THESE are the forgotten victims of the devastating Chernobyl disaster.
Polish photographer Jadwiga Bronte has documented some of the lives of people suffering the after effects in a photo essay titled ‘The Invisible People of Belarus.’
The harsh government-run institutions where neglected residents are often forced into over crowded sleeping quarters and very poor living conditions. Most have serious physical and mental disabilities.
Bronte described the institutions to news.com.au as “partly self-sufficient, where patients are forced to work in fields, clean and cook ... something between asylum, orphanage and hospice”.
She spent days at a time photographing the subjects at various institutions and getting a feel for their everyday lives. She hopes the project will draw more attention to the lives of these people with disabilities in Belarus.
The Chernobyl disaster hit the people of Pripyat, Ukraine, back on April 26, 1986 after a nuclear reactor exploded at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
The Republic of Belarus shares a border with Ukraine, and its proximity to Pripyat meant many of its population suffered.
The United Nations estimates “millions of people in Belarus still suffer from radioactive contamination”.
“The aftermath from Chernobyl has not yet passed in Belarus. Every year children are born with mental and physical deficiencies from the disaster of 1986. People still live in contaminated zones or carry genetic marks from the past generation,” the photographer told news.com.au.
Bronte documents the lives of the residents in these images below:
“Sveta was this amazing and beautiful young girl, very intelligent and friendly. She was very confident about her look and loves being photographed,” Bronte told PBS.
“Personal belongings are very important for the residents. They love to be photographed with them.”
“This is a cell for dangerous patients who are separated from the rest for security reasons. There has been incidents where patients have killed each other while sharing cells”
“Within the institutions patients build long-lasting friendships and even fall in love.
“The environment is far from civilised and prevents intimacy and privacy as all rooms are shared.
“This girl had a car accident as a young child. Her face was crushed and she has brain damage. Her mother abandoned her straight away.”
“A room is seen here with multiple rows of beds. Couples have no privacy, residents are divided by sex and sleep in different rooms.”
“Some of the older residents are locked in a small room without windows. The tiny vision panel in the door is all they have.”
“An ex-policeman is seen here posing with his friend during evening activity time.”
“This boy had electroconvulsive therapy before coming to this institution. There are a lot of horror stories of people being randomly locked up by the government.”
Redkovka, Ukraine, bears little resemblance to the place it was 25 years ago. Its stores, its school, its factory, and its homes — all are gone, or dramatically changed, as a result of the 1986 nuclear accident at Chernobyl, about 22 miles away.
The church, though, remains. Every day, its 74-year-old caretaker, Lida Masanovitz, wakes up at dawn to begin her chores. When the freelance photographer Diana Markosian visited her in March, she woke up early, too, watching Ms. Masanovitz make breakfast, manage the farm and tend to the church.
Most of Redkovka’s residents — about 1,000 people — resettled after the disaster. But the five families there today, including Ms. Masanovitz and her husband, Mikhail, 73, refused.
“This was home for them,” Ms. Markosian said. “This was where they grew up.”
“It was something that I had to understand,” she said. “And that came from just being there and seeing the thread that weaves this entire village together.”
The thread, she found, was love: love for one another and love for the place. Together, the villagers endured the Second World War, Chernobyl and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now, they rarely leave. Although a bus drives through, Ms. Markosian never saw anyone board.
“They don’t need to,” she said. “They have each other.” They also have a tiny grocery store that stocks bread, meat and vodka. Otherwise, they grow their own food.
But life can be grim and lonely. Twenty-five years ago, Ms. Masanovitz was a nurse. Her husband was a farmer on a collective farm. Now he spends his time drinking.
While she was photographing the couple one day, Ms. Markosian watched as Ms. Masanovitz picked up the phone in astonishment. (Slide 11.) It was the first time it had worked in a year.
Ms. Markosian, 21, is based in Moscow, where she lived until she was 9. Her work was shown recently in the Turning Point series on Lens. (“Stay One Minute Longer to Get the Picture.”) She went to Redkovka twice, spending a total of two weeks there.
The villagers understand that when they’re gone, Redkovka will probably fade into memory. When Ms. Markosian touched upon the subject with Ms. Masanovitz, the older woman began to cry.
Still, she keeps at it. “I’ve never seen somebody work this hard — with so much energy and life,” Ms. Markosian said. “She’s thrilled to start her day.” Making breakfast. Managing the farm. Tending to the church.