michal novotny – street kids in odessa

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Michal Novotny

Street Kids in Odessa

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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.


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Michal Novotny

74 Responses to “michal novotny – street kids in odessa”

  • I can feel the mess, pain and insecurity these children must be going through by viewing your essay, thank you for telling this story. What I’m missing from this presentation is a way for us, if there is one, to take action to help solve this huge problem… These pictures evoke strong emotions, strong enough for people to want to take action.

  • Well Done!
    Maybe a slightly tighter edit would do as good, but I am very impressed with the access you had and with your fine sense of drama, composition and meaning of the images.
    Very sad story, very beautifully put together!

  • Sounds and looks terribly familiar.

    I would have liked a little less pictures of needles or glue sniffing and more on the NGO, on the interaction with society.

    Also could/should go in “Related links”: http://www.mithsamlanh.org/

  • This collection has some of the most tragic, touching photos I’ve seen on Burn. To me, it’s a collection, not an essay or story. I’d love to see an edited version minus redundancies and with more attention to a story line or flow. There is a remarkable diversity of mood and content within the set, it just needs to be freed up. Although some photos affect me deeply, I often lost track, or just want to skip forward. Also, I notice that many pictures have a similar coloring, but others stand out. I don’t know if you digitally edit the photos, but (if you do) why not adjust the white balance of the exceptions to make the overall colors more consistent?

    Here are some photos that appear redundantly:

    – sniffing glue, bag to mouth
    – in the sewer
    – crying about not finding a vein, friends injecting friends

    I agree with John Vink that this reminds me of Phnom Penh, sadly…

  • Andrew: unfortunately it’s indeed in Phnom Penh but not only there.

  • What a powerful body of work.

    I’ve seen some similar stuff on the children of Bucarest in the past, but to me this is truly genuine, unfiltered documentation that hits you in the brain. Would love to see it on Perpignan or something like that, instead of big soulless works on the riots around the world (well, maybe i’m too harsh on that).

  • # 18 is heartwrenching..

  • ANDREW..

    thanks for your thoughts and i admire the work you and your wife are doing…….

    collection ? essay ? story? or body of work? does it matter? however, i would agree with you that collection is probably best term…in any case, i am sure you may imagine that we looked first at a tighter edit and obviously see the same repetition you see…we look very carefully many many times at these stories, so whatever appears here on Burn is quite intentional..

    of course, conventional print and photo-j wisdom says “do not repeat”…and my first reaction was to cut as you suggest….my second reaction was the opposite…i decided to just blast the viewer again and again ….what is one more minute of viewing time compared to the horror of what we are seeing? after thinking about these street kids and looking again carefully at the sequencing , we decided to just go for repeat repeat repeat…it is the constant repetition of this senseless drug use that is somehow part of this story…besides, you may have noticed that the captions do not repeat and give us new ancillary information in each…

    incidentally, photographers do whatever digital manipulation before they submit to us…we do not play with any coloring…however, when i see this set, i attributed this difference just to the light, but yes a more consistent color pallet would have been desirable…

    when i was in Phnom Penh i never saw anything like this, but that was a long time ago…the reports from John Vink and you tell me of a very sad slide for a potentially beautiful city….

    cheers, david

  • A Very strong essay for a big problem. congrats

  • Waw !
    This is a very strong esay. Children living on the street and
    sniffing glue is a very big problem
    for many societies in eastern Europe. .
    I personally saw them in Serbia,Romania but also in Mexico and Cambodia.
    The fact is they have a terrible life. Very sad.
    Un saludo

  • whoa what an essay, incredible photography, what a story to on, I can’t get over #7, there are so many amazing images here.

  • As Wayne Gayle famously points out in Natural Born Killers: “Repetition works, David. Repetition works, David.” But although I agree it works for the images, it gets old quickly in the captions.

    Nice photo work. Michal. My only suggestion would be to show us something of the why in addition to the who, what, when, where and how.

  • Many of the photos here are heartwrenching. Michael obviously spend considerable time with these kids, which allowed him to render these sensitive and piercing images.

    But why does this essay have to be so impersonal? Quoting NGO statistics? Descriptions that just indicate name, age, and pharmaceutical compound?

    Why can’t we learn about these kids as individuals — who they are, what happened to them, why are the on the street, what prospects do they have?

    The kids’ stories are surely interesting and worth telling.

  • Oh my…

    Preston, I agree with you. But oh my. I must look away.

  • Excellent series. Very moving (and heartwrenching as someone said) and powerful; also, most importantly, informative. I too would like to be able to do more than react; I will check that link. Some of the portraits, such as no. 7, are beautifully composed (which in itself can be somewhat disturbing), but this does not detract form the sense of immersion, of a photographer who really was allowed to enter and explore these children’s world and tell something of their story. I find Number 6 particularly haunting: the boy sleeping in the midst of his paraphernalia, which must be as close to a cosy home as it gets. Bravo.

