Hangover

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–Here we are, Luda (15) says and opens the door, for us to enter. The curtains are pulled. It takes a second or two for our eyes to adapt to the dim light, but the smell gives us an idea of what we have coming.

There are three people in the room. A woman in her thirties who is chopping onion with swollen and trembling hands, a man struggling not to fall off the wooden chair he is sitting on and an older woman, asleep in a bed along the cracked wall.

–Luda, who the f*** are these two, the youngest woman asks.

–I met them at the centre, mom. They wanted to see where I lived, so I decided to bring them over, the girl says and sits down on the empty bed across from the one with the sleeping woman.

–Well, here the f*** is, Luda’s mother says. Her rusty voice is full of frustration and anger. The homemade vodka she has been drinking all night gives her the slow, stumbling speak of an alcoholic.

We are in the small town of Petrovskaya in eastern Ukraine. The Ukrainians are among the heaviest drinkers in the world, and the eastern part of this former Soviet republic is suffering the most.

We met Luda in a centre for children in need of special education. The Petrovskaya Centre in Petrovskaya town is a boarding school, providing education for 180 children aged 7 to 18. Some of the kids are orphans and some of them, like Luda, has a family incapable of caring for them.

We met the young, pretty girl one Sunday morning and started talking to her. The conversation was all nice and friendly until we asked about her parents.

–My mom lives just down the road, the pretty teenager tells us. The innocent glow in her eyes is replaced by something dark and hateful.

–But if your mom lives nearby, how come you stay at the school and not at her place?

–It’s hard to explain. I’ll rather bring you over so you can see for yourself.

Five minutes later we find ourselves inside what once was a nice, little villa. The room with the three drunks is stinking of alcohol, food, dirt – and despair. The room next door serves as a storage for the potatoes they managed to pick last autumn.

Luda’s mom tries to pull herself together and tells us how the $100 barely is enough to keep her alive.

–It would have been if you stopped drinking, Luda says quietly.

The mother is about to answer, but is interrupted by the old lady in the bed.

–The girl is right you know. If you would stop that damn drinking, we would all be fine.

–Shut the f*** up, the mother snaps. You are drinking just as much as the rest of us.

–That’s my grandma. She is blind and just as addicted to moonshine as the rest of them. Mom allows her to stay in order to get her pension, Luda tells us while the two women starts quarrelling about who is the biggest drunk and the biggest burden to the family economy.

–Let’s go, Luda asks as the two women continues to quarrel. They don’t take any notice of us leaving. The man – who is Luda’s uncle – is trying to calm them down, but is effectively silenced when both of them tells him to shut is his drunken gob.

We walk in silence for a few minutes. Luda is the first one to speak.

–I will never start drinking. Never! I want my children to grow up in a nice home, not a dump like the one we just left. The dark anger has returned to her eyes.

Fingers crossed that Luda manages to practice what she preaches. Ukraine takes the first place in the world ratings of alcohol consumption among children and youth, according to the World Health Organization research.

None of us knows what to say anymore, and the situation is getting slightly embarrassing until Luda’s friend spots us.

–There you are, Tatiana (15) says and runs over to greet her friend.

–Who are these guys, Tatiana wants to know.

–They are Norwegian journalists. I just took them over to my mom’s place.

–Oh God, Tatiana sighs. Then you need a hug from your best friend. Come one, now, let’s give them a proper smile. The two girls start giggling as they look in the camera.

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30 Responses to “Hangover”

  1. […] For the whole story go to Øystein and Otto’s Blog. […]

  2. All too familiar, unfortunately

  3. I pray for Luda and Tatiana to escape the problem that haunts their culture. Many have not. Some have even carried it to new countries and continue to pass it to their children.

  4. Very sad. Wishing the best for all the Ludas out there!

  5. One of those situations where the like button just seems an inappropriate way to express your response to a story. Tragic.

  6. I saw scenes like this all the time in my work as a homecare worker. Just hope Luda and Tatiana won’t take a drink in later years, thinking “it won’t happen to me.” Alcoholism is everywhere and to a point, in its early stages, socially accepted and enabled. But this is where it ultimately takes one, right until insanity or death. Insidious disease of the mind, body and spirit.Few recover, but there is hope that some find recovery.

  7. This same scenario plays out in many of the most developed countries on the earth…even in the US on many reservations. Addiction, hopelessness, and a legacy of this from generation to generation are difficult barriers to hurdle. So sad…

  8. oh, dear…lots of HUGS needed and QUICK! thank you so much for this story…i pray Luda and other young ones can stay strong and not succumb to this terrible lifestyle.

  9. Susanne Says:

    Trist historie og dessverre virkeligheten for mange norske barn også:-(…..

  10. Good Lord I hope those smiles get brighter.

    You do such wonderful work together.

  11. Such beautiful girls- I hope they have a better life than their parents 😦

  12. So very sad. I hope she succeeds in finding a better life.

  13. A tough but worthwhile read

  14. Such beautiful young girls. I do hope they are capable of resisting the temptations of alcohol. Your photos really do tell the story–the look on Luda’s face when next to her mother and grandmother says all we need to know! What a difficult start in life!

  15. I have relatives who live in Ukraine and the problem is very much close to my heart. My parents recently visited an old friend of my mum’s in Ukraine for a few weeks and it turns out that he drinks crazy amounts by now. My parents were horrified. He is an accomplished writer, but is now going down that steady road of decline. He will die early, like most men there. The retirement age is 60 there (as opposed to 65 in Germany), because a lot of people don’t even reach 65 due to the heavy drinking. My relatives drink as well, but haven’t reached the stage of outright alcoholism yet. It all depends on the perspective as well though: What’s considered alcoholism here is absolutely “normal” there. Most people work and function alright, despite all the drinking. You have found a case where even they consider it as alcoholism, enough to put the kid in a boarding school. That says quite something about how bad it must be for Luda.

  16. Poignant and troubling. I love the pic of the two young friends.. There is hopeful sadness in their eyes.

  17. Sad story, I hope she pulls through and gets herself out of this situation! Sometimes as hard as you try, you still end up being part of the culture that you very much resist. Fantastic reporting.

  18. that’s so sad. I’ve been to Russia a few years ago, and it wasn’t much different. another lost generation…

  19. I hope and pray that will will find the light and new life she is seeking as well for those who are imprisoned by all forms of bad vices. I hope they get all the help and support as well.

  20. Speechless, deep in thought and wanting to write so much but I can feel it my heart but cannot write it down just yet as I need to absorb the images and the fight of Luda and her friend. One thing …however poor or low these children in life appear to be they still manage to smile, but like the children I have worked with in Southern India, they are so often robbed of their childhood… having to grow up quickly to survive

  21. Sad story.Hope she will find a better life.

  22. WordsFallFromMyEyes Says:

    Extremely well delivered – simply, true.

    Very sobering.

  23. A tragic story, but at least the young girl seems headed in a much better direction. Well reported by you both.

  24. It’s hard to push the ;like; button here. Beautiful photo of the girls.

  25. The stories behind your photos are a revealing as your photos. I am very touch with how you present them.

  26. Sad and true. I was trying to figure out what those round things on the floor are? I guess potatoes for home-made vodka?

  27. A bad batch of vodka explains granny’s blindness.

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