Child Profile : Viktoria Prishep, aged 17
© UNIKCEF/2006/ Viktoria Prishep
With her face partially hidden behind her long dark hair, it's easy to overlook 17-year old high school student, Viktoria Prishep. She seems to prefer it that way. While waiting at her school in the Bryansk region's village of Novy Bobovichi, Viktoria sits unobtrusively, hardly making a sound, as if afraid to disturb those around her.
Born two years after Chernobyl , Viktoria is plagued by heart defects and poor vision, and is not allowed to play sports. No wonder she doesn't seem anxious to speak about the disaster's effects 20 years later. Starting the conversation is tough going, but once she starts there is no stopping her. Her face suddenly lights up, revealing a young woman with a deep and intriguing inner world.
Viktoria begins to show her photos of an abandoned village, Novaya Katichi, just a few kilometres from her own village, taken during UNICEF's Chernobyl youth photo master class. Her shots betray both a horror and fascination with the physical devastation of the Chernobyl disaster.
“It was really scary to walk around Novaya Katichi,”' says Viktoria, drinking tea in her school cafeteria, her eyes wide as she pushes back the hair from her face. “Everything there has died or gone away, the houses are boarded up; it's like being on a different planet.”
On her computer at school, Viktoria quickly goes through several dozen photos from the abandoned village, which despite its proximity to her house she had never visited before. Other photos are more subtle and sensitive. Several show fresh produce harvested last autumn, and now stored in cellars under village houses. Most locals subsist on such food, which they grow in the fields or gather in the forest during the short summer months. Failure to gather such food, and properly conserve it, could mean going hungry.
Then a photo of a well flashes up on her screen.
“People used to take water from this well,” says Viktoria, who aspires to be either a songwriter, or film director. “It's a symbol of life, but for this village, not any more.”
Indeed, the theme of life and death, keenly felt in this contaminated region, intrigues Viktoria, who admits to having dabbled in the Gothic youth sub-culture popular in many western cities. Her readiness to discuss death is a little unsettling, but understandable. Still, like many in her region, a belief in the future continues to sustain and nourish her.
“People live here and will live here because it's their home,” says Viktoria proudly, affirming her village's will to live. “We survived so many other catastrophes in our history and we will survive this one as well.”'