  • these kids are so much more than the drugs they do and the places they inhabit.
    i wish you would have shown a wider perspective.
    did you not see them laugh, play games, love, and be affectionate with each other?
    i guess it is a pet peeve of mine when someone chooses to only show one side of a beautiful coin.

  • “i guess it is a pet peeve of mine when someone chooses to only show one side of a beautiful coin.”
    and the tarnished side, at that.


    yes, agreed…there could be more to this story….but couldn’t there be more to all stories? and does the “more” necessarily have to be told by this photographer or even one photographer? i see this, and almost all essays, as “a” story but almost never “the” story…

    couldn’t Gene Richards have told more of a story with Cocaine True/Cocaine Blue”? that was pretty one dimensional after all..are cocaine abusers/dealers all black? .or Philip Jones Griffiths portrayal of Americans in Vietnam Inc… i am sure not ALL soldiers were baby killers or spraying Agent Orange around…i am exaggerating here a bit to make just a possible point..it seems the most common critique here on Burn is always the same critique…always saying to the photographer “why didn’t you show this or show that?”…the most common refrain here, almost a steady drumbeat, is that the story might be strong, but somehow not complete…

    frankly when i think of all the truly great essays and books with the absolute strongest photography , they invariably are very very narrow in their coverage…a point of view usually with a high powered telescope..the greats never show a wide or all inclusive view…

    i am not ranking this essay up there with those i just mentioned…but it does come to mind that while i think photographers should take responsibility and have integrity and truth attached to what they show in a journalistic story, we really should not hold each and every one accountable for telling all that there is to tell, as long as what they do tell/show is honest/accurate…yes, i too would like to know how these kids interact in other ways..so i expect THAT story from Katia , not from Michal..and then Katia could be criticized for romanticizing the lives of street kids…and on and on and on….

    just something to think about…

    cheers, david

  • hmmm. i better not comment on this one…

  • These are very moving images…very sad. They remind me of a documentary from 2001 entitled “Children Underground” where the filmmaker followed the lives of several homeless and abandoned children in Romania…They too were a group of kids who struggled to survive (stealing, taking drugs, sniffing glue, etc) while the world around them simply passed them by. In my opinion, the ‘full’ story in these pictures is all-too present…they are abandoned human beings. And while there may be moments of laughter and playfulness experienced by these kids that the photographer is not sharing, the despair depicted in each image is in no way dishonest. My 2 cents…

  • You know, David, I was just thinking of “Cocaine True/Cocaine Blue” — the book is full of quotes and a prose narrative about the people in the pictures. So, yes, the book would be pretty one dimensional if it were JUST shots of junkies and dope. But the reader/viewer gets a pretty good sense of the people and their stories and why they came to be where they are thanks to the words and the variety of pictures — which were shot in two cities, many apartments, streets, cars, rooftops, a funeral, etc.

    Michael has such strong photos here, but any 3-5 of them tell the story as he delivers it. The viewer gets it easily — kids, drugs, squalor. But we don’t get much of a sense of the kids’ lives beyond shooting up.

    Shot 16, for example, is kids on a tramway in Odessa. Why are they going? Why? If the journey is important enough to warrant a shot in the essay, why shouldn’t the viewer know more about it?

    This is not a matter of completeness or leaving something out. But how many pictures of injections or huffing do we need before we get that the kids use drugs? If we knew more about them as individuals, then there would be more context for the picture — presumably not every kids’ story is the same.

    If the material is presented as an essay, it seems appropriate to consider it as narrative, as story.

    I am not asking for a comprehensive take on juvenile homelessness in Odessa. As a viewer, I just want the kids to be characters in a story (nonfiction), not datapoints in an NGO report. Why are they? Why should I care? The introduction talks about how they come from different regions and different cultures; they work odd jobs and are victims of abuse; they die young — but none of this is referenced in the photos themselves.

  • oh, trust me, you will not think i am romanticizing the street youth culture.
    i will show the drugs, the squalor, the violence and the stupidity.
    but i will also show the unspeakable beauty.
    i’m reminded of mary ellen mark and her “streetwise”.
    she did such an amazing job showing both sides.
    and here i am, on the same corner, 25 years later,
    with all new kids and all new stories.
    i only hope i can do them justice.

    and, ok, i’ll buy that michal wanted to show his kids using the drugs/squalor/depraved/deprived slant.
    then my question would be.. why?

