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The Kids from Lunik IX 15
Kosice, Slovakia
By Michael Biach
23 Dec 2013

A Roma boy is standing on a balcony of one of Lunik IX’s abandoned flats. The garbage thrown out of the window has already reached the first floor.

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The Kids from Lunik IX 6
Kosice, Slovakia
By Michael Biach
23 Dec 2013

Roma girl in Lunik IX's state-run kindergarten. An oasis in the middle of poverty and garbage.

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The Kids from Lunik IX 38
Kosice, Slovakia
By Michael Biach
23 Dec 2013

Karmena is a teenage Romni living in Lunik IX. Devastated and frustrated she is standing in a recently abandoned flat in Lunik IX. More and more apartments become uninhabitable.

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The Kids from Lunik IX 37
Kosice, Slovakia
By Michael Biach
23 Dec 2013

The apartment buildings of Lunik IX where up to 8,000 Romas live under harsh conditions.

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The Kids from Lunik IX 36
Kosice, Slovakia
By Michael Biach
23 Dec 2013

Roma kids play in the back of one of Lunik IX’s apartment buildings next to a several meter thick layer of garbage. The garbage’s toxic level is even starting to harm Kosice’s groundwater.

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The Kids from Lunik IX 35
Kosice, Slovakia
By Michael Biach
23 Dec 2013

A young roma boy is searching the dumpsite for valuable clothing and other stuff that still can be used.

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The Kids from Lunik IX 34
Kosice, Slovakia
By Michael Biach
23 Dec 2013

Roma girl sitting on the stairs of one of Lunik IX’s apartment buildings.

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The Kids from Lunik IX 33
Kosice, Slovakia
By Michael Biach
23 Dec 2013

Roma girl sitting on the stairs of one of Lunik IX’s apartment buildings.

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The Kids from Lunik IX 30
Kosice, Slovakia
By Michael Biach
23 Dec 2013

Josip, a teenage Roma boy is standing in front of the house he is living in with his family. Electricity is not working and during winter Lunik IX’s inhabitants heat with self-made ovens.

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The Kids from Lunik IX 27
Kosice, Slovakia
By Michael Biach
23 Dec 2013

A young Roma boy is on his way to collect tap water, which is only available during certain hours.

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The Kids from Lunik IX 23
Kosice, Slovakia
By Michael Biach
23 Dec 2013

While I was photographing Roma kids in Lunik IX this young boy grabbed an old VHS tape from the dumpsite and started to imitate me.

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Mitrovica (2 of 25)
Mitrovica, Kosovo
By Michael Biach
19 Mar 2013

A Roma boy takes a look at some newly constructed houses in the Roma Mahala. After the conflict, Albanians set the Roma Mahala on fire blaming the minority as alleged Serb collaborators.

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Mitrovica (4 of 25)
Mitrovica, Kosovo
By Michael Biach
19 Mar 2013

A Roma boy rides his bike in the newly build Roma Mahala next to the construction side of a mosque. After the conflict Albanians set the Roma Mahala on fire blaming the minority as alleged Serb collaborators

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Mitrovica (5 of 25)
Mitrovica, Kosovo
By Michael Biach
19 Mar 2013

A Roma is standing next to the ruins of his house. After the conflict, Albanians set the Roma Mahala on fire blaming the minority as alleged Serb collaborators. Today the man is living in a room in the ground floor. He refused to move into one of the newly buildings and wants to rebuild his old home.

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Mitrovica (19 of 25)
mitrovica, Kosovo
By Michael Biach
19 Mar 2013

Roma boys in the newly build Roma Mahala. After the conflict Albanians set the Roma Mahala on fire blaming the minority as alleged Serb collaborators.

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Mitrovica (24 of 25)
Mitrovica, Kosovo
By Michael Biach
19 Mar 2013

A Roma boy is riding his bike in the rebuilt Roma Mahala. After the conflict Albanians set the Roma Mahala on fire blaming the minority as alleged Serb collaborators.

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Hope For a Cherry Blossom 1
Bulgaria
By Maia DK
01 Mar 2013

Mitko, 5, and Kircho, 8, on the roof of their house, March 2013

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Hope For a Cherry Blossom 2
Bulgaria
By Maia DK
28 Feb 2013

Lack of running water at the district forces people to share the only source of water on top of the mountain. March 2013

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Hope For a Cherry Blossom 5
Bulgaria
By Maia DK
28 Feb 2013

Vishna and her children (from left to right) Iliya, 14, Kircho, 8, and Sonya, 9, have their breakfast on Sunday morning. February 2013

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Hope For a Cherry Blossom 6
Bulgaria
By Maia DK
28 Feb 2013

Vishna and her two sons, Kircho and Mitko, wait for Sasho, son-in-law to go to the cemetery on BUlgarian All Souls Day, March 9, 2013

