Convoy to Chernobyl 2000

Convoy to Chernobyl 2000

A journey to Ukraine with volunteers and two 7.5 ton lorries full of aid, which had been collected through visitors to the Still Looking exhibition, 2000.

Vinca Petersen interviewed by Sheryl Garratt

In 2000, I put on an exhibition of some of my sound system pictures in London. It was coming up to the 15th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, so I asked people to bring aid, saying we’d drive it to the Ukraine. But we ended up with far too much stuff to fit in my transit van. So we bought two 7.5-tonne lorries, and we took along this motley crew of people.

As usual, it was total chaos! But we eventually got to Chernobyl and offloaded the aid we’d bought, then visited children’s homes and places in the area to hear about the problems they were facing.

I had a meltdown because I suddenly felt that it was all about my ego, and my wanderlust had made me want to drive there, rather than just sending the money we’d raised. But one of the carers said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t stop coming.’ Depression is a huge problem amongst the young in the Ukraine, she told me. The families are very poor, the kids work in the fields with their parents seven days a week, and often they don’t even know how to play. She said that our visit was better than food, or money: ‘For months before, I can talk about these people who are driving from England, just for them, and it raises their spirits. They’ll remember it for the rest of their life.’

That’s when I decided to keep doing these convoys, although later we would take volunteers, and bring money instead of aid. Afterwards, the others drove back to England in one truck, while my friend Clare and I went to have a look around in the other. We wanted to go to Yalta, because we’d heard it was the Ibiza of the East. So we drove down to Odessa – where we’d been told it was dangerous to go, as two women in an English truck – and we met some fishermen who had this little yard by the river. They said they’d look after our truck for couple of weeks, so we got the train the rest of the way. The final pictures are from the beach there.