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Street Kids in Odessa
On Odessa streets, children from all over Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Prydnestovye and Russia coexist. “According to…official statistics about three thousand children live in the streets of Odessa. According to the words of the specialists it is just a top of the iceberg”, says Tatiana Semikop, Chief of Criminal Militia on Youth Affairs. No one has real data on the number of homeless children in Ukraine, but the country is overflowing with a third wave of child homelessness. During the first two waves of the Civil War and Second World War, children became orphans when their parents died. The majority of modern homeless childrens’ parents are alive. An awful concept has appeared in Ukraine: “social orphans,” children who in theory have somewhere to go, but who will go never there.
In the streets, children find refuge from parents’ aggression and violence or alcohol and drug abuse. The street is a complex environment where survival is an every day goal. Uniting into groups and searching for deserted basements, garrets and hatches, children create their own niches and tough rules. The cost of a mistake is life. In order to live one must eat. In order to get food one must have money. This chain of logic is acquired by homeless children from their fist day on the street. Some of them wash machines, work as loaders, do casual repair work. Others beg, becoming professional “homeless children,” and some steal. Kind “uncles” and “aunts” turn handsome boys and beautiful girls into sex-toys. Payment comes as a bottle or a dose. Obstinate children are beaten. Juvenile homeless children brighten up their uneasy lives however they can – cigarettes picked up from asphalt or a passers-by’s alcohol, drugs, glue…
What fruits will bear these plantlets, tremulously grown by deflected morals and severe distortion of normal human values? The street means illnesses, from “harmless” bronchitis and lice, to tuberculosis, infectious hepatitis and HIV. According to “The Way Home,” an organization working with Odessa street children, two thirds of street children are HIV positive. They die with AIDS in crude cellars and miasma hatches. Street children do not go to school, but not because they are dumb (though the glue does work its magic over time, and the intelligence of the child sustains irremediable losses). Homeless children do not go to school because they have nothing to put on, no books to take with them. But mostly they simply have no time, they have to earn a living.
Michal Novotny (born 1973) is based in Prague, Czech Republic and his career began at the age of eighteen when he hitchhiked to the war zone of the former Yugoslavia. Since this time he has covered major international events and feature stories in more than fifty countries, usually under contract with the national daily newspaper Lidove Noviny or Reflex magazine. He has received many national and international awards in competitions including World Press Photo, Best of Photojournalism and Czech Press Photo. He regularly works on assignment for major international newspapers and magazines. His work has been published in The New York Times, GEO, Time, Stern, DAYS JAPAN, Vanity Fair, Focus, L’Expres, L’Equipe and El Mundo magazines among others.