  • What use are the tears that fall at your feet?
    What use is your guilt dressed as compassion?
    What comfort do I gain from your thinking you know me?
    What help do you bring from that far away land?

    Dated nearly 5 years old this.

    I do think some of the pictures are very strong. Like some of them a lot.


    well, you always want the same well rounded coverage…i think we have to ask Michal if this is the end of his work , or just the beginning…for me, i just do not need any more from THIS set of pictures and it only THIS set of pictures i am referencing…..it is the horror or the act only i agree and not a complete “story’ i also agree, but i only go to one movie at a time and read one book at a time and look at one set of pictures at a time…now, Michal could or maybe should expand on this..if he worked on this for years , this would most likely only be one chapter or section…but i guess my point is that THIS part is good..regardless if there are any other parts coming or not…you ask one kind of “why?” and i ask another “why?” right back at you…you are looking for a more utilitarian use of pictures and i am just looking at pictures…your expectations for what photography is supposed to do is quite different from mine….

    as i said earlier the best essayists are narrow narrow narrow…show me a so called well rounded essay and i would probably be bored even though i know it might be more academically sound…i do not want academically sound…if i wanted that i would go read a thesis….i want to be hit in the gut…this set does that…why are the boys on the train? why do you need an answer to that? ..i like not being told everything…i can imagine…i see those boys on the train and i see they are hopelessly lost..that is enough …i do not need to know exactly literally their destination …showing them getting off the train and where they went would kill the picture on the train for me…anyway, interesting discussion…i hope Michal jumps in and gives you his version of why he does what he does…i have never met the man…i am curious as well…


    please know that i did not say you romanticize the street kids, i simply said that some critics could claim you do…you love your kids and it shows…i would defend your right to love the kids as i defend the right of Michal to only show one side…you have your motives and reasons and he has his…i have no more an idea of Michal’s “why?” than i have of Nachtwey’s “why?” …..i think only time will tell if Michal becomes something larger than a photographer only exploring the dark side…he has done a masterful job at this, but can he carry it forward? i am sure this is part of your questioning….Katia you are a very special person and photographer…you have stayed true to your clear motives….it is only with this respect for you deep deep down that i even suggest that others motives, though not as pure as yours, may however have some merit…

    cheers, peace, david

  • I don’t think it’s a matter of being well rounded or utilitarian, David — quite the contrary. The current set of photos is highly, or should I say merely, utilitarian. I am interested in more nuance, instead of the same photos again and again.

    If this presentation were 5-7 images, I would say brilliant and call it a day. But it’s 30 pictures, which suggests it aspires to hit more than one note.


    I thought this was a very powerful set of photographs…. almost unbearable at times to see these kids inject drug into their veins…. Such images are always hard to look at but when you see young kids who are just 13-14 years old, this simply is horrendous…. In the middle of these hard to look at photographs, the somewhat “softer” yet equally powerful images like 2, 26, 18 touched me the most…. you can see the despair into these empty eyes in nb 18…. How can these kids get out of this hole?

    Very sad and hard to forget….. glad you have let us seen this story here….


  • Thanks for all comments.
    For everybody who is missing “moments of laughter and playfulness” on these images – the kids who used in vein drugs were literally dying. They were in last stages of AIDS, coughing up blood because of tuberculosis. They almost could not walk because of sores. Their brains were so destroyed that they were not able to say more than a few single words. The drug they used – “baltushka” is very weak and they are forced to prepare it and shoot up many many times a day. Over and over again. So this was their life in June – nothing else than drug. When I came back to Odessa on December the same year – everybody from the group of in vein users except Moldvanchik was dead.
    Many images of the second group are taken in sewer – I shot them in December and sewer was only place which was a little warmer than streets so they spent majority of time there.

  • gut wrenching….whether good photography or poor, simply gut wrenching…..

    impossible to wrap, always, my head around the suffering of children
    impossible to wrap, always, my head around the indifference of the world
    impossible to wrap, always, my head around the adults who have toss aside those who are more important…

    i have not the energy nor the desire to write, but this:

    -the photography is strong and potent
    -the story and the manner in which the story is told is gut-wrenching and heart-breaking
    -we should not/cannot expect photography/photographs to do anything else but to speak about moments in place, of lives….

    I don’t need to know where the children are going on that tram….in truth, they’re probably there to, to paraphrase Buffalo 66, ‘span time together’…a way to break up the tedium and horrow of the day…they’re there, they’re going, maybe now where, but they are there…a part of their life away from the holes in the ground…

    i think it is enought, from the stand point of photogrpahy, for a photographer to detail….she/he need not give us more than that…that is up to us, that is up to the reader….what i need are pictures, after that, it is my obligation as a reader to delve the story….

