On his first day in the Donbass region of Ukraine in 2010, photographer Maxim Dondyuk met a man with tuberculosis of the bowels.
“He was lying naked on a hospital bed and staring at the ceiling,” Dondyuk recalled. “A week later, I was with him in the last hours of his life. He could not move and talk; his body was like a skeleton covered with skin. In his hands, he clutched a cross on his chest and prayed.”
Ranked in Europe as the second-highest priority for tuberculosis control, Ukraine also has the eighth-highest rate of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis in the world, according to the World Health Organization. Treating patients with MDR-TB is difficult because the bacteria become immune to medicine.
A Ukrainian native, Dondyuk has documented the issue in two regions: Donetskaya and Khersonskaya. To fully capture the situation, he lives in the hospitals, eats with patients and goes with them to treatments.
“It’s important for me to sink into the surroundings because my photographs persuade other people,” he said. “And before persuading somebody, you must be persuaded by yourself.”
He doesn’t see this project directly helping the subjects. Most of them have already died.
"The only hope is that their stories and photographs will help prevent it in future and stimulate an interest of public and government in this problem. But there is no way this will help the ones I shoot. Most of all, this resembles a deathbed confession.”
Dondyuk recently took the top prize in the global health story category for BD’s Hope for a Healthy World photo contest, a contest that aims to draw attention "to global health as subject matter for the photography community... (and raise) awareness of a wide variety of global health issues; and it provides BD the opportunity to work with like-minded photographers to achieve the same ultimate goal: improve the world's health," the competition's campaign manager, Ken Greenberg, said.
Dondyuk's work will be featured in an exhibit that debuts June 7 at the LOOK3 photo festival in Charlottesville, Virginia.
He plans to continue his ongoing project on tuberculosis in Ukraine, and he hopes it will gain momentum and bring attention to the epidemic.
“I can only hope that my photographs will attract attention of public organizations and charitable foundations that can help solve this problem,” Dondyuk said.
- Elizabeth I. Johnson, CNN