Here’s a series of photographic essays on the screwed-up environmental (nuclear and industrial) mess known as Mother Russia and her “former Republics”.
As we wait for some of the moral relativists here to direct us to similar modern day scenes of the effects of nuclear contamination and environmental pollution wrought upon American civilians by our government’s intent or neglect ... SARC
” From Vilnius to Vladivostok, across more than eight million square miles, a beleaguered environment bears witness to a legacy of irresponsibility. The rivers of the former Soviet Union are open sewers of human and chemical waste. The Aral Sea is drying up. In many Soviet cities the air is so polluted that it puts millions at risk for respiratory disease. Tons of nuclear waste are spread out all over the country and toxic chemicals poison the soil.
To document this defiled world one sixth of the planet’s landmass I spent five months on assignment for National Geographic. I traveled the low roads of the sundered fifteen nations from the fouled shore of the Baltic Sea to the troubled forests of the Khabarovsk region touching the Sea of Japan, from the contaminated tundra in the permafrost north to the viscous pools of runoff from dilapidated and leaky oil wells near Baku in the south.
I set my foot on earth at places so polluted that neither man nor beast will survive in them for years to come. I visited plants and factories, sharing the misfortune and pain of workers exhausted after a day’s exposure to dust and toxic fumes. With mothers I shed tears over the needless suffering of innocent children born deformed into a world without hope. I traveled through a country where for 70 years Soviet rulers professed concern for workers and respect for nature but destroyed both with their environmental recklessness and flagrant neglect for fundamental needs.
My photographs record quite a different version of the former USSR than the one that had been projected by National Geographic during the gloomiest period of the Cold War. Images of the bald children of Chernobyl and the limbless children of Moscow disclose a deeply disturbing truth: birth defects and infant mortality not just in the vicinity of a major atomic catastrophe, but even in the ailing empire’s once proud capital strike the peoples of this land at twice the rate found in the industrial nations of the West.
Working on this assignment confronted me with specific problems. For a foreign photographer, permission to shoot mysterious candle-lit Orthodox churches and goose marching handsome soldiers in front of the Kremlin was difficult enough to obtain during the Brezhnev era. But once you found the appropriate place in the Soviet bureaucratic pyramid, one benevolent nod from above was enough to trigger a chain of permissions. When I arrived in the dissolving empire in 1992, however, I found myself in a maze of intricate relationships with willing liberal-minded bosses in the fifteen capitals and reluctant bureaucrats on the local levels. In the Baltic state of Estonia a powerful green movement has been part of successful resistance to Moscow’s domination. Even so, my Russian assistant Maxim Kuznetsov and I only had our ticking Geiger counter to help us find a highly radioactive uranium waste lagoon there. Local officials insisted that this place did not exist.
Not only was the emotional strain of the assignment overwhelming, but we also struggled with delicate questions of personal safety. Working on the radioactive shores of Estonia, we donned protective gear respirators, safety overalls, rubber gloves and boots but in many places we were asked not to wear any of it, since the people who labored every day on the sites did not have any themselves. You walk a thin line: you want to be safe but you also need people’s trust and cooperation to get the pictures.”
Same mentality in Ukraine, with Chernobyl