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Photographer: marylise vigneau
Exhibit Title: Haunted Grounds
As the world faces the danger of a new nuclear disaster because of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, one dark chapter of the Cold War era still cast its haunting shadow over the remote steppes of Kazakhstan.
This region became the epicentre of Soviet nuclear testing during the Cold War, leaving behind a legacy of destruction and enduring consequences for generations. Beria, the NKWD leader of the Stalin era, was in charge of the nuclear weapons programme and declared the area 'uninhabited', but the test site was situated in Kazakhstan's industrial core, just 120 kilometres from Semey, with nearby towns within reach. Established in 1947, the Polygon became a secret laboratory for over 456 nuclear tests.
Thousands of inhabitants were used as guinea pigs.
Radiations and toxic fallout from the explosions contaminated the environment.
Tragically, the consequences of these activities were kept secret by the Soviet regime, depriving the population of knowledge and protection. Until today, despite the closure of the site in 1991, the people of Semey endured health issues, congenital disabilities, and a dramatic rise in cancer cases.
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