    Boris Mikhailov have us 300+ pages of squalor and suffering and destitution and desolation and sadness without context, without narrative, without positivity, simply desolation: and why….because it becomes a threshold….

    to speak about the specific,…we shoot because we feel there is something that needs to be detailed, not necessarily fully or completely….

    for me, it IS enough that a photographer shows this reality for these poor, gorgeous children….he need not given us the other aspects of their life, because the truth is that this is the story he has chosen, that these children are suffering, are tortured and are left broken by society and us…

    can the photographer solve this…

    can we solve this…

    a photographer does not fix problems….but points their glass and twindled light upon a moment that maybe alights upon on hearts and heads….

    like katia, sometimes i get frustrated by the narrowness and squalor of journalism (especially globe-trotting journalists who run from place to place, story to story, etc)….

    but, i recognize that this hangup is MY hangup, not theirs…

    give me a story that tries to tell one part of a story and tries to do that well, that i accept that….

    for me, it is a shameless that these conditions continue….that for me, is the power of the story…

    i hope the photographer spends time with these children and follows up with them…..

    though i did hate the repetition of the captions….

    maybe it is because the extraordinary and overwhelming nature of the subject that makes it so difficult NOT to want MORE from this …but is that really fair….

    in wanting more, it should be what we do around us, how we behave around, the people and children in our lives and anythign further…

    but for pictures, here, in this limited context, for me, it must be enough that the viewer is stunned so that they recognize these children exist and they live under horrid conditions…that is an act and is enough…

    anxious to hear, since the photographs are 4 – 4 1/2 years old, what has become of these kids….


  • to summarize: powerful photography telling in a clear and unobstructed way a hear-wrenching story….

    to me the photographers commitment to these children is clear in the professional and unflinching way he attempts to show us, their lives…

    would it be that there would not be a need for these stories….

    but, since there are, i respect work that takes it seriously and the accompanying responsibilities…

    powerful, thoughtful, urgent work Michal!

  • “powerful, thoughtful, urgent work Michal!”….these kids have been DEAD for years!!!

    But hey, write a fucking poem about it. that’l help.

    These pictures are a strong record of something really sick in the world. But it aint them ITS US!

  • There is a lot in strength of the photographs ……… happens to kids way too often. Those that survive are pretty much traumatised for life.

  • Powerful. Without a doubt. One thing that moved me was the sense of community, family, and comradery among these children, in which they find both immediate support and ultimate destruction. Then I thought too that the kids who survive will become adults. Then what?

    It leave me feeling pretty helpless to do any good in this world.

    Katia – I understand what you say and in your work I greatly appreciate the fact that you do show those moments in the lives of those you work with.

  • “When I came back to Odessa on December the same year – everybody from the group of in vein users except Moldvanchik was dead.”

    oh my god…

    i have just been sitting here for long moments
    and saying

    oh my god
    oh my god
    oh my god……………



    if you see street youth
    show them some love.
    even a small gesture of compassion could save their life.

  • Michal

    Congratulations on this work and on being published here.

    While in my earlier post, I stated that I wanted to look away, in fact I have been back many times.
    I still WANT to look away, but cannot. It makes me angry….how can this be..in a supposedly civilized country? What is the MATTER with humanity? These are CHILDREN for God’s sake. What kind of government/society allows this? What is the DEAL with the former Eastern Bloc countries? Mafia, corruption, billionaires, centre of the porn universe. Is there no hope for humanity?

    I know street children exist everywhere, even here in Canada, and in the US. Glue-sniffing youths commit suicide on Native reserves. Drugs everywhere. Fuck, but this is something else.
    “When I came back to Odessa on December the same year – everybody from the group of in vein users except Moldvanchik was dead.”

    Arrgghh…I need a dose of beauty and hope.

    Michal. This is masterfully done. Despite some of the criticism, some of which I can agree with, this is superb work. Good luck with your future work.

  • Excellent work. Tragic story.

    As said above, there are too many redundancies here.

    The imagery is horrifying and tragic enough. The photographer nailed it in 20 images, I don’t think we need to be “blasted again and again.” I think repetition works as long as the viewer does not notice it is repetitive. Which people do seem to be noticing.


    “Shot 16, for example, is kids on a tramway in Odessa. Why are they going? Why? If the journey is important enough to warrant a shot in the essay, why shouldn’t the viewer know more about it?”

    Careful… lets not let journalism get in the way of art….

  • As a new father it’s gut wrenching when I see humans who have progressed to such an awful state, whether it be these children, the murderer Jared Loughner, the old wino on the corner, the perpetually angry, and so on and so on…. What happened to that innocence – one should never forget that we were all babies at one time – where did it go, and in this case in such a short time? Tragic….

