From 1949 until 1989 the Soviet Union conducted 456 nuclear tests at Semipalatinsk Test Site in the north of Kazakhstan. The so called “Polygon” was the primary testing venue for the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons. The nurclear tests were conducted with little regard for their effect on the local people or environment. The full impact of radiation exposure was hidden for many years by Soviet authorities and has only come to light since the test site closed in 1991. – As a result thousands of people suffered from diseases caused by the nuclear tests. And until today children with severe birth defects are born or get ill at very young age due to the fact, that their parents or grand parents were exposed to radiation, because they lived near the Polygon.

Five-year-old Amina Taitenova and her three years older sister Assylzhan. Both girls were born with Microcephaly, a medical condition in which the brain does not develop properly resulting in a smaller than normal head.
The sisters live with their parents in a trailer in Semey, formerly Semipalatinsk, in northeast Kazakhstan. Near the city the nuclear test site of the Soviet Union was situated.
Amina at the speech therapist. The five-year-old is a sprightly, curious girl in spite of her limitations.
The girl also gets physiotherapy treatments to improve her coordinative and motor skills.
On the children's cancer ward at the University Hospital in Semey. Childhood cancers occur in the region more frequently than in the rest of the country - a long-term consequence of decades of nuclear testing.
The University Hospital in Semey has specialized in the treatment of diseases caused by radiation exposure. Often they occur two or even three generations later.
Children's hom in Semey. In Kazakhstan, medical checkups for pregnant women are much more difficult than in Western countries, especially in sparsely populated, rural areas. Disabilities are often only detected at birth. Overburdened parents then often decide against their handicapped children and leave them in state children's homes.
Children with disabilities such as hydrocephaly are rarely born anymore in Western countries because the disease is generally diagnosed prenatally, the pregnancy would be terminated. - Three-year-old Dina Batyrova was born with hydrocephalus. Her head grows every month by one centimeter. Dina can only lie and has to get put on another side regularly by nurses, to prevent her from getting bed sore.
Pediatric nurse Larissa Dimitryevna is holding one-year-old Dynmukhamed Serikuly. He was born with severe physical and mental disabilities. His mother did not want him and left him to the childen's home.
Aisha Mekeshewa, 8, has leukemia.
Aisha is a happy girl full of smiles, but most of her childhood she spent in the hospital. Although Aisha feels healthy, she has to get a madical checkup every two weeks for monitoring.
Aisha's grandmother died of cancer. Therefore her parents keep the official confirmation that the grandmother fell ill as a result of nuclear weapons tests and died. Later this might be needed as evidence for possible state subsidies for Aisha.
Tatiana, 33, and Andrei Grazda, 35, with her physically and mentally disabled daughter Elisavjeta, called Lisa, 7
Lisa is a kind and happy child, but needs care around the clock. Her parents want a second child - so Lisa would be looked after, when her parents won't be able to care for her anymore.
The monument "Stronger than death" in Semey was constructed in 1991 in memory of the victims of the nuclear tests conducted at the Semipalatinsk test site.
"Diagnose cancer early" - In Beskaragai, a village in the zone of maximum radiation exposure, a poster asks people to attend medical examinations to detect cancers.
In the anatomical laboratory of the Medical University in Semey.
Shortly after the first nuclear tests in 1949 severe malformations in newborn children occured. They were caused by the radioactive radiation, which people were permanently exposed to. Soviet scientists collected malformed fetuses, to examine them scientifically.
Kurchatov, around 150 kilometers from Semey, was formerly the administrative center of the Semipalatinsk test site and at this time a closed city.
Today Kurchatov is accessible to everyone. The last nuclear test took place in Kazakhstan in 1989. On August 29, 1991, the test site was shut down. The Kazakh government has since committed to the global elimination of nuclear weapons.

All images © Edda Schlager - Don't use without permission. For inquiries please send an email to schlager(at)

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