On February 10, 2012 the jury of the World Press Photo announced the winners.
The winner of the last year was the portrait of the Afghani girl Bibi Aisha made by the South African photographer Jodi Bieber. This photo is a frightful “document” of violence against women. The winner of this year is the photo by the Spanish Samuel Aranda from a field hospital in Yemen. The Arab revolutions and the ecological disaster in Japan were the key topics of the World Press Photo 2011.
We remind our readers that the first prize in the Contemporary Issues Category was given to the photo of the drug addicted prostitute from Kryvy Rih named Maria by the South African photographer Brent Stirton. As for the Portraits Category, the Ukrainian issues won two first places. The portrait of a FEMEN activist Inna Shevchenko by the French Guillaume Herbaut took the second place and the portrait of a man in an interrogation room by Donald Weber from Canada took the first place.
“Tragic shots dominate at every exhibit of the World Press Photo. It is peculiar style of the competition and vision of the role and tasks of the photojournalism,” photo editor of The Day Ruslan KANIUKA says. “I leave every exhibition with a heavy heart. It is clear that these tragedies are not invented, they are around us.”
It is really difficult to object that the phenomena presented at the photos make part of the Ukrainian reality and reveal serious social diseases that need to be urgently treated. For example, coordinator of the program at the William J. Clinton International Charitable Foundation Leonid VLASENKO working with drug addicted people in Kryvy Rih tolded The Day that the story of the prostitute Maria photographed by Brent Stirton is typical:
“The Ukrainian drug policy hardly provides any social and medical protection of the drug addicted people but usually resorts to repressions against them. The Ukrainian legislation provides for three years of imprisonment for keeping drugs. As a result, over 70 percent of the drug addict people spend some time in prison. After being released, most of them do not manage to integrate into the society. Women are yet more vulnerable in this criminal world than men. That is why when they lack money to maintain themselves and their addiction many of them engage in prostitution… All these people are sick, left without their relatives’ support and need the minimum social attention and support from the state. Instead, they often become social pariahs.
“Maria is 32 now. She has a little daughter who lives with Maria’s mother-in-law. Her husband died because of using drugs. Maria prostitutes to maintain herself and her daughter. This is typical!”
In Kryvy Rih there are nearly 4,000 registered drug addicted people and 3,443 of them use injection drugs. Drug abuse experts think that the number of the officially registered patients should me multiplied by 10.
According to Vlasenko, the large number of drug addicted people is typical of industrial cities of the southern and eastern regions of the country, but of course the situation in Kryvy Rih is one of the most complicated. However, it is important not only to ascertain this fact but understand its reasons.
The most popular explanation suggested by the Clinton Foundation employee is that this situation is typical for industrial cities where there are a lot of relatively well-to-do people working at developed enterprises. He says that all the countries have gone through it. Moreover, the situation in Dnipropetrovsk region has been the same since the Soviet time but it was hushed up back then.
Isn’t this explanation too superficial? Certainly, all these reasons may exist but they lack system.
Over the years of independence people’s moral health has only degraded. The people from this region now heading Forbes’ ratings were too busy with privatizing enterprises, extorting money, and making their family fortunes.
It is remarkable and cynical at the same time that the Dnipropetrovsk region suffering from all kinds of contemporary plague nearly the most has given Ukraine nearly the largest number of rich families. Now these surnames head the ratings of the political and business elite.
Considering all of this, Maria’s story is more than just a story of a woman who has gone to the social bottom because of circumstances. These circumstances make a clear system: the money has been washed out from the regions over decades and at the same time private channels have worked for degradation. All the value systems are being perverted at the highest level.
Only one thing should be added. The author of the photo Brent Stirton told The Day that he had come to Ukraine with other photographers invited by Olena Pinchuk’s ANTIAIDS Foundation to take photos of drug addicted people all over Ukraine and spread them all over the world in order to… involve people in AIDS fight in Ukraine! It means that the photographer was invited by the family of the former Ukrainian president whose 10-year rule largely contributed to the incredible enrichment of some people and financial and moral degradation of others. Certainly, funding anti-AIDS programs and ennobling oneself with a patron’s halo is very convenient today. However, in the West sponsorship looks slightly different.
Brent Stirton refused to speak about the woman he had taken photo of. He said that all the rights to the information about her belong to the foundation. When we called the foundation to ask about it they were not embarrassed with this story at all. On the contrary, the home-page of their website has the information that Maria took part in the photo session within the foundation’s program “AIDS. Open Faces.” The communications manager of the company refused to give the information about Maria and explained that giving details might harm this socially vulnerable woman!
When the social cataclysms go together with the cynicism of those who call themselves the national elite the society gets especially vulnerable.