    One small note for this essay and others – I would like to see captions that give us the backstory (ie “according to the UN, etc etc) in the first caption and then just the specifics (name, date) in the rest. Easier to read and more poignant imo.

  • Very powerful and sad. Heart-wrenching is, I think, the most appropriate word.

    I’ve watched this several times today, and again after reading the comments. Something came over me while viewing every time – at first I thought it was a sign of a weak edit, that the repetition was dulling me to the gravity of images. That it was a fault in the photography that I found the images blending and repeating. Almost a sedative effect. Now I wonder if that wasn’t the intent – to engender a sensation of sedation. To really put the viewer in the subject’s shoes, or as close as we can get (I know, I know, it’s still a million miles away from their desperation, but bear with me on the reasoning here).

    The repetition, for me, speaks to the sense of repetition and sedation in the kids lives, but also to the desensitizing nature of being confronted by this daily, as the NGO workers and others are. On the one hand, you really feel for the individual and their particular plight, on the other you’re only too aware how many other individuals there are, essentially going through the same thing.

    I felt really odd viewing this essay. And not just because of the subject matter, but the way it was presented. The feelings of “zoning out” or “boredom” or whichever term you wish for it, that challenged me and caused me to question the extent of my own humanity. I couldn’t believe I could view and recognise and yet feel numb after a while.

    If an essay of any kind is supposed to do anything, surely it is to prompt us to think, and to question. Ourselves as much as the work, or wider society. And I’d say that in that regard, Michal has done a pretty exemplary job here.

  • John gaddy:

    no kidding…and if you think i was writing a poem, you’ve bloody hell missed my point…

    you have NO idea what the relationship this story has to my private life…


    my intent was to write just that…

    that some work should shout..

    because IT IS US who has failed…

    i knew i should not have written anything..

    no more from me for a while, period.

  • For those who want a different angle o humankind and our past association with the feral use of drugs remedies for a dismal life “The Bread of Dreams” Piero Camporesi


  • A quote from Dr. Michael A. Rinella reviewing the book above “When life was nasty, brutal, and short you didn’t mind going through it in an often hazy drug-induced dream-like state.”

  • ‘amazing, great light, powerful” …….

    ……..i hope you left them some food… that’s all i need to know.

  • BOB BLACK. Sorry man. I apologize. I just threw a wild punch there and you happened to be in the way of it. Was aimed at everyone, myself included.


  • Access – great
    photography – great
    edit – repetitive but good for it
    Story – sad beyond belief but an all too shockingly familiar sight. I worked on an Doco in Soweto, similar story kids, glue, drugs, begging. All that craziness and self destruction and yet a fiercely protective group who looked after each other in a weird way.

    Hope this story gets wide coverage.

    Cheers all



    this is one of those conversations that would last about two minutes if you and i were having a beer together and we would quickly see what the other means….are we not overdue for exactly that scenario?? fact is , i do see what you mean…and to cut to 5-7 pictures which you and Pete and several others have suggested IS of course basic elementary editing course 101…

    what you are suggesting is indeed the norm…basic..got it…

    so it should be quite clear that i am simply suggesting here that we take our normal editing rules and guidelines and SOMETIMES break that pattern of reduction which we do allegedly for clarity… or is it really because there just is not enough space in print, not enough ads sold, and everyone has been “trained” to think minimalist?? …hmmm, perhaps oftentimes very convenient philosophy to match necessity ..but i digress

    in any case, how about repetition for effect?…i think what i really would want to do with these pictures so the effect of repetition would actually work, where it may not here, is on a very large wall…here we are looking at one right after the other in a sequence and folks on the net just cannot sit still and want “new information” every three seconds…in any case, in a large installation i think the horror of repetition might work way better…

    think about the comment from Framers Intent above…that evolution of thinking was what i was going for in not chopping this down to the so called “essence”….and of course i well knew the “edit tight” comments would flow

    the point here for me anyway is not that one of these kids sniffs glue and then that is supposed to tell us “this boy sniffs glue” and then that is a didactic visual stand alone sentence …for me by seeing the repetition i get the sense of a hard core craving and “this is what i live for” way more than if i just saw one descriptive picture…your statement above about wanting nuance does not match your previous note where you seemed to want more pure explanation ……in any case, nuance is not really a part of this story with 5 pictures or with 30….

    i do hope to see you in new york soonest…always a pleasure Preston..

    cheers, david

  • http://thschildhere.blogspot.com/

    Street children in Odessa/the whole of Ukraine/Romania is not a new subject, I’m a bit puzzled that so many here seem not to know of this.. but it can be that we’ve had quite a bit of TV coverage over here, since some years now.. and as you can see from the link above, there’s also a way to help (this just being one of the organizations, the closest to home for me)..

