I have been waiting to show these photos for almost ten years. Mainly because I have not had an opportunity to show them earlier: there’s been no proper place and no proper way.
Moreover, over the past seven years, a lot of important dramatic events have taken place in Ukraine, which have overshadowed painful controversy about lives of Ukrainians with congenital physical disabilities.
For the last seven years, dead heroes of Maidan 2014 and their families, fallen and wounded defenders of Ukraine in the Russian-Ukrainian war, millions of internally displaced persons, COVID-19 – all these and many other major problems have troubled the Ukrainians more than lives of sunny kids.
That’s why I am very grateful to the organizers of Photo Kyiv 2021 for this opportunity to show and tell my photo story now.
In 2011, I was on a business trip to Guadalajara (Mexico). As it turned out later, it was five days after the opening of the IV Parapan American Games. The Games were held for people with disabilities and took place from 12 to 20 November 2011 in Guadalajara, Jalisco state. This was the second time when Mexico organized the Parapan Games, and the first time when they were held outside the capital of Mexico City.
After work, my Mexican colleague offered me to show me around Guadalajara, and in the evening, took me to Degollado Theater. For me, it was a big surprise. As it turned out later, they had an unusual festivity.
I saw a stunning stage performance made by young people with Down syndrome showing their artistic skills and extraordinary dancing talents. The show took place on the big open stage of old Degollado Theater built as early as in the XIX century. The dancing was really bright, it was an undisputable proof that you see magic created by people with a disability, but with a strong spirit and a STRONG belief that THEY CAN DO THIS! Kids and teenagers with Down syndrome danced for a lot of people on an open stage – and how professionally they danced! The audience was amazed. The ovation did not subside.
When I came back home, I wanted to understand what I had actually seen in Mexico. It turned out that there’s a governmental program in Mexico, and there’re several dance groups for kids with Down syndrome in different Mexican states. A combined group of 78 dancers of all ages, mostly kids and young people with Down syndrome, performedat Degollado Theater. For this performance, organizers managed to unite three groups from three Mexican states (Danza Aptitude AC, Grupo Artístico Los Angeles and Folclórico CEA Mía) who presented an evening multi-hour dance program for the entire period of the games, from 12 to 20 November 2011.
Many reporters noted that all children had volunteered and enjoyed daily rehearsals lasting 3-4 hours, and now they were very satisfied with the results achieved and the feeling of being accepted and admired by other people, being members of the society. Moreover, doctors have shown a significant improvement in mental and physical condition of all children involved in dancing, and a significant reduction in consumption of medication.
When I came back home, I started thinking about what was going on in Ukraine. What do people in Ukraine know and write about the life of sunny kids, as we call kids born with Down syndrome? It turned out, that very little was said and written in Ukrainian media about these people. Somewhere in Ukraine, a cafe has opened, where kids with Down syndrome work. Somewhere, an Association of Parents with Sunny Kids hold a local event for their community. However, I have not found any programs of the government of Ukraine, nothing similar to the social program of Mexico, that is not the richest country in the world either and that is also at war with an enemy – local mafia cartels.
In Guadalajara, I saw the highest level of the organized state care, support, education, training and motivation for sunny kids, help in overcoming psychological and physical complexes they were born with. I would be happy to see a state program implemented in Ukraine that will enable people with Down syndrome to feel and be active members of the Ukrainian society.
I want Ukraine, as a European state, to do the same or even more than Mexico, even in such challenging times we live now.
So I would like to draw the attention of Ukrainian officials – the President of Ukraine, the Ministers of Health, Culture and Sports – to the problem of kids and adults with Down syndrome in Ukraine.
I hope that my photos will draw attention to this problem and show many de-motivated, almost forgotten by the authorities and society, sunny kids and their parents, that life is full of opportunities, and that people with Down syndrome live next to us, they are talented, they are dreaming of and willing to have the right to live fulfilling lives. Moreover, these people CAN DO ANYTHING!
I have been a professional business traveler for 35+ years. I never stay in one place too long. Often my photography is like a blitz chess game – I’m passing by, catching a glimpse with no chance to correct anything. I can rarely wait for better light, better composition or a better chance.
My favorite photographers: Bruno Barbey, Raymond Depardon and Sebastião Salgado.
My favorite tip from Bruno Barbey was published in The Guardian: «I always discourage people from being full-time photographers if they have other ways of making money. If you really want to do personal work you may be better off doing it as a hobby.»