Jadwiga Bronte

2015 - 2017


Invisible People of Belarus

Belarus is the only country in Europe that is not a member of The Council of Europe, a regional intergovernmental organization, which promotes adherence to human rights and democracy. Violations include restraint of disabled children, failing to give medical treatment, and unpaid labor.

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.

‘Invisible People of Belarus’

Documentary project about the lives of disabled people and Chernobyl victims living in governmental institutions called ‘Internats’. (Internat is the name of the governmental institution that home disabled people. It’s in-between an orphanage, asylum and hospice.) The government has created Internats to separate Chernobyl victims and disabled children from other healthier orphans and to keep them hidden from society. These are places where tens of thousands of people spend their entire lives. Disability is not understood in Belarus, abandoning, or ‘giving them away’ is easier than being exiled from the local community.

Belarusian people themselves are not aware of what is really going on inside these places.

Disabled people are forced to work and they don’t get paid or any benefits. They work in fields, clean and work on nearby farms.

People in Western Europe should be made aware of the on-going problems with human rights violations; poor health care and starvation, which very often come with lack of money and knowledge.

‘Invisible People of Belarus’ focus on disabled people who are physically or mentally more able then the rest of the residence. 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.

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  • This photo of this ‘mural-like’ looking old picture of a woman, mother of a ‘resident’ was taken in one of the ‘Internats’. It is rare that patients have pictures of their parents, as most of were abandoned just after birth.

  • Radiation is invisible. This picture was taken in Gomel District, on my way to one of the ‘internats’, they are located in very remote places sometimes very close to contaminated zones.
    Belarus was the most affected country after the Nuclear Disaster of 1986 and there are still on-going serious issues with radiation, which is invisible and difficult to comprehend by many local people.

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

  • An empty corridor inside an orphanage. After lunch everybody, including adults, are forced to have a nap. This provides some time for the staff to attend to other duties. Those institutions are rarely staffed with medical professionals and often it is the cleaners who provide minimal care for these people.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Ex-policemen and his friend during an 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.

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

  • 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.

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

  • Couple awkwardly posing. 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. The girl had a car accident as a young child. Her face was crushed and she has brain damage. Her mother abandoned her straight away.

  • Personal belongings are very important for the residents. They love to be photograph with them.

  • Cemetery adjoins one of the institutions with nameless graves of patients. In rare cases, a family of the patient requests for the officials to put their name on the cross.