15 Harrowing Photos That Capture The Reality Of Ukraine’s AIDS Epidemic


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Nastia, 26, is HIV-positive and
works at a lower-end brothel. In Dnipropetrovsk, there are
200 brothels that employ an average of 20 to 30 sex
workers; all the brothels are owned by four individuals.
Nastia’s colleagues are unaware of her HIV status and so
she receives treatment in private. Pascal
Vossen

ID: 9610856

An estimated 290,000 people are living with HIV in Ukraine.
Since the conflict began in 2014, the government has failed to
fulfill its commitment to the National AIDS Program, leaving
the international organizations and local NGOs to deal with
everything — from procurement of drugs to treatment
programs.

Frustrated by the lack of data and coupled with the potentially
disastrous effect this inaction will have on the country in a
few years’ time, we decided that the most effective way to tell
this story would be to show the lives of the at-risk and
suffering. This is a situation that — unlike the first epidemic
— is largely avoidable, but action needs to be taken now and
not later.

The country had made such great progress in reversing the
spread of HIV — in 2012 the country’s number of new HIV cases
dropped for the first time. Yet human behavior — in the form of
corruption, violence, discrimination, and inaction — was now
undoing so much of this positive progress. The conflict in 2013
destroyed much of the health care infrastructure while
displacing over a million people, and yet the government
refused to purchase cheaper generic drugs and instead reduced
its financial commitments to the National AIDS Program. On top
of that, the stigma of being associated with the at-risk groups
or being HIV-positive meant many people we met, who needed to
be treated or tested, were too afraid to visit the centers.

We just didn’t expect the government to not be taking this
issue seriously — instead re-routing funds in a visceral
reaction to the conflict. Yes, they need troops at the
frontline, but this is an epidemic and the full effect of
inaction now will only become obvious in a few years’ time.

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Tatiana, an HIV-infected
mother, and her three healthy children at their home in
Kramatorsk. Pascal
Vossen

ID: 9610693

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Tatiana, 34, describes
 her

husband’s death from AIDS
 in 2015 as
 a
 lonely
 ordeal.

“Only
 when
 he
 was 
paralyzed
 was 
he 
taken 
to 
the

hospital,
 where
 he 
later 
died. 
Afterward, 
no one

would 
help 
bury 
him.” Pascal
Vossen

ID: 9610704

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A premature baby lies in an
incubator at a maternity ward, 20 kilometers from the
frontline. Premature births are common among pregnant drug
users. This child’s mother has crossed the border in order
to receive treatment and so that her child would be granted
Ukrainian citizenship. Thankfully, her tests show that her
daughter is not HIV-positive, so if she survives this
critical period, she should be able to lead a healthy
life. Pascal
Vossen

ID: 9616364

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Children at the Way Home Center
in Odessa take part in an English class. Many of these
children are orphans or from internally displaced families.
The center also takes care of children who have parents
suffering from HIV. The national AIDS programs in Ukraine
over the past few years have been successful in reducing
the number of mother-to-child transmissions of the virus.
The conflict has threatened to undo much of this progress,
due to the displacement of people and reduced access to
treatment that is essential throughout the
pregnancy. Pascal
Vossen

ID: 9616371

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Antiretroviral medicines — used
to slow the rate at which HIV copies itself in the body —
are laid out on a table in an abandoned house now occupied
by a community of HIV-positive ex-convicts, drug users, and
internally displaced people. Although the medicine can help
suppress the virus, the people here struggle with other
illnesses caused by the pollution from the factory next
door. Pascal
Vossen

ID: 9610846

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Tanya, 19, from Odessa, is a
homeless teenager. She was born HIV-positive and ran away
from an abusive parent at an early age. She now lives in
the city’s underground heating system. She jokes that it
can be freezing in the summer and sweltering in the winter,
when the heating is on. Pascal
Vossen

ID: 9610845

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Dima, a homeless teenager,
shows us where he sleeps in Odessa’s underground heating
system. Pascal
Vossen

ID: 9610832

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Roman, 31, prepares methadone
for injection inside a “shooting gallery” in Kiev.
Pascal
Vossen

ID: 9610740

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Roman, 31, injects methadone
into his groin so that his parents cannot see that he is
using. Pascal
Vossen

ID: 9610749

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Roman, 31, is “peaking”: He
continuously leans his head back and opens his mouth. He is
standing in front of the dealer’s house. Behind that is the
shooting gallery, where the users go to inject
drugs. Pascal
Vossen

ID: 9610754

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Andrey, an inmate of the
juvenile penitentiary in Pryluky, sits on his bed in the
common sleeping area. He has been incarcerated for 2 years
and 8 months. Andrey is one of the inmates who have taken
in solace in religion and hopes to dedicate his life to
God. The warden expresses hope that he will be one of the
few boys who will avoid a life in and out of prison.
Pascal
Vossen

ID: 9610785

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The inmates of the juvenile
penitentiary partake in a group session on HIV
transmission. The psychologist leading the class tells them
that HIV cannot be transmitted by mosquito bites, shaking
hands, or through the air. Pascal
Vossen

ID: 9610787

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Many of these boys will find it
hard to find employment and will end up in prison at some
point in their life. The HIV rates in prisons can be as
high as 26%, while hepatitis C rates can be as high as 95%
among inmates. Pascal
Vossen

ID: 9610792

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Sergey, 52, was released on
March 7 from prison. He has no work opportunities, so he
stays at a shelter in Dnipropetrovsk with fellow
ex-convicts. One of the men said, “It felt strange when I
left prison; inside most of us seem to have HIV, but when I
came out suddenly I felt like I was sick, like it was not
normal.” Pascal
Vossen

ID: 9610887



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