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Hope For a Cherry Blossom 7
Bulgaria
By Maia DK
28 Feb 2013

Vishna changes Kircho's clothing, prepares to go the public bath house that she visits twice a week. February 2013

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Hope For a Cherry Blossom 8
Bulgaria
By Maia DK
28 Feb 2013

Dinner at the end of the day. Vishna calls Mitko, who is deaf, to eat. January 2013

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Hope For a Cherry Blossom 9
Bulgaria
By Maia DK
28 Feb 2013

Bathing Mitko before going to sleep, April 2013

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Hope For a Cherry Blossom 21
Bulgaria
By Maia DK
28 Feb 2013

Vishna, her children and neighbours look at the pictres from Sandanski trip, April 2013

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Hope For a Cherry Blossom 27
Bulgaria
By Maia DK
28 Feb 2013

Vishna with her younger children, an older son Martin, his family and their heighbour, a teenaged girl on the right (she refused to name her), April 2013

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Hope For a Cherry Blossom 4
Bulgaria
By Maia DK
28 Feb 2013

Sneja, 5, Vishna's grandchild, and Sonya, 9, daughter, look at the pictures early in the morning, March 2013

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Hope for a Cherry Blossom
Bulgaria
By Transterra Editor
28 Feb 2013

Hope for a Cherry Blossom is a documentary photo-project, focused on a Roma woman, Vishna (Cherry in Bulgarian), a resident of Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria. The project was continued throughout spring 2013. The project illustrated her daily life, work, house chores, family dynamics and everyday life in Roma community. The goal of the project was to explore life of the Roma through the story of Vishna, a mother of twelve children, who recently lost her husband to alcoholism. The question I raised was the difficulties of being a minority member and a single mother. The project aimed to bring understanding of problems an unprivileged minority group faces in Bulgaria.

I met Vishna, 42, in the church. It was a life changing encounter. What I remember from that day are her smile and hospitality (she invited me to her house), and I think these are one of her strongest character features.

Her home is a one-room shack on top of the mountain, home to the Roma community in Blagoevgrad. Just like most of the houses at the Roma district, Tsyganski makhala, as local people call it, there are no running water, no refrigerator and no place to cook at Vishna’s home, except the wood burning stove that keeps the family warm in winter. This doubles as Vishna’s cooking stove. To make it work, she collects or buys wood. The roof is damaged, it leaks when it rains.
It was raining on the day we met, so Vishna put some plates on the bed to prevent it from getting soaked. But she is used to this way of living. Vishna is not a Blagoevgrad native; she comes from Sandanski, where the Roma lifestyle differs from the one in Blagoevgrad. If in Blagoevgrad it is a rare case when Roma goes to school, in Sandanski the majority studies, only a few beg on the streets.

The same applies to Vishna’s nieces and nephews.

Vishna herself though never went to school, but her brothers did, for a while. Together with her siblings, she worked on a tobacco farm when she was a child.

Her three brothers served in the Bulgarian army and married at age 21, except her younger brother who married at 18. Vishna, however, married when she was only 13. She was kidnapped and brought to Blagoevgrad by her husband, Emil. Her parents were against, but she was already pregnant.

Today Vishna has twelve children and ten grandchildren. The oldest kid is Yuli, 27, he is married. Many years ago he moved to Gotse Delchev, where he works as a DJ. The youngest is Vasko, 3. In the beginning of 2013, Vishna learned that Vasko had leukemia. Vasko lived at the orphanage under medical control, but in May 2013 he got back home. Doctors explained to Vishna that Vasko got better and there is no need for him to keep the treatment. Her other son, Mitko, 5, is deaf. Two years ago, he had a surgery, but still he cannot hear well and therefore does not speak at all. Four other kids go to the boarding school where they stay on the weekdays. Some of the older children completed the elementary school. Now they are married and live in Blagoevgrad.

Since marrying, Vishna works as a street sweeper. Her monthly salary is around 300 BGN (200 USD). Unlike Vishna, her husband worked only one year in his life as security at a restaurant. Vishna never understood Blagoevgrad Roma, their segregated life and poor living conditions. She wanted to go back to Sandanski, but her husband kept pulling her back to Blagoevgrad.

Last several months were difficult for Vishna. She lost her husband to alcohol addiction. Soon she will get the probation from the court for her husband’s business (he used to send their kids to beg). Now Vishna’s children go to the boarding school. Her daughter Asya, 14, gave a birth to a child with mental problems. Even though Asya is married, Vishna is responsible for both of them.

Today, Vishna does not think of going back to Sandanski. She looks for opportunities in Blagoevgrad. She hopes of a better life for herself and her children. Even though Vishna struggles, she does not show her emotions and tries her best to support her family. Vishna dreams of a new house with all the necessities, getting her kids educated and having enough money to support them.

Written and photographed by Mayya Kelova