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Floor Zero: A photo essay by Emine Ziyatdinova

Yuriy Shelkaev, 62, does a water healing exercise to deal with his heart and varicose vein problems in Jamaica Bay near the abandoned Barren Island Airport in Brooklyn, NY on 25 July, 2012. He is concerned that he won't be able to obtain treatment from a free clinic because he does not have any documents which show that he is legally living in the US.

Yuriy Shelkaev, 62, was one of the founders and the Executive Director of the Association of Berkutchi, founded in Kazakhstan in 1990. Berkutchi is a traditional type of falconry involving golden eagles still practised in Kazakhstan. Yuriy obtained a visa in order to introduce Kazakh-style eagle hunting on behalf of the Association of Berkutchi at a festival held by the North American Falconers Association in Kearney, Nebraska in 1993.

Yuriy is convinced that he has a gift from God and can heal people. He is proud of himself because he “helped two people to heal from cancer”. After he migrated to the US, he started to self-train in massage therapy, or manual therapy, as he calls it. Wanda Dzikas visits Yuriy in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn twice a week to get a massage to treat her scoliosis and right shoulder trauma.

Scharf, 89, a regular patient of Yuriy's, has been receiving massage and heat therapy for 10 years. Many elderly patients like Scharf have difficulty finding massage therapists willing to treat them due to the high risk factors associated with their treatment.

Yuriy always keeps the candles lit on the altar that he decorated with Christian icons of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, which he prays to every day. He believes in God and practises Esotericism. He believes that numbers represent energy and that energy determines the nature of everything. He tells fortunes based on a person’s date of birth.

When playing the lottery, Yuriy looks up "lucky" numbers from his records. He keeps a record of every lottery ticket from the last 10 years. He plays at least a couple times a week, hoping to win money and move out of the basement that he lives in.

Wanda Dzikas, 61, gives Yuriy Shelkaev, 62, a haircut in the basement that he lives in in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, NY. Wanda also helps Yuriy with food and groceries. Yuriy cannot afford to pay rent and is allowed to stay in the basement by the Superintendent in return for building maintenance and massage services provided to the Superintendent and his spouse. Yuriy makes around $700 a month, which is $258 lower than the poverty line defined for New York City.

Yuriy does laundry in the basement on 7 July, 2012. The basement is not fit for tenancy and may be considered sub-living conditions if inspected by the city authorities.

Floor Zero by Emine Ziyatdinova won the Runner-Up award in CLICK ABOUT IT, an international photography competition organised by the European Journalism Centre.

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About The Author(s)

Bijoyeta Das

Bijoyeta Das

Journalist, photographer

Bijoyeta Das is a journalist and photographer. She has reported from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Turkey and USA and holds a masters degree in Journalism from Northeastern University, Boston USA. Currently she is a fellow at the Alliance for Historical Dialogue and Accountability at Columbia University. Das was 2011 Peace Writer for the Women Peacemakers Program at the Institute for Peace and Justice, University of San Diego, USA and 2012 Summer Research Fellow at Metta Center for Nonviolence. Her work has been published in Deutsche Welle, Radio Netherlands Worldwide, Radio France Internationale, Women News Network, Women’s eNews, WAMC Northeast Public Radio, Fotoevidence, and All India Radio. Her photo story “Dreams of a Goddess” won the Silver Medal at the TashkentAle-2010 photo festival, Uzbekistan. Her short documentary films “Branded Girls” and “The Saturday Mothers of Turkey” were official selections for the 2011 Women’s Voices Now Film Festival and were screened in the United States of America and the United Arab Emirates.

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