The story of an icon (HIV/AIDS in Ukraine)

Irina, Child Virologist, Kiev AIDS Centre. As Irina told the story, she was clearly distressed, and she cried. It felt like an intrusion to take her picture, I felt bad about it, but nevertheless I thought it was important to do so. To take the portrait was an intrusion, not to take the picture would be worse: "A little girl began to fall seriously ill when she was six, but nobody could understand why. Grandma and Grandpa were her guardians as the mother had died when the girl was 5 months old. They went round all the doctors, but since this was a well-off family, it didn’t occur to any of the doctors to test her for HIV. And in the end, when they tested her, she had lost 8 kilos over 5 months – they discovered that the virus had already developed into AIDS.   The girl of course didn’t look her age at all, she was very thin. Thanks to the fact that she had such good grandparents she was still alive… When they came to us at the Centre, we began ARV therapy with her, but two months later she died. Before this, her grandfather… came and gave me this icon. The icon is the Virgin Mary, who looks over children."


"What upsets me? That is when people stigmatise our children. When they don’t want to take our children into nursery, or boarding school, it upsets me that the system of education is not ready, and that nobody knows when it will be ready. And how can you teach youth today when the country has an epidemic? Workers and teachers themselves don’t know about it. It upsets me when they don’t want to take children into nursery schools. It upsets me that medical staff themselves know little about HIV infection, and in places where preventative measures should be taken, they don’t take them…"