My passion for photography helped me overcome the disease

11 Feb 2021
My passion for photography helped me overcome the disease

Photographer Sergei Metelitsa, who was infected with COVID-19, reported directly from his hospital room 

For the majority of our competition’s contestants, the story of the COVID-19 pandemic is a look from the outside in, with the photographer acting as an observer. However, things turned out to be quite different for Sergei Metelitsa. Coming from the Russian city of Yaroslavl, this photographer came down with the coronavirus infection and was hospitalized in critical condition, but despite being in the hospital, he mustered up the strength to grab a camera and present what is happening in the red zone from a patient’s perspective. Metelitsa spent 20 days in the Yaroslavl Regional Clinical Hospital for War Veterans. Telling his story, he notes that it was his devotion to the profession that kept him alive.

“During the first week, I took snapshots using my smartphone”

“The ambulance took me to the hospital at night, on October 7, 2020. By that time, I had already undergone a CT scan, which showed a 52% lung lesion, besides that, I had been running a fever for three days. When we finally reached the hospital, there were so many ambulance vehicles with patients that we had to wait in line for more than three hours. As dawn set in, I looked out the window and saw a long line of ambulances. I asked the doctor for permission to get some fresh air, I got out of the car, and took a few snapshots with my smartphone camera. This was how my hospital photo report emerged. 

I was placed in the red zone of the Yaroslavl Regional Clinical Hospital for War Veterans. During the first week, I took snapshots using my smartphone. The hospital personnel and patients were initially very wary of me taking photos, but two key circumstances assisted me. First of all, the head of the cardiology department where I was placed turned out to be an old friend of mine. Previously, she had treated me several times. This circumstance made it possible for me to establish rapport with the staff. I began to post the photos that I took on Facebook, and one day a senator from the Yaroslavl Region, Sergey Berezkin, who is also an old friend of mine, “liked” them. We got on the phone, and his support helped me secure unofficial permission to take snapshots, greenlighted by the head doctor of the hospital. In addition, I received permission from all the heroes of my works to post images with their participation on public resources. Both health care workers and patients eventually realized how important it is to use these photos to show how people are resisting the epidemic to the outside world.”

“When I picked up the camera, I fell to my knees because I became so weak from the disease” 

“Soon, my relatives brought my DSLR camera – Canon 5D Mark IV – to the hospital. It was not easy to smuggle it into the ward. We organized a whole mission and hid the camera among some products. Everything worked out. So, over the following two weeks, I took snapshots using professional equipment. At first, I found it uneasy to cope with the weight of the camera. It weighs more than two kilograms with optics. When I picked up the camera, I fell to my knees because I became so weak from the disease.

I was among very amicable company in the ward. There were five of us, and we all helped each other out as much as we could. There was one patient in severe condition among us, and we were on duty looking after him, helping him to go to the bathroom at night. This mutual assistance, of course, greatly lifted our spirit. But I was astonished by the work of the doctors most of all. I can declare without any pretentiousness that what they did was a real feat. Many of them were on duty for two or three shifts in a row, taking only a short break to rest, spending all their time in protective clothing. It was a crucial test for them, and that is why images from hospitals are so important. No words can fully convey the dedication and heroism of the staff.”

“He survived Afghanistan and Chechnya, but could not fight off the infection”

“I decided to take part in the News Photo Awards. Overcoming COVID contest because I believe its mission is of great importance. The competition not only reveals the heroism of health care workers, but also forces people to think about this disease and their responsibility to their loved ones. Until now, many people have not realized the danger of the coronavirus, they think that it is no worse than the ordinary flu. However, this threat is much worse.

COVID-19 is a very insidious disease. Sometimes it may seem that a person begins to recover, and suddenly an unexpected complication springs up, and they pass away in a matter of mere hours. In the hospital, I made friends with a patient who served as a colonel and fought in hot spots. He was a very athletic individual, in fine physical shape, and enjoyed playing hockey. It seemed that he was able to easily overcome the coronavirus infection. But, sadly, he did not make it. That was such a tragic turn of fate. He survived Afghanistan and Chechnya, but could not fight off the infection… I still cannot believe he is gone.”

“Creative enthusiasm turned out to be more powerful than coronavirus”

“At first, the nurses were very surprised at how I managed to muster up the strength to shoot photos. A normal day in the hospital for me began like this: at six o’clock in the morning, the staff would come into the ward to check our temperature, give injections, and by that time, I was on my feet taking pictures. By seven o'clock, the first snapshots were already uploaded to Facebook. Having experience and training as a reporter turned out to be of great assistance.

I can even go as far as to say that my passion for photography helped me overcome the disease. After all, the most important formula for recovery is a proper psychological attitude. While planning out a photography scene in the hospital, focusing on how to arrange the frame, I was distracted from any gloomy thoughts that often enter into a patient’s mind in such a serious condition. And that creative enthusiasm turned out to be more powerful than coronavirus, it literally pulled me away from the dangerous edge.”

“My best shots are yet to come”

“In the course of my life, destiny has given me two lucky lottery tickets. The first one was during my business trip to Greenland, where I went as a TASS correspondent as part of a ski expedition led by the eminent traveller Matvey Shparo. This trip could have been the last in my biography. While shooting a sunset against the backdrop of Greenland’s icebergs, I suddenly slipped and fell into a snow-covered crevice and got stuck in it. My photo backpack saved me from certain death, it stopped me from plunging any further. After I got out, I tossed an ice shard into this crevice, and it hit the bottom only after about a minute had passed.

My second lucky ticket was my recovery from COVID-19. This time the camera saved me. I felt alive holding it in my hands, it gave me the strength to keep on going. And although I have not completely recovered yet, and still feel the effects of the disease, taking photos does not allow me to sit still. Yaroslavl will host a photo exhibition of my pictures from the hospital this summer. Some of them have already been exhibited at the Federation Council of Russia in Moscow in November. The exhibition entitled: Between Heaven and Earth was dedicated to doctors and other staff members in hospitals dealing with COVID-19. Besides, I am currently working on another photo album of Orthodox shrines. I have already made several publications on this topic. So, creativity leaves no chance for any disease. I am positively sure that my best shots are yet to come.”


Sergei Ivanovich Metelitsa was born in 1946. He developed a passion for photography during his service in the army. In the late 1960s, Metelitsa was invited to the Photo Chronicle of the Kazakh Telegraph Agency which was a branch of TASS. From 1974 to 2005, he worked as TASS’ staff correspondent for Russia’s Central and North-western regions, with headquarters based in Yaroslavl. Over the years, he has made thousands of photo reports and travelled all over the world. His archive incorporates unique photos of Vladimir Vysotsky and Andrei Tarkovsky, Alla Pugacheva and Lyudmila Gurchenko, Margarita Terekhova and Innokenty Smoktunovsky, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Yuri Lyubimov, as well as other prominent individuals.

He has repeatedly participated in expeditions. He travelled over two oceans on a yacht dubbed Apostol Andrei, covered the start and finish of the expedition led by Matvey Shparo, an acclaimed traveller, who crossed Greenland on skis. His most prominent, recent works include photographs of Orthodox shrines in Russia, Georgia, Syria, Greece, Israel, Lebanon, and other countries.

Sergei Metelitsa is an Honoured Worker of Culture of Russia. Among his awards are the Russian Federation Presidential Certificate of Honour, the Order of St. Seraphim of Sarov (III degree), and the Order of Holy Prince Daniel of Moscow.

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