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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
'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.
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/
New York Daily News: http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/invisible-people-belarus-gallery-1.2502273
The Post Internazionale: http://www.tpi.it/mondo/bielorussia/dentro-istituto-bielorusso-sopravvissuti-chernobyl
Thank you for your time and support in bringing this Photo Book to life.
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.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)