.
 
“These girls stand for goodness,” muses Vitaly, who then shows the image of a Russian icon depicting Jesus Christ and an angel. “These children have lost everything, and the doctors can do little. Only faith remains.”
 
Others have also noticed a dramatic change in Vitaly's behaviour since the UNICEF master class.
 
“Even the teachers at school have noticed the difference, and asked what happened to him,” says Galina. “Before he was rather grim but he came back from Minsk inspired, and now smiles more.”

 

Photo: Vitaly was one of 12 young participants in a recent UNICEF-supported photographic workshop marking the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster

UNICEF's photo master class in Minsk gave Vitaly and other children a rare chance to see the extent of the Chernobyl disaster; that it goes far beyond their towns and villages, and into the neighboring countries of Ukraine and Belarus. The most jarring moment came when Vitaly and his group visited a children's cancer hospital in Minsk.

“I got acquainted with Dima in a hospital. He is very sick. Dima’s girlfriend certainly helps him to survive. He continued to be happy, friendly and was fighting to keep the cancer from crushing him. I felt sorry for these children, and realized we have to help them,” says Vitaly, who despite his own illnesses, realized that he is more fortunate than others.

Others have also noticed a dramatic change in Vitaly's behaviour since the UNICEF master class. “Even the teachers at school have noticed the difference, and asked what happened to him,” says his mother. “Before he was rather grim but he came back from Minsk inspired, and now smiles more.”

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.

Photo essay

 

 

 

 

Related pages

Chernobyl Anniversary

Press release: UNICEF says iodine could have spared many children from thyroid cancer

Russian version

Background note: UNICEF response to the Chernobyl disaster

General story on Chernobyl           

 

REAL LIVES

Sergei Kravchenko, 14

Elena Kovaleva, 15

Viktoria Prishep, 17

Vitaly Sigaev, 13

 

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.

 

Iodine Deficiency in CEE/CIS: The Issue

IDD resource package

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


Search:

 Email this article

unite for children