11-year-old Kirill walks along a hospital corridor in Volgograd, Russia. He was born with a complete bilateral cleft lip and palate. This is the most difficult type of cleft to correct through surgery. He’s already had two operations, one at the age of one and a second when he was two. Now, Kirill is back for a third, this time to close a fistula (gap) in his hard palate. This will make it easier for him to talk and eat, since he currently has to wear an orthodontic plate to prevent food from blocking his airway.

Kirill’s was one of three stories that Robin collected to illustrate work supported by Smile Train in Volgograd. The organisation receives tremendous gratitude from the patients around the world whose lives are transformed by the cleft surgeries it provides for, and its efforts are especially well-known here. This is because, while one in every thousand people born globally come into this world with a cleft, this ratio rises to one in every 700 in Volgograd Oblast. Since 2009, Smile Train has worked closely with Volgograd City Hospital, supporting it in modernising its surgical procedures through upgraded equipment, and ensuring that extreme cases can be prioritised.

Robin’s photo stories include images captured inside the operating theatre. He had to gain a knowledge of the surgical process in order to understand which moments to capture, and work within ethical, respectful boundaries to ensure that both doctors and families were comfortable with his presence. It’s his desire to portray the human spirit of resilience that enables him to draw positive narratives out of challenging situations.


Building essential healthcare partnerships

Public health, children

Smile Train

Volgograd, Russia

Camera settings
70mm, ISO 800, 1/160, f/4.0