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Documentary book about the lives of disabled people and Chernobyl victims living in governmental institutions called Internats
Documentary book about the lives of disabled people and Chernobyl victims living in governmental institutions called Internats
111 backers pledged £6,146 to help bring this project to life.

About this project

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I have created a photography book to drive awareness and tell the tragic story of the Invisible People of Belarus. This book will provide education and expose secret lives of disabled people and Chernobyl victims locked up in the governmental institutions in Belarus.

The book will be written in two languages; Russian and English. It is important for me that it will be available for viewers who live in post-soviet countries, where issue with disablism is high. ‘Disablism: discriminatory, oppressive or abusive behavior arising from the belief that disabled people are inferior to others.’

The book will combines my photography with writing by Nobel Prize in Literature Winner Svetlana Alexievich, who is an investigative journalist from Belarus. Svetlana knows my project and is happy for me to use her writing.

'Invisible People of Belarus - 30th Anniversary of the Chernobyl Disaster'

The launch of the book will coincide with my first solo show in a late October/early November in London. This exhibition will be a charity event during which money will be raised for organizations helping in Belarusian Internats.

10% of the future proceeds (no Kickstarter funds) from the sale of this book will be donated to an amazing charity "Chernobyl Children's Trust " which supports people living in Belarusian Internats. CCT is striving to change the institutional system and advocates for disabilities by supporting families that choose to keep their disabled children at home.

About Me:

I was born in neighboring Poland, a satellite state of USSR at the time of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. I decided to go to Belarus to document the stories of horrifically neglected and abandoned children, born with mental and physical deficiencies from the aftermath of this tragic accident 30 years ago. During my investigations, what surprised me the most was that it wasn’t just victims of the Chernobyl disaster that were housed in these institutions…

 Invisible People of Belarus

Belarus, located in the far-flung reaches of Eastern Europe is the last dictatorship on the continent and for some is still considered to be part of Russia. This is a place where the president, Alexander Lukashenko is seen as an unchallenged, fearsome and almost ‘God-like’ figure. Belarusians still fear the KGB and their ever-watchful eye. This is very much a place where ‘Soviet’ mentality is still the norm. 

When you walk the streets, one could easily mistake themselves as being on a movie set. Everything is extremely clean and organized, the grass is always clean-cut, and the architecture glitzy and reflecting perfectionism. It does make you wonder exactly what may be ‘hiding’ behind this facade. 

‘Invisible People of Belarus’ is a documentary project about the lives of disabled people and Chernobyl victims locked up in the governmental institutions called ‘Internats’. Internat is in Belarusian: name of the governmental institution that houses disabled people through their entire lives. Place, which is something in between an orphanage, asylum and hospice for people with mental disabilities, Down syndrome, autism, people with physical mutations, deformations, and people with Aids.

Lyosha. This severely autistic boy is very active and inpatient, however in front of a camera he would calm down immediately. He loved the flash light and would pose perfectly still until the light would fire.
Lyosha. This severely autistic boy is very active and inpatient, however in front of a camera he would calm down immediately. He loved the flash light and would pose perfectly still until the light would fire.

The government has created Internats to separate Chernobyl victims and disabled children from other healthier orphans in order to keep them hidden from the society. These are places where tens of thousands of people spend their entire lives. These institutions have become a subject of folklore legends and made a stigma on their residents.

Sveta. The aftermath from Chernobyl has not yet passed is 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.
Sveta. The aftermath from Chernobyl has not yet passed is 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.

In general, disabled people are certainly still something of a taboo in Belarus, and often abandoning, or ‘giving them away’ is easier than being exiled from the local community. Mothers are told that institutions are better places for their disabled kids than home. In the past, mothers would be persuaded to give up their children and place them in the internats, nowadays they are manipulated into abortion.                   

Belarusian people themselves are not aware of what is really going on inside these places. People are not properly looked after, hardly any medical stuff works in the internats. Most of carers are ex-cleaners with no medical training. Internats are partly self-sufficient, where patients are forced to work in fields, clean and cook.

This project aims to indirectly expose the on-going problems with human rights violations; poor health care and free labour, which very often come with lack of money and knowledge.

