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Third Coast Audio Festival-- Best Documentary, "'s me, Vanya." Alabama Public Radio


Please find enclosed Alabama Public Radio’s entry for the Third Coast Audio Festival, for Best Radio Documentary, titled “It’s me, Vanya.”

Click here to listen to the program.

The documentary focuses on the still unfolding story of the “Children of Chernobyl” program in Alabama. In 1999 and 2000, families in Alabama hosted youngsters impacted by radiation from the 1986 nuclear plant disaster in the Soviet nation of Ukraine. The results of these visits are being felt to this day. Our program pairs contemporary interviews, conducted in the U.S. and in the former Soviet nation of Belarus, with twenty year old audio that was recorded to preserve the Alabama program. This enabled our listeners to relive this piece of history from an insiders’ perspective.

The centerpiece of our program is the Lee family of Pelham, Alabama. They took in nine year old Ivan Kovaliou in the year 2000. At that time, he went by the childhood nickname of “Vanya.” After a forty day stay, he returned to Belarus, and the Lee’s lost contact in 2004. That changed eight years later with a note on Facebook messenger from a Belarusian college student. “It’s me, Vanya,” it said.

APR and the University of Alabama’s Center for Public Television were there as the Lee family and Ivan were reunited at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International airport, almost twenty years after his time in Alabama. APR and CPT collaborated for nearly two years to produce this program.

We sought to balance the views of the Belarusian people along with the “children of Chernobyl” organizers. That prompted the inclusion of the mother/daughter translation team of Vita Lutsko and Larisa Shapavalenko. Not only did they work with the host parents, but Shapavelenko raised Vita in the shadow of Chernobyl. Both currently live in Belarus, so we arranged for a video producer in Minsk to conduct the interviews.