2008 — student award of excellence
I was born in Almaty, Kazakhstan (1980) to a family of two Soviet engineers and one curly haired boy. My mother had an incredible talent sewing and knitting our clothes while father was an amateur photographer who often would highjack our bathroom and convert it into a dark room.
I am most grateful to my parents for taking us traveling around the Soviet Union and once it collapsed, we were happy to cross the border from time to time. It gave me an opportunity to see other places, learn different cultures and just get the feel of the road.
I hold a BA degree in photojournalism and graphic design from Western Kentucky University and MA degree in visual communication/interactive multimedia from Ohio University.
I try not to label myself and explore various mediums of visual communication, applying what is the most appropriate for a given project. In the past I had an opportunity to work as a photo editor, graphic and page designer, web developer and a design instructor. I have a soft spot for photography and illustrations.
During the Cold War, Stalin ordered the Semipalatinsk region in eastern Kazakhstan to become a test site for the atomic bomb. From 1949 until 1989, approximately 600 atmospheric, above ground and underground nuclear and hydrogen explosions were conducted at the Semipalatinsk Polygon. During those 40 years, while military scientists claimed the area was uninhabited, the region had a population of approximately 3,000 in the remote villages and 150,000 in the city of Semipalatinsk. Over 70,000 of military personnel, scientists and engineers were brought to build the test laboratories, atomic reactors and towns that were not even listed on the maps. The villagers were used as guinea pigs to monitor the after effects during the testing. Sometimes they were asked to stand outside of their houses and observe the explosions, and sometimes they were temporarily evacuated except for healthy young adults. As time passed, the villagers became increasingly sick from the high levels of radiation; their conditions were carefully examined and studied by the scientists. The exact data about the experiments and people involved is still classified and stored in Moscow.
In 1989, the fist international non-governmental antinuclear movement "Nevada-Semey" was established in Kazakhstan. As a result of the number of protests led by the movement's chairman, Olzhas Suleimenov, the detonations of bombs stopped. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the test site was officially closed; however, an estimated energy equivalent of 20,000 atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima claimed the lives of over a million victims. Those whose health was affected by the Polygon receive little government financial assistance. The contaminated soil and water prevented the land from being used as farmland, and most residents face unemployment for the lack of opportunity. Poverty and alcohol unfortunately live hand in hand. Looters manage to get inside the test tunnels and steal scrap metal and contaminated copper cables as a means to survive using the residual of a deadly nuclear site. The stolen metals are bought by China to produce cheap jewelry, which is later sold to the West. The radioactive waste in the region will continue to affect the environment and people of Kazakhstan for the millennia to come.
In August of 2006, I traveled to the area and witnessed the lives of those still living in some of the most affected villages as well as the Oncology Center in Semipalatinsk. Throat, lung, breast and uterus cancers are the most common diseases at a rate of five times the national average. Many of the deaths due to cancer could have been prevented if patients received medical assistance at the early stages. Women are afraid of becoming pregnant and giving birth to physically disabled babies. Many young men deemed impotent commit suicide. The region has the highest suicide rate in the country among the youth; premature aging, psychological disorders, the list can go on. The Polygon is closed but continues to destroy lives.
Within this documentary project, I am trying to accomplish my main goal — to give a voice to the survivors who need to tell their story to the rest of the world. This is the result of nuclear testing — the sacrifice of human dignity and lives. I will continue my pursuit to photograph the test site area, the remaining scientists, the cancer patients, the doctors at the Oncology Center, and the "Nevada-Semey" movement as a means to raise awareness and promote clearer understanding of the inherent dangers and harmful consequences of the nuclear warfare. My desire is that through my photography, the people of the Polygon would get much needed assistance to rehabilitate the damaged land and health, and to have hope for a future.