Free Labor - Disabled women working in a field. Institutions are partly self-sufficient. Patients are forced to work in fields, clean and cook.
Free Labor - Disabled women working in a field. Institutions are partly self-sufficient. Patients are forced to work in fields, clean and cook.

Book ‘Invisible People of Belarus’ focuses on disabled people who are physically and/or mentally more independent. 

These photos are a story of those people as human beings; as people who suffer and struggle against injustice everyday life; and as people who look after each other, build long lasting friendships, and even fall in love even within an environment that is far from civilized life. 

Room/cell for dangerous patients who are separated from the rest for security reasons. There has been incident’s when patients have killed another whilst sharing cells.
Room/cell for dangerous patients who are separated from the rest for security reasons. There has been incident’s when patients have killed another whilst sharing cells.

 

Some of the older ‘residents’ are locked in a small room without windows. The tiny vision panel in the door is all they have
Some of the older ‘residents’ are locked in a small room without windows. The tiny vision panel in the door is all they have

 

Room with multiple rows of beds. Couples have no privacy, residents are divided by sex and sleep in different rooms.
Room with multiple rows of beds. Couples have no privacy, residents are divided by sex and sleep in different rooms.

These invisible people stay invisible. There may be nobody to remember them after all, and a picture might be the only proof of their existence. 

 

 

I believe, to successfully improve the situation of the Belarusian internats, first we must change the mentality of the Belarusians. It’s in their hands to change the future of the people locked up. However, there is no free press in Belarus, that’s why, I decided to work on this project and share it with Belarusian people and the rest of the World.                                                 

What is more, the aftermath of Chernobyl and the issues with nuclear disasters are an on going problems around the world… We cannot forget about the victims of radiation and new victims born nowadays because of the modified gene their parents carried on.


'We’re often silent. We don’t yell and we don’t complain. We’re patient, as always. Because we don’t have the words yet. We’re afraid to talk about it. We don’t know how. It’s not an ordinary experience, and the questions it raises are not ordinary. The world has been split in two: there’s us, the Chernobylites, and then there’s you, the others. Have you noticed? No one here points out that they’re Russian or Belarussian or Ukrainian. We all call ourselves Chernobylites. “We’re from Chernobyl.” “I’m a Chernobylite.” As if this is a separate people. A new nation. '

                                                  'Voices from Chernobyl' Svetala Alexievich

Special thanks to Keith Gassen for allowing me to use his English translation of the book. 

Publications: 

Few interesting publications regarding this project: 

BBC World News: https://vimeo.com/152743850 

BBC Radio Newsday: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03fzylg

Feature shoot: http://www.featureshoot.com/tag/jadwiga-bronte/ 

PBS: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/art/the-face-of-belarus-invisible-people/ 

Vice: https://www.vice.com/read/belarus-internats-jadwiga-bronte-294

Huck Magazine: http://www.huckmagazine.com/art-and-culture/chernobyl-30-years-pictures/

New York Daily News: http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/invisible-people-belarus-gallery-1.2502273

News.com.au: http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/true-stories/the-invisible-people-of-belarus-documents-the-forgotten-victims-of-the-chernobyl-disaster/news-story/b4f4af26ad9969de4d90353ba05cb593

The Post Internazionale: http://www.tpi.it/mondo/bielorussia/dentro-istituto-bielorusso-sopravvissuti-chernobyl

34Meg: http://34mag.net/post/invisible-people-of-belarus

Dilema Veche: http://dilemaveche.ro/sectiune/societate/articol/oamenii-frumosi-prietenosi-invizibili-ai-belarusului-interviu-jadwiga-bro

Onet.pl: http://kobieta.onet.pl/zdrowie/zycie-i-zdrowie/to-bylo-nie-dziecko-ale-zywy-woreczek-zaszyty-ze-wszystkich-stron-ani-jednej-szparki/t594lg?utm_source=fb&utm_medium=fb_detal&utm_campaign=podziel_sie

Thank you

Thank you for your time and support in bringing this Photo Book to life.

 

 

Book is ready
Book is ready

 

book inside
book inside

 

Risks and challenges

There are no risks to this project and if I am able to achieve the funding I can produce the book. I am still working on minor changes to the final design.

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- (30 days)