In 1996, a provincial Belarusian town suffered the most severe HIV epidemic in Europe. Since then, thousands of people there have died from AIDS and HIV-related diseases. Today, the unofficial number of people in Svietlahorsk living with HIV is around 8,000 – over 10% of the local population. My family is no exception.

Built in the 1960s with the hope of a bright future, the town’s socialist dream never came to pass. Snaking through the town like a plague, HIV afflicted every fifth household. Drug users sharing needles was the main reason behind the outbreak, but not the only one.

Fighting the fears, it is now time to speak out. Breaking the social stigma, my mother and other former drug users have agreed to share their stories publicly for the first time. For some it is an ephemeral chance to make a change, for others – nothing short of a final cry for help.