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For a Russian teenager, photography brings the legacy of Chernobyl into focus

© UNICEF/SWZK00927/Kravchenko
Photo by Sergei Kravchenko, 14, of Novy Bobovichi, Russia. “I have a strong desire to use my photos to explain to the world how we live and to show that 20 years later the problem of Chernobyl still exists,” he says.
By John Varoli

CHERNOBYL, Ukraine, 25 April 2006 – In the 20 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 at school in the village of Novy Bobovichi, Sergei Kravchenko, 14, knows only what he hears from his parents and other adults.
Unlike other historical events, however, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster continues to shape Sergei's life. 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 km away to Novy Bobovichi, and Sergei was born a year later, suffering from congenital heart defects. Sergei says little about his health. He'd rather show off his recent photos of Novy Bobovichi, taken after he returned home from a UNICEF photography workshop in Minsk. The workshop was held in early March for children in the areas worst-affected by Chernobyl.
Valuable lessons

Sergei's photos are packed with emotion. Most show destroyed, abandoned and crumbling industrial sites – a ruined brick factory, rows of abandoned village houses and derelict huts at a tourist resort that ironically was completed in early spring 1986, just before the disaster. Among the more ominous is a shot of mushrooms in a jar.

© UNICEF/SWZK00928/Kravchenko
Sergei Kravchenko took photographs of his hometown, Novy Bobovichi in Russia’s Bryansk region, as part of the UNICEF photo workshop for children from the areas hardest hit by the Chernobyl explosion.
“We still eat them even though they tell us mushrooms easily absorb radiation,” says Sergei nonchalantly.

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 affected,” 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.”



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