  • John G :)

    i’m sorry too John, for getting so upset…been overly sensitive myself after my trip to Moscow….like live wire, and open ;))….so sorry i got uptight too…this story, particularly, hit hard personally……i know it did to you too…

    shit, i swing wild punches too ;))

    will contain them to beer next time :))


  • Eva

    I don’t think anyone is surprised that there are street children in Ukraine or anywhere. Street children have probably existed since there have been streets. Dickens “Oliver Twist” and all that.

    However, this is a particularly brutish depiction. #1,2,3,12,18 are brutal, insane, horrific. #22 breaks my heart.

    I’ve not seen a more powerful series on the subject.

  • Hi, David — raising a virtual glass here on Burn . . .

    On the Holiday Lights thread, MW says very eloquently what I would want to say about the matter at hand —


    Safe travels,


  • Michal – any idea if there has been any change in the “situation” since you shot this 5 years ago; has The Way Home been able to affect change?


    i understand the words of Michael clearly…and would never disagree with his conclusions and quest for more knowledge…somehow seems a bit different than what i thought was your original request, but if that is it, then i too am curious for all of the “why?”…what in the world in society would be the trigger for this kind of behavior? i think the one of us here who knows is Katia…she works with street kids every day of her life…i have given her all the space she wants to show us, to tell us, to help us all understand the genesis of this tragic pattern that is now plaguing almost every culture on our way overcrowded planet…

    cheers, david

  • Well, I might be wrong, but I think the causes are different for the ex Eastern Bloc countries and such as the USA or Canada.. the fall of the Comunist bloc has a lot to do with it over here in Europe and Asia, while the same can’t be said for North America..

  • Gordon..

    Perhaps, as I already said, it might be my fault.. I’ve seen the exhibition I’ve linked to, I’ve seen other coverage of this, I’ve seen some of this first hand, I know how it looks like, so when I hear kid and drug in one sentence I do not need any essay..

  • What a tragic way to begin a life and what a trgic way to end such short life… small, young they should be like my kids innocent only worries are if we are going to leave the park a little too early. Yes easy worries good worries Nice and comfy here at home with my two little kids sitting watching cartoons…they are lucky totally oblivious to the horrors other kids suffer just a little older than they are. I like the repetitive theme this essay brings with it, another kid, another kid and another one.
    In a certain way it reminds me of another very famous gang, also full of troubled lives who also were all wiped out by drugs…

  • Echoing Eva somewhat, my question isn’t why kids take drugs, or even why they become feral street kids (though that’s part of it), but why it occurs in a particular place, a particular culture. I know there’s no single answer. I suspect there are some cross cultural similarities. Some humans, for example, are just wired to be unsatisfied with the normal brain chemistry. But cultural issues make for such a horrible variety of this kind of suffering.

  • I’m not convinced that the fall of the Communist bloc has had a major effect in the nature of homelessness among youth in Europe. Even under the Soviet Union, heavy alcoholism and other social ills were extremely prevalent, with the Kremlin adopting arguably equally brutal tactics in trying to stamp it out. I suspect that the difference we’ve seen since the fall of the Communist Bloc can be explained by having increased objective/non-state-controlled journalism in these areas.

    Dysfunctional relationships are common to all cultures. They don’t necessarily entail drug use and homelessness, but they’re no doubt a starting point. Couple that with an absence of suitable coping strategies, or other structures for development, it isn’t at all surprising that things are allowed to spiral so completely.

    Sorry, typing on an iPhone. If the discussion is still going later, I’ll try to contribute more appropriately. But I do suspect the “why” of this to be as difficult to convey photographically as the strained relationships in Lassal’s Disencounters (not comparing substance of relationship, just the, uh, subtlety/ambiguity of what visuals try to convey).

  • eva wrote, “Well, I might be wrong, but I think the causes are different for the ex Eastern Bloc countries and such as the USA or Canada.. the fall of the Comunist bloc has a lot to do with it over here in Europe and Asia, while the same can’t be said for North America..”

    eva, is correct, of course.

    first, for background, i’ll say that i am a street mom to a couple of hundred street kids here in seattle.
    my kids live in a land of many opportunities.
    my kids have access to youth services, case managers, food, clothing, toiletries, etc, seven days a week.
    many of my kids have parents who care deeply about them.
    they have other adults who care deeply and they have a tight-knit street family who cares deeply.
    their living situation (under freeway bridges, etc) can be pretty bleak and yes, drugs and
    alcohol are absolutely ubiquitous in the scene, but my kids laugh and sing and play games
    and have joyful moments as well as dark moments. they love each other and protect each other.
    the street youth situation here does not resemble the scene in odessa in the least.
    my knowledge of the “whys” for homeless youth here does not apply to odessa.
    but somebody there needs to do something.
    somebody there needs to do something very urgently.
    i pray that that happens.


