An unlikely angel

I'e been revisiting the images from "Time Out in Holiday Street", about the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Ukraine. When I took them, I wasn't running a blog and so only showed the images with short captions. But the words of the people I photographed (interviewed by the wonderful Oksana Shved - the dodgy translation however is all my fault) deserved to be quoted at much greater length. So I'm making up for lost time by letting them speak here. I will post several hopefully over the next few days. First is Volodya. Ever since I met Volodya, with his piercing eyes and bald pate he stuck in my head as my idea of what an angel might look like if one ever descended to Earth. He was running a needle exchange programme at Kiev AIDS Centre, on Holiday Street:

"People come here with problems and I try to help – many come with a ‘diagnosis’. People come in great distress. I don’t try to preach to them, instead I try to explain. Sometimes we sit for four hours. Also, many HIV+ people come, and I help them. When I’m ill, I feel bad, and when you are ill – you, you, you, and you - are in no way better than me, and in no way worse or better than him. And the problem is this: that this person was living, having fun in life, and then they tell him – you have AIDS… And he loses it – is completely lost in a moment.

And when I show them a whole pile of examples and people come and say “I too am HIV+ and I live like that and do this and I’m improving”. I had girls in here who came out giggling, and people asked me “what on earth were you doing to them?” I answer: “I slept with them!” It’s difficult to explain, that I talk to the person so much that he himself has already forgotten about HIV/AIDS. At least, I have softened the blow. Some take a year, others take months."


Holiday Street

"I’m a tactile, communicative person, and address everyone as an equal. Never as “you, my son”. I work as an equal among equals. I never say that you are bad because you are a drug addict and are HIV+, while I’m good because I’m not a drug addict and not HIV+... For me, all people are good.

When I see syringes lying around, they all have caps on the needles – that is a very great achievement. Not long ago we opened a drug den – all the syringes had caps on them. A drug addict who is “in the shit”, he doesn’t give a damn… and here they all are, in their caps! I was astonished. My eyes popped out of my head, and I realised, that there is a point to it all.

Earlier, when I began working in the provinces, syringes were lying around everywhere. You go into an entrance door, look in the post box… and can you imagine, a child sticks its hand in, or you try to pick up your newspaper and there… is blood, and hepatitis! And everything… you receive everything in the world."