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30 years on The children of Chernobyl have grown up

April 26 marks the  30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. Who are the children of Chernobyl? This photo journalism story by Niels Ackermann won the Swiss Press Award 2016. 

“Here, more people die because of drugs and alcohol than because of radioactivity,” explained Kiril, pointing to the grave of his best friend, who fell from a balcony one drunken evening. 

On April 26 the world will commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. Instead of once again looking at the consequences of accident, I chose to turn toward the future. For three years, I followed the youth of Slavutych – the youngest city in Ukraine; the city borne of this disaster.

The story follows Yulia, an adolescent whom I watched transform into a young adult. Over the months, the young girl exchanged parties, evenings out and alcohol for work, responsibilities and the life of a married woman. She and her friends let me follow them during this crucial phase, when one decides what one wants to do with one’s life, where, and with whom.

It is a transformation also familiar to Ukraine, which has emancipated itself from the blood and pain of its neighbour, Russia. The youth of Slavutych, like the youth of the country as a whole, must right the errors of their parents and build a peaceful and prosperous future.

Constructed in the middle of a forest 40km from the damaged nuclear plant, Slavutych was intended to be one of the last showcases of Soviet greatness. Since the nuclear plant stopped producing electricity in 2000, the city now relies nearly exclusively on the construction of the plant's new sarcophagus, which will be completed in 2017.

(Images and text by Niels Ackermann. This report also won The Selection vfg first prize in the reporting category.)