  • Winterreise is a body of work that indirectly tackles the why, even if it was shot in Russia.

  • Katia,

    I take your points on board and you are right, the youth in countries like America or the UK have a lot more assistance available to them, and a wider range of assistance too, than those in the former Communist countries.

    But I would strongly caution against Eva’s comment that the homelessness and drug situations in those countries are in any substantive way linked to the fall of Communism. The problems in those countries existed just as much under the soviet regime, it just wasn’t reported as widely or in anywhere near the detail that it is today. The increase in reports of situations like this in Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, etc., IS strongly linked to there being more opportunities for serious journalism to take place there than there was 20 years ago. And20 years ago we were nearing the end of Perestroika and glasnost. There were a lotles reports of these ills under Brezhnev and Kruschev simply because this kind of reporting wasn’t allowed.

    As journalists/documentarians, we have to avoid asserting a change in the society documented when in fact the change was more in the amount/type of documentation that was or is permitted.

  • Framers Intent, sure the fall of Communism did not help the situation.. I do not say that it is the cause, but with the fall and its consequences things have not become easier.

    In Romania, Nicolae Ceauşescu’s politics sure did a great deal to help the situation become bad.. with so many children in orphanages back then, those who have become adults don’t have an easy life, and their children not much more. But this is generalizing a bit too much.

    The fact that the plitical situation changed so rapidly and so much in many countries, with poor people becoming poorer and with no future, no work, no food it sure did have consequences.

    It’s a bit a too difficult a discussion for me, to be held in English, sorry.

  • They were in major denial about their serial killer problems as well until Andrei Chikatilo made it impossible to ignore.

  • EVA,

    I apologise. It sounds like you are more experienced in this than I. I should probably declare that I studied Politics at Oxford where one of my papers was in Russian Politics. While I studied under some prominent academics, and I may further these investigations, my experience is largely second hand and Russia-centric. Russia-focussed.

    Anyway, I think we are both trying to say the same thing here.

    I sometimes overreact on Russia/Eastern Bloc comments, because my studies have taught me that the situation is often much more complex than glib news bulletins make out. I do not think your comments were glib. I now see that we have similar concerns, and our difference in communication is more language than meaning.

    I apologise for any offence I may have caused you. I spoke only put of compassion and personal interest in the area and its societies.

  • Sometimes, I leave a comment before I have had time to read all the other comments. I have just revisited this post and have been going through other comments and am horrified to learn that all these children, save one, are dead.

    I simply do not know what to say. At the moment, I just feel a little stunned.

  • katia…
    I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on the reasons why these kids in Seattle having parents and adults who care deeply about them end up under bridges. I find it very hard to understand… I personally would NEVER let my kids choose that way of life.

  • Framers Intent..

    Absolutely no need to apologise!!

    I should have articulated better what I wanted to say.

    For sure you are educated way better than me on the subject. While the downfall of Communism isn’t the general cause, for the children in this specific essay (in 2006 they were from 12 to 17 years old) I think it has played its role, not solely, but as a con-cause.. contributing cause?..argh.. mine was a response to the question “why”.. the why cannot be answered globally, there are so many different factors..

    It is a very broad and difficult topic. But there can be done something, by you and me and everyone. Starting right there in our backyards. Donating money is one of them and probably the easiest, very needed of course but not the only way.. but that’s another discussion altogether..

  • Eva,

    Glad we’re good. I was posting from this place last night – http://www.flickr.com/photos/framersintent/5349385831/ so I was concerned I may have spoken too harshly in my comments on here.

    Russia is a seriously interesting place. I lived with 3 Russians in my final year of University. One had been a journalist there and had come over to the UK to do a Masters is Sociology. He said part of his reason for doing that was because it was still difficult to report objectively there – there is a lot of pressure not to paint the place in a bad light, and native journalists (or those based there full time) really do have to watch their backs. He said things had got a lot more open since 1991, but that there was still a massive difference in the freedom for reporting compared to countries like the UK.

    I’ve actually been toying with doing a Masters in Russian politics. It depends how the funding changes here affect the viability of it, really. My interest there are in youth politics and also the structural reforms since 2005, specifically the electoral reform. I should confess that I am also considering this route as a potential way to spend some time in Russia, maybe as much as 3-6 months, where I could both do my academic research, and also shoot some photographic work on the topics that interest me there.

    The situation in Russia has improved in some areas over the last 20 years, but yes the dramatic shift in institutional structures have had a significant effect on daily life. Not just that – the brief period of the first Federation didn’t help things either. Yeltsin effectively tried to barter with the sate-bodies in the individual oblasts and okrugs (the regions in Russia) to get their support for his Presidency. It was, really, little better than the Soviet regime. In some ways much worse – you had a chaotic institutional set up, and some people profited extensively from this. Legislation was shoddy and often ignored, and it was very much dog eat dog for a time. Putin is far from being a great figure in a positive sense, but he has at least made some significant steps to building a strong structure for social growth in the future, and he did face a massive problem in Russia when he came into office. I wouldn’t be surprised if the effects of the Soviet regime and the quite protracted and spasmic shift to a capitalist society with slowly increasing transparency, I wouldn’t be surprised if that takes Russia 50 years to really deal with. While I know less about the various “satellite states” – Ukraine, Belarus, and so on, I imagine they face a similar struggle.

  • Michal, my deepest respect.

    Following upper discution i’d like to to add some impressions. Perhaps they take me to the way that rather than just a matter of politics, so refering mentioned fall of comunist bloc, these discutions focus to me better in the field of economics and specially social policies … I mean, as known my country -Chile- wasn’t at all related with the comunist bloc before it turned to democracy and free market economy, but we shared in common many circumstances… lack of free press, closed economy, poor public discussion… in fact we recently had a succesful tv serie ‘the eighties’ very inspired in the movie ‘good bye lenin’… much in common, opposite colors…
    Then we had the opening of the country and a complete new social ‘landscape’ arriving until present days… Street situation kids -boys/girls- and adolescents scenary changed in quality and quantity… a growing of a new social group of kids-teens in vulnerability of rights situation, many of them law infractors: carring fire weapons, stealing for social status… they are to be precise not children in street situation -that just struggle to survive-, but kids with serious vulnerability of rights as stated by unicef: without access to their basic rights as education, health, psychic and emotional integrity, enterteinment…

    new tasks for a society and state with a will to overcome this… signing the conventions of unicef, enacting protection legislation to support those conventions, against child abuse, sexual exploitation, minimum compulsory education, regulatory frame to child work.. implementation of intervention programs and developing projects of prevention, rehabilitation and damage reduction…

    programs for street situaton children… pictures 18 and 8… programs to take them out to be inserted into solid protection networks… and that are for sure only macro aspects to be developed day by day in micro by people educated and trained for that, as my friend Rolando with whom we discussed the essay recently.

  • Framers Intent..

    Just stumbled over this:


    Thought it might be of interest for you.. as with all things, there’s always two sides (at least) to the coin..

  • “Bukhtiyenko’s enthusiasm, however, has cost him dearly. In April 2010 he was found electrocuted and bludgeoned to death at a private tennis court in the city.” Not overly surprising…

    Cheers for the link, Eva – I’ve been out all day at meetings and am a bit exhausted now, but I’ll be taking a closer look a bit later. Bookmarked it.

  • Eva: :)

    sergie is a friend of mine and marina’s…….his book, on the 20 years post Perestroika, should be in all PJ’s libraries….he’s one of Russia’s finest documentary photographers…and a great guy….and a great family guy (wife and son) and, btw, is little known outside russia…at least prior to Perp 2 years ago…

    nice to see a link to his work :)))


  • Don’t know if anyone is interested but there is a talk by photographer Carol Allen Storey about The orphans in sub saharan africa at the frontline club london http://home.the-aop.org/Members_Exhibitions



  • I know the discussion has covered some ground so I don’t want to divert from it, however just to say these images are brilliantly disturbing. Excellent. Regards.

    I would have liked a little less pictures of needles or glue sniffing and more on the NGO, on the interaction with society.

    My opinion too. I do not question Michal’s sincerity and compassion, but for me, they do not show thru, and because of the sameness in most of the images, it’s a bit too “outside looking in”, which works perfectly when events are being reported (as PJ goes), but much less when one wants to convey human misery, borne out of obvious, but also complex, societal ills. Why is it shown only thru fixing up and sniffing glue, repeatedly? I am reminded of David’s words: “don’t show me what you saw, show me what you felt”. Yet, with no irony on my part, Michal is to be thanked for showing us a situation that is simply not on many peoples radars.

    (I am being able to get on the net again from my little room in Thailand, though it’s thru a very slow speed connection USB key. Still, makes it easier to log on BURN and catch up with the essays shown these last months)

  • For me it was sometimes hard to watch at the photos.
    I don`t know if i should cry or shout or do something else…
    I ask me why. Why do they have to live in this way? Why are they forced to waste their lifes?
    They are children without any chance to get a better life… it is hard, very hard…
    Excellent work.